Blogging is a strange occupation - a solitary writer in search of the sort of communion with others that used to happen in the pub, on the corner, on the bus is now engaging with others electronically instead. So much for progress.

THIS blog is about ideas - big and small - connected with one of the things I care about with a passion, namely the future of liberal thought in this country. I am instinctively a radical liberal, with a grudging belief in the value of markets but an abhorrence of statism and indifference, and a strong belief in social justice. I find Labour bankrupt of ideas, and the Tories intellectually flacid. This is my response.

I am intending always to stick to the point: there will be no rabble-rousing talk, and no wasted jibes at other parties and political philosophies.

Comments will be moderated, but anyone can leave one.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Still on the Chartist list...

Liberals will be cheering and supporting the continuing attempts by MPs of all parties, and others, to institute fixed term parliaments, but what about the old Chartist demand for annual parliaments? Of course the case for annual parliaments was made much earlier than the Chartist movement of the 1840s, but while four of the six points of the People's Charter were achieved in the last century (I'd argue that we've not really achieved 'equal constituencies, however fleetfooted the Boundary Commission may be) there is still that one glaring omission - annual parliaments.

Now you could argue that the fact of party politics, and the party nature of government, would make annual elections impossible. Every election would produce, potentially, a different government and, well, that would be awkward. Continuity of policy...long-range strategy...time to achieve our objectives. But that's all a bit like saying that you can't have the sweets you want from a pick and mix stall because the paper bag is the wrong colour.

We could have annual parliaments, easily. We could insist on parties putting up all seats for reelection annually, while retaining the present government unless a clear majority was obtained by another party. Would annual parliaments, though, have any advantages?

Well the old Chartist argument was that it would be a "check to bribery and intimidation" at a time when the rotten boroughs of England were notorious and many remained unaffected in that way by the 1832 Act. That wouldn't be an argument for establishing them today though.

I'd argue that there may be - just maybe - a couple of good solid arguments for annual parliaments worth considering:

(i) annual parliaments would make it impossible for the electorate to ignore politics; they'd have to become involved since voting would be an annual event.

(ii) it would, paradoxically, give rise to more stability in the political process. Knowing the proximity of an election, MPs would be more dutiful, governments more careful and voters more aware of change.

In all of this I am being only half serious. After all, the thought of David Dimbleby Election programmes annually is too much. Besides which, annual canvassing....?

No comments: