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    The problem with ‘independent’ MPs

    by Sunny on 19th December, 2009 at 11:03 AM    

    Ezra Klein has an excellent article at the Washington Post on what a hypocritical and mendacious Senator Joe Lieberman is, as he tries to gut healthcare reform. The administration have bent over backwards to accommodate the two ‘independent’ (meaning conservative) Democratic Senators - Nelson and Liberman - and both aren’t giving an inch.

    In contrast the Republicans are toeing a tight line, making sure not one Senator crosses over. The result? Obama is in deep shit. If healthcare reform fails then his administration will be labelled as a failure. And all because of one Senator who doesn’t want to give easy access to abortion (Nelson) and the other because he wants to see Democrats fail (Lieberman). And that, in many ways, is why I have a problem with agreeing that allowing politicians plenty of independence is a good thing: you end up with an American system that can’t get much done at all unless discipline is imposed.

    There’s a point of clarification here. I generally don’t have problems with independent MPs who attack to defend the base, as people like Howard Dean are doing. I abhor independents who betray the people who turn out to campaign and vote for them and the party that represents a certain set of values.

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    Filed in: Party politics, United States

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    1. Dave Semple — on 19th December, 2009 at 3:10 AM  

      I think the current British system, if it could be tightened up with a) constituency party control of the purse strings and b) a right of recall, would be better than what the Americans have.

      I am impressed with the discipline a number of CLPs can impose on their candidates - but am less impressed with the discipline “Regional Communications Officers” are trying to impose. One implies loyalty to the membership, the other loyalty to the bureaucratic indifference of the centre towards local concerns and the opinions of the members.

    2. MaidMarian — on 19th December, 2009 at 10:30 AM  

      We do not really need independENTS, we need more independENCE. Parties, for all their faults are necessary. Without them we have a free-for-all.

      Independents may or may not be good, but more often than not they are people with a pre-existing media profile and an axe to grind. Those who believe in Esther Rantzen may do well to look at her past comments on child protection and think about the civil liberties implications.

      Simple answer - limit MPs to two terms or ten years, whichever is sooner. That way there is a bit of party discipline, and also a loosening of the whip.

      I would however disagree with dave semple about a recall. That would be catastrophic and would incentivise big money to vexatiously pursue individuals over single issues. Simply time-limiting MPs would be a better option.

    3. Rumbold — on 20th December, 2009 at 1:24 AM  

      I abhor independents who betray the people who turn out to campaign and vote for them and the party that represents a certain set of values.

      Like John Bercow?

      Lieberman is an odd case, as he was rejected in the Democratic primary and so owes his mandate to people who voted for him as an independent, not a Democrat. I do agree with the propostion though that says you need some discipline.

    4. MaidMarian — on 20th December, 2009 at 4:03 AM  

      Rumbold - Sorry, I don't understand that. Bercow was a Conservative MP, he took the Conservative whip. The voters knew (or should have done) that he was some way from the Thatcherite wing of the party, he made no secret of it.

      He was entitled to run for speaker which is independent by convention. In running for speaker there is nothing at all wrong with reaching out to the opposition party's MPs. Who has been betrayed by Bercow?

    5. Rumbold — on 20th December, 2009 at 8:16 AM  

      I don't think he has betrayed anyone. but I remember many left wingers praising John Bercow because he held similar views to them. People knew Lieberman's views as well.

    6. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th December, 2009 at 7:40 PM  

      My colleague, and soon-to-be-blogger at randomvariable, Brian Adams, who's generally an expert on all things US electoral politics, suggests that Lieberman was the strategic fall-guy for the democrats. As an independent, he can draw most of the flack from the left for the removal of the public option.

      Lieberman can do this for two reasons: he wont be facing a primary, where partisan activists do the most damage, and the US system heavily favours incumbents - conferring at least a 10% advantage.

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