Constitutional Integrity

(July 2020)

There is an obvious conflict of interest in Members of the House of Commons determining how and when the constitutional framework within which they operate can be reviewed and amended, and how and when they themselves are elected and can be recalled.

In general elections, voters elect representatives to legislate on ordinary matters and to oversee the routine business of government. Constitutional issues lie outside the sphere of ordinary politics and, because they govern the way ordinary politics operates, there is a clear conflict of interests if MPs themselves are responsible for legislating on them.
We propose that any changes to constitutional laws must be endorsed by an independent, specially-elected Constitutional Parliament, elected to sit for a limited period.

The electoral system is the most obvious area where this conflict of interest operates because the choice of voting system profoundly affects MPs’ chances of being re-elected. This question is particularly important because it directly affects the integrity of the Constitutional Parliament itself. We therefore propose that the primary objective of the electoral process should be determined at a political level but decisions on how that process operates (i.e. what voting system should be used etc) should be delegated to an appropriate independent body.

Similarly, MPs can’t be properly held to account if they can only be challenged at a General Election, when their personal failings are over-shadowed by broader issues: without effective procedures for constituents to recall their MPs at any time, the public can’t have confidence they are properly represented.

In addition, many people don’t vote in elections because they don’t want to be represented by any of the candidates standing. Some of those non-voters feel we’d be better served if MPs were chosen through some form of random selection; those people are currently denied the chance to properly express their will. At the same time, many capable, diligent, public-spirited people would never actively seek to become MPs but would willingly step up to the responsibility, if called upon. We therefore propose that all elections should allow the possibility of a representative being chosen by a form of random selection, instead of a specific individual, if that is what a majority in a constituency prefer.

To ensure the integrity of the electoral process, we propose that a Constitutional Parliament should:

  • define the primary objective of elections (i.e. whether it is to allow constituents to clearly express their will in regard to who should represent them; to give fair representation to political parties; to provide strong and stable government; or some other purpose)**;
  • legislate that elections be held using whatever voting system is deemed, by an appropriate independent body, to be most likely to fulfil that objective**;
  • legislate to allow recall petitions in any circumstances, subject to a requirement that they be approved by an electors’ jury (i.e. a randomly-selected sample of the local electorate) to prevent vexatious petitions; and
  • delegate to an appropriate independent body all decisions on petition thresholds and details pertaining to jury approval;
  • legislate that, in an election, abstentions be treated as a rejection of all the named candidates, with abstainers’ votes going to a ‘sortition’ candidate, to be appointed by a jury randomly chosen from the constituency’s electorate.

To ensure the independence of the Constitutional Parliament, we propose that it should be subject to the following constraints::

  • The Parliament shall sit for up to two years, with power to legislate on all issues that are clearly constitutional and on any specific issues explicitly delegated to it.
  • Members shall be elected using a voting system and constituency framework that an appropriate independent body considers will
    • best ensure that all strands of public opinion, in all areas of the country and all age groups, are fairly represented;
    • maximise the public’s ability to express their wishes in regard to how they are represented; and
    • allow a representative to be chosen by sortition, rather than a specific individual, if that is what a majority in a constituency prefer.
  • A by-election shall be held if a petition to recall a member, for any reason, is approved by a voters’ jury (i.e. a randomly-selected sample of the local electorate);
  • The Parliament’s office-holders shall be chosen by a secret ballot of all members, using a voting system that maximises their ability to demonstrate which candidates have their trust.
  • Members of the Constitutional Parliament shall be barred from holding any position in a political party or standing for elected office, other than as an independent candidate, for a period of seven years from the dissolution of the Parliament.

** Local Sovereignty’s position is that the primary objective of elections is to allow the public to express their will in regard to who should represent them, and that this requires a system of ranked voting.

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