Monday, January 01, 2007

Against Presidents

Blogger ate my serious attempt at this post, so here goes a quick replacement.

Basically, a directly elected head of government is a bad idea.

The US experience makes it far from obvious that separating President and Congress actually reduces the power of the President. With Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House, George W. Bush and Tom Delay ran the most overmighty government in the free world. The reason why this didn't happen in the past is not because of the great virtues of the US system - it is because for most of the twentieth century there were effectively three parties in Congress (Northern Democrats, Dixiecrats and Republicans) none of whom came close to a majority.

As Gavin Whenman points out at the end of his post, the real problem is strong political parties. When British political parties were weak (because most MP's funded their own campaigns and relied heavily on a personal vote) in the nineteenth century, Prime Ministers were not overmighty. And the problem with drastically weakening political parties is that non-Party legislators (or legislators who do not depend on national parties to secure re-election) are more likely to get re-elected by pork-barreling than they are by supporting good government.

The only way the US electorate can get a limited Presidency is by voting for divided government. This has a number of disadvantages, notably that it becomes increasingly difficult to hold either party accountable for anything. This points to an obvious way forward for a Liberal Democrat government in the UK. I don't like sounding like a stuck record, but the solution is electoral reform. Under STV, the electorate can get divided government by the simple expedient of not giving the same party more than 50% of the votes.

A Presidential system has another major disadvantage. If the President is a miserable failure and losing a war, it is very difficult to get rid of him. If a British prime minister is losing a war, then he will be out of office faster than you can say Neville Chamberlain.



  • At 6:48 pm , Blogger MatGB said...

    Well said sir, well said. But then, I figured it would be when I followed your link here from gavin's post at LDV.

    And for some reason I haven't got a feed of you guys, which is stupid. *goes to fix now*

  • At 4:04 pm , Blogger Ian Ridley said...

    I too dislike the US model - like elected Mayors it puts too much power in the hands of one person. However, I cannot defend our system of choosing our Head of State by who their parents are and their gender.

    I'm in favour of non-executive Presidents like Eire, Germany and so on.

    I am signed up to Republic, who are creating a Lib Dem section


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