Better Governance: A Case for Parliamentary Systems
UK Green Party gain first MP with Brighton win
British voters were able to put hope above fear. One system of democratic government is consistently better, and it’s not the one we have in the United States. We trim, blend, append two relatively recent articles from (1) BBC, 2010 May 7, on the UK win and (2) Miller McCune, 2009 April 20, on parliamentary systems by Lee Drutman.
by BBC and by Lee Drutman
Election: Green Party gain first MP with Brighton win
The UK has its first Green Party MP after Caroline Lucas won the seat of Brighton Pavilion, with a majority of 1,252 over Labour's Nancy Platts.
Ms Lucas, the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said voters had made history by electing her to Parliament on a swing of 8.4%.
"Thank you so much for putting the politics of hope above the politics of fear," she told them.
"I pledge that I will do my very best to do you proud," she said.
"For once the word historic fits the bill."
The Green Party stood in more constituencies in England and Wales than ever before, fielding more than 300 candidates.
Although Ms Lucas is their only MP, the Scottish branch of the party has two MSPs in the Parliament at Holyrood, while there are two Green members of the 25-strong London Assembly.
One of their MSPs -- Patrick Harvie, who represents Glasgow and is co-leader of the Scottish Greens -- said the result "changes everything".
"The whole party will be over the moon to see Caroline Lucas's triumph in Brighton," he added.
"Westminster was always going to be the toughest nut to crack, and Caroline has made an extraordinary breakthrough."
He said the House of Commons would now have "a real voice speaking out against the cuts to public services, for equality, and for a greener and more sustainable economy".
Ms Lucas has described the prospect of a hung parliament as "interesting", saying it may increase the chances of securing "a fairer electoral system, so that people's voices are properly heard".
It would also be important in "giving the Greens that bit more influence", she told BBC News. "So, I think these are pretty exciting days ahead."
The party had had 200 people campaigning in the seat of Brighton Pavilion on Thursday to ensure those who had said they would vote Green did so, she said.
JJS: What makes it possible for a new party to enter the legislature in the UK but not in the US?
A Case for Parliamentary Systems
Maybe it’s not our elected leaders that we should be chiding. John Gerring and Strom C. Thacker, professors of political science at Boston University, say the actual problem may be our political institutions.
Gerring and Thacker looked at the relative effectiveness of the two major systems of democratic government -- presidential (which we have here in the United States, where the executive and legislature are elected separately and often work separately) and parliamentary (more common in Europe, where the executive and the legislature are elected together and work together).
In parliamentary systems, Thacker explained, “To form a government, you have to get coalitions in place, and that helps facilitate the development of parties that aggregate interests, and it facilitates decision-making to incorporate a wide array of interest groups.”
Presidential systems, meanwhile, are based on a separation-of-powers model. Such a system does have more of the checks and balances that Americans are so fond of touting. But more checks mean more veto points, which means more potential sand in the gears. It also means more public displays of conflict and confrontation, which many believe tend to exacerbate Americans’ cynicism toward politics.
In a parliamentary system, generally, conflict is a lot more muted.
Gerring and Thacker began gathering extensive data on roughly 130 countries eight years ago. Eventually, they wound up with 14 outcome measures, covering a broad range of good governance areas (things such as corruption, bureaucratic quality, political stability) as well as economic and human development indicators (measures ranging from telephone mainlines to GDP to life expectancy to illiteracy).
With the wide range of controls, parliamentary systems consistently outperformed presidential systems on almost all the measures. The findings were robust across big nations and small nations, across heterogeneous as well as homogenous nations. The results are presented in the latest issue of Comparative Political Studies and in a recent book, A Centripetal Theory of Democratic Governance.
Thacker said, “the patterns were stronger than we expected across such a wide range of findings.”
Thacker noted that for a country with our level of economic development, the United States doesn’t do nearly as well as we might be expected to do across a broad range of human development outcomes. “For a rich country, we should be doing better,” he said. As Gerring put it, “There’s very little to defend the current system.”
Constitutional reform is a live issue in many countries around the world, as well as for those who think about nation-building. The lesson from Gerring and Thacker seems clear: Parliamentary systems that institutionalize coordination and compromise consistently produce better outcomes than presidential systems that institutionalize conflict and confrontation.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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