02 March, 2010

Electoral Reform in Ireland – Slight Return

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.


Edinburgh said...

Be careful what you wish for!

We have MMP (here called AMS) and we want what you have got!! For a critique of AMS, see:

Also be aware that the political culture in Germany is somewhat different from that in Ireland or the UK. They seem much happier with party-based voting systems than we are. Before Germany adopted AMS = MMP in 1947, they had used only closed-list party-list PR, so their starting position was very different from our constituency-based political culture.

ian said...

Bear in mind that I am not advocating the German system (see my earlier posts), but one where half the members are elected by STV in multi member constituencies and half by list.

The piece you link to is interesting, but its criticisms are a bit specific to the German system and the Scottish context.

This may sound a bit heretical, but I am not down with this idea that parliamentarians should think independently and defy their party whips. If they don't like their party line, they should just shag off and join or form a new party. In any case, in Ireland (with STV), TDs almost never defy party whips, so the point is a bit moot.