Presentation on theme: "The Birth of the Democratic Constitution How the right to vote was secured Nature of the electoral system The management of the electoral system The case."— Presentation transcript:
The Birth of the Democratic Constitution How the right to vote was secured Nature of the electoral system The management of the electoral system The case for reforming the electoral system Emergence of political parties Response to political scandal.
Origins of Parliament Model Parliament of 1295 summoned by Edward I generally regarded as the first representative Parliament. Comprised 2 knights from each county, 2 Burgers from each borough, 2 citizens from each city. Scotland remained separate nation with its own Parliament and legal system. The Monarchy was combined in 1603 and the two Parliaments combined in Bill of Rights of 1689 ensured regular Parliaments.
A Democratic Parliament? House of Lords represented the peers of the realm. Mainly landowners with hereditary titles (barons, viscounts, earls, dukes etc), plus the church (archbishops and bishops). House of Commons elected but until 1832 the distribution of seats was based on medieval centres of population recognised by Royal Charter. Many large cities and towns had no representation in Parliament. No control over the conduct of elections. Bribery and corruption common place and no secret ballot.
Hogarth’s allegorical electoral canvases The first of Hogarth's famous scenes features 'An Election Entertainment'. It was executed in 1754 as an allegory of Leonardo's Last Supper exactly 100 years before Parliament legislated to address the problem it highlighted. This panel features the feasting and revelling associated with election time. The pre-election entertainment was the opportunity for candidates to lavish favours in exchange for votes. The Corrupt Practices Act 1854 was a largely unsuccessful attempt to stamp out the considerable corruption which continued to accompany elections. It required an audit of accounts payable by each candidate and it defined the various forms of corrupt practice, including the intimidation of voters.
Great Reform Act 1832 Right to vote achieved after a prolonged struggle: 1832 Reform Act changed the voting qualification to the £10 level which virtually doubled the franchise. 56 rotten and pocket boroughs were abolished and these seats went to large cities and towns in midlands and north. 22 new boroughs were created with two members and 19 new boroughs with one member. The representation of counties was increased. One county was given six members. 26 counties were given 4 members. 7 counties were given three members. Until 1832 no list of voters was prepared beforehand Reform Act is an important constitutional landmark because it can be regarded as a symbolic defeat of immense significance for the landed interests within Parliament.
Path to universal suffrage 1867 Reform Act further reduced the voting qualification and redistributed more seats 1872 Secret Ballot introduced 1883 Corrupt Practices Act 1884 Reform Act regulated elections further extended the franchise all adult males and women over 30 given right to vote All women over 21 have the right to vote.
Votes for women Mary Wollstonecraft was a radical among her contemporaries who had published her influential Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792 arguing that men and women should be entitled to the same fundamental rights. Dicey commented: '... women of pre-eminent goodness are often lacking in the virtues such as active courage, firmness of judgment, self-control, steadiness of conduct, and above all, a certain sense of justice maintained in the heat of party conflict.’ National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies was established in 1888 to present the case for female suffrage. Contribution to the war ( ) crucial in the struggle for the vote.
Frequency of elections Parliament Act 1911 reduced the maximum period between elections from 7 to 5 years. Counter balance weakening of House of Lords. Westminster system depends on government maintaining its majority so a policy defeat before that will trigger an election e.g Until the last election by convention the PM had a discretionary power to call for the dissolution of Parliament prompting an election. Following the coalition agreement the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 sets elections at 5 year intervals unless government is defeated. Until such time as the Act is repealed PM no longer has this power.
The Electoral System First past the post/simple majority system Nation divided into 645 single member constituencies. Adults over the age of 18 have the right to vote. Secret ballot Electoral register must be kept up-to-date. Boundary Commission is an independent public body that reviews Parliamentary constituency boundaries. 'The electorate of any constituency shall be as near the electoral quota as is practicable...' In doing this it takes into account a number of sub- rules to allow for some flexibility e.g. geographical considerations and shape of a constituency. There may need to be quite far-reaching changes to make in response to changes in population.
Ratio between popular vote and seats gained 2001 General Election Result Labour 42% popular vote 413 seats 62.7% seats Conservative 32.7% popular vote 166 seats 25.2% seats Liberal Democrat 18% popular vote 52 seats 7.9% seats 2010 General Election Result Labour 30% popular vote 258 seats 40% seats Conservative 37% popular vote 307 seats 47.5% seats Liberal Democrat 24% popular vote 57 seats 8.8% seats
Referendum on alternative vote 2011 Alternative vote system as a possible replacement rejected in a referendum May The coalition agreement after the 2010 general election included a commitment to hold a national referendum allowing voters a choice between the retaining the present system or changing it in favour of the Alternative Vote (AV) system. AV is a preferential system that maintains single-member constituencies and seeks to ensure that all MPs have the support of more than half of the electors in their constituency. It works by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Candidates are elected outright if they receive more than half of the votes. If no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, the second preferences of the losing candidates are redistributed successively until a candidate emerges with more than half the votes. Jenkins Commission recommended additional member system.
Regulating electoral funding The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 now regulates the conduct of political parties. It set up an Election Commission to oversee the electoral process. The Act also requires political parties to be registered and it imposes restrictions on the source of donations to prevent foreign and anonymous support for political parties. The Act further requires that any donation over £5000 to a political party is declared.
Political Parties Eighteenth and early nineteenth century: two factions Whigs and Tories both associated with the monarchy but Tories associated also with exiled Stuarts. Whigs evolved into the Liberal Party. Traditional Tory ‘God, King and Country’: Associated with Burke late Eighteenth century. It became the Conservative Party during the nineteenth century and under Disreali idea of one nation conservatism developed. Labour Party formed from the Fabian movement and Trade Unions. Kier Hardy first MP.
National parties today Conservative Party represents middle classes and business but no longer a party of the landed aristocracy. Relies on private funding. Labour Party close links with trade union movement which provides a substantial proportion of funding. Represents poorer groups plus some middle class voters. Liberal Democrats privately funded. Middle class representation UKIP – anti-Europe National Front – racist anti-immigration – working class support.
Parties (contd) National parties tend to be grand coalitions of interest reflecting a wide range of views. Electoral system means that concentrated support is required to win a seat. Small parties tend to do very badly. Scottish Nationalists and Welsh Nationalists are able to get MPs elected because of concentrated support in parts of Scotland and Wales. Independents tend only to be elected at by elections.
Political scandal Thatcher/Major years: cash for questions involved MPs being given money to ask parliamentary questions. Raises question of lobbying. Led to a parliamentary commissioner for standards and a compulsory register of MPs interests. MPs Expenses: In 2009 Freedom of Information requests led to the exposure of many false claims from MPs exploiting the expenses that were offered. Several MPs were forced to resign and some imprisoned.
Conclusion Vote only achieved after a protracted struggle. Legitimacy of the House of Commons was asserted as the franchise was extended. Not just a matter of the right to vote but of establishing boundaries and regulating conduct to avoid abuse of the system. Simple majority electoral system contributes to large stable parties that tend to be broadly representative.