This really is the last episode of my exciting series on electoral reform in Ireland. I was talking about how there is something to be said for introducing a mixed-member electoral system in Ireland, with my own eccentric suggestion being electing half the TDs by STV in large multi-member constituencies, the other half by closed national lists. One thing I did not really talk about is how mixed-member system operate in practice. I do not mean so much in terms of whether they are associated with "good" or "bad" political outcomes, more how the system itself tends to operate. This is not something I have read too much on*, but I understand that one common feature of mixed-member systems is that list MPs tend to cultivate particular localities with a view to becoming constituency MPs for that area. In this context, it is maybe interesting to note that Germany's chancellor is not head of the national CDU list, but is rather a constituency MP for somewhere in Mecklenburg-Vorprommen.
I am not entirely sure why the list MPs are so keen to become constituency MPs. Maybe the ones who are individually elected are seen as having greater legitimacy. Or it could be that being a constituency MP is seen as being more secure – a list candidate needs to keep in with the party hierarchy to ensure that they are being placed high enough up the list to get elected, while a local MP just needs to keep in with the local party grandees to ensure they get reselected, if they are in a safe seat. Or maybe some other factor is at play.
If a mixed-member system were rolled out in Ireland, it would not therefore be too surprising if it failed to vanish the genie of localism from Irish politics. We might end up with list TDs who neglect national issues and instead focus on local issues and look to become constituency TDs.
I will for the moment leave the topic of electoral reform, but not without throwing out a question. Talk on this issue is driven by the idea that a localist orientation in politics is bad. But is it really so dreadful? In many countries, people complain about politicians who are remote from the people who elect them. Maybe we should be glad that ours are always available to address our petty concerns.
*in this respect I am like a great many people who advocate profound institutional change.