Do legislators still know enough to reform legislatures?

In yesterday’s Irish Independent on Sunday there’s an article by Senator John Crown, member in the university interest of the Seanad √Čireann, the upper house of the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, which currently faces abolition. The Seanad comprises several groups of individuals, most of these groups selected by various
appointment panels representing agriculture, industry
and so on; Sen Crown’s proposal is to extend the provisions relating to the only elected one of these groups to embrace most of the other groups, while remaining within the various harder-to-change constitutional rules establishing the general setup (like the existence of these groups in the first place).

His idea is to replace the appointment panels with normal elections, and each elector gets to choose which of the panels’ senators to vote for (under multi-member STV):

Every adult citizen will be able to vote in any “panel” constituency, but only in one of them.

This is a good example of why legislators should leave reform of the legislature to the experts, by which I mean me and my friends. It turns out that the idea of letting people choose their own constituency for upper house elections has been considered and rejected before: if there’s no statistical difference between the constituencies, you get the same result. Therefore if you assign upper house constituencies at random, then the same party (under FPTP/AV) or proportion of parties (under STV) wins in each constituency. Letting people choose their constituency opens the system up to being gamed by the political parties.

Now I think the Irish Senate’s composition is a dreadful thing, because it faithfully implements a formally corporatist approach to political and social organisation. This idea is commended in the papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (which is not a reason in itself to oppose something – they might have had a stopped clock moment and recommended a good thing for bad reasons). This kind of reasoning, the idea that we should support or oppose a constitutional feature because of who promoted it and why, decades after the fact, was much in evidence at Robin Archer’s talk at the Menzies Centre last week (which was very interesting but somewhat wrong, and which I shall blog about tomorrow).

I confine myself to noting that if these upper houses are supposed to have some sort of expertise unavailable to democratic bodies, how many more software developers should be in them?

If you could bear reading this far, you should follow me on Twitter:

Comments are closed.