Too many people are voting for party leaders who can't represent them in Wales . . . | Prof. Russell Deacon

Too many people are voting for party leaders who can’t represent them in Wales . . . | Prof. Russell Deacon

Too many people are voting for the party leaders who can’t represent us directly in Wales, rather than the people who actually can! This process could and should be changed, argues Prof Russell Deacon

It is true that no UK political party leader stood for election on the 8th June  2017 in Wales. It also seems clear that although none stood in Wales, many people cast their ballot with one of their names in mind. Therefore, with most people now voting in general elections for their next Prime Minister, rather than their next MP, isn’t it time to go to directly elected Prime Ministers, as well as voting for our constituency MPs?  Would this not also make voters pay more attention to whom will represent them locally at Westminster?

In Wales over 8 in 10 voters and in England just under 9 in 10 voters either voted Labour or Conservative. At the heart of their choice was often not whether their local MP would be best to represent them in their constituency, but whether Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May would make the best Prime Minister. It is true that some people may know the local candidate they are voting for directly, but the vast majority do not and most do not take the trouble to find out. Whereas it could be argued than an incumbent MP or a well known local politician may have a track record enough to gain what is called a “personal vote”, the same cannot often be said of the challengers.  Here their campaign is often led around the personality of the party’s UK or sometimes Welsh leader, with the belief in the voters mind that they are directly voting for them, as opposed to their actual MP. The vast majority of the election literature now goes on attacking opponents or pushing national rather than constituency political agendas. There may even only be one leaflet extolling the candidate’s virtues, as the best person for the seat and even this is often part of a standardised address supplied by the party with the candidate filling in the blanks with their own details.  Few voters would appear to make the effort to attend hustings to hear the candidates speak directly and ask their own probing questions as to their suitability for office. Some constituencies do not even have hustings at all or lack a local press to help the voter find out more about the person that will represent them, beyond the party spin.

In the UK only the leaders constituents elect them to parliament and only the party members elect them as leader. The result is that a new MP can be elected almost entirely on the coat tails of a popular leader combined with a slick party campaign, with little scrutiny of their suitability to represent the people they are elected for. Getting a good constituency MP, therefore, can fall down to the luck of a political party’s own selection procedures and if that goes well, whether the constituency also likes their party leader enough to vote them in. It may have very little to do with the candidates own ability to be or to continue to be a good MP. Which other job, with such high pay and power, could result in appointment with so little scrutiny of the candidates suitability to hold the post by those who employ them?

So the question is, should we not now look at having two votes on the ballot paper in Wales? One for the Prime Minister and one for the actual person who represents us in the constituency? Would this not make us look more seriously at the qualities and attributes of our potential MP, rather than casting a vote not for them but for the party leader who most inspires us? For the vast majority of us in the last election this was either Corbyn or May, neither of whom will represent any of us directly in Wales.

This idea may seem cloud in the sky politics, but we should note for the record that directly elected Prime Ministers have occurred in other countries. For example, between 1996 and 2001, the Prime Minister of Israel was directly elected, separately from the Knesset. So it is a possibility, and such a dual vote would allow us to indicate not only who we want to lead the country, but it would also make us pay a little bit more attention to the calibre and suitability of those tasked with representing our communities.

Professor Russell Deacon is the Administrative Director or Gorwel and also a Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales

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