John Carey on presidentialism

John Carey offers a series of reflections on the debate over presidentialism and democracy, which was originally sparked by Juan Linz‘s famous article, “The Perils of Presidentialism”, in the late 1980s.

John reviews the big issues, and offers some valuable analysis of regime-performance data. Highly recommended. It is in three parts at Presidential Power; the second part is linked at the end of the first, and so on.

I suppose most readers of this blog (or that one) know that John Carey and I are authors of Presidents and Assemblies (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

49 thoughts on “John Carey on presidentialism

  1. Very interesting article, with a clear emphasis towards the end on what fundamental issues we ought not lose sight of.

    Presidents and Assemblies was the first serious academic book on constitutional design I got a hold of (but, embarrassingly, it took me almost a year of commenting on this blog to realise the connection…).

    Would it be too bold of me to inquire as to some of your personal views on the (dis)advantages and desirability of separation of powers in constitutional design? Mainly from the blog’s mission statement, I’ve got a general idea but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything you’ve written laying it out in more detail.

  2. Is the conjunction of proportional representation with presidentalism always a disaster or can it be better than a country that is presidentalist with a plurality/majority system?

    • The recent performance of Brazil (and several other presidential countries) in terms of both economic growth and equality suggests that PR plus presidentialism cannot always be a disaster. Wikipedia identified 41 presidential systems and 24 presidential systems with proportional representation.

      One could perhaps argue that presidentialism has a more natural ‘fit’ to PR because there is no question of government instability or delay in government formation.

      • Assuming what the flavor of PR that is used, what would be the best system of PR in conjunction with Presidentialism? Oh great, is the U.S missing something because of it’s lack of PR?

    • I guess it would be predictable for me to suggest that STV allows you to elect the legislature and the executive by the same method of proportional representation of the electors, as is done in Ireland (although of course the Irish presidency is ceremonial rather than executive). You would still have Madisonian checks and balances because of the different electoral configurations for the house, senate and presidency.

  3. There are many more presidential democracies with proportional electoral systems (for at least one chamber) than there are presidential systems with majoritarian systems (for both or the sole chamber). Of course, there are many different forms of PR, and their diversity in presidential systems is nearly as great as that in parliamentary. There is not, however, a case of STV and presidentialism, for reasons that probably have more to do with historical and cultural factors than with answers to the elusive question of what is BEST.

  4. […] But while America was congratulating itself on being a beacon of freedom, it overlooked the fact that, in practice, very few of those new democracies actually followed the U.S. lead.
    And why would they? America’s late 18th-century constitutional system, with its strikingly undemocratic Senate and its weirdly indirect mechanisms for presidential elections, didn’t exactly look like the cutting-edge model of governing. Instead, new democracies looked for cues in a place where elected representatives were chosen according to a strictly democratic system. Where politicians cooperated more than they squabbled. Where policies generally strove to serve the best interests of the nation. And where, above all, public servants placed a premium on getting things done.
    The new democracies, in other words, looked to Germany. […]
    In 1945, the place was a bunch of smoking ruins; 70 years later, Germany is a strong democracy that also happens to be one of the world’s economic powerhouses. What did Germans do in between to make their system of governance a model for countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and even post-Franco Spain?
    The answer is elegantly simple: Germany’s post-World War II political system, anchored in the lessons learned from previous national failures and tragedies, emphasizes both freedom and workability. This system shows that vibrant democratic values and efficient governance don’t have to be at odds. It’s a lesson the United States would do well to learn. […]
    – Christian Caryl, “Back to Basics: Looking for an alternative to dysfunction in Washington? Maybe it’s time to turn to Berlin.” Foreign Policy (2 July 2014). URL:

    • Can’t the German system lead to gridlock as it is hard for the government to call for snap elections? The government has to fake losing a vote of no confidence in order to get toward early elections. A parliamentary democracy is simply the government is formed among the legislative majority or is tolerate by the majority.

      How do we know if a constructive vote of no confidence ensures stability? The Weimar Republic had a lot of flaws, and it was a funky semi-presidentialist system that everyone blames it’s collapse on the system of Proportional Representation when it was the Great Depression that caused the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

      Parliamentary democracies dissolution powers range from Norway’s fixed term toward the Classical Westminster, the government can call an election at any-time and anywhere in between which would be Germany.

      • I’m afraid I tend to think of Weimar as a special case we should designate non-funky super-presidentialism.

    • The presidency was directly elected from 1891. The indirect elections that prevailed from 1964 to 1985 were an invention of the junta.

      The advent of the republic actually shrank the electorate by a factor of 8.

      The new law thus combined a régime capacitaire and a régime censitaire. Voters as a share of national population fell from 12% of the population to 1.5%, though the electorate was presumably less controlled by local bosses and better informed.

      Electoral participation never passed 3.5% before 1931, there were no national parties, and presidential elections were determined largely by the governors, in particular the governors of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. I’m not saying the Old Republic achieved nothing, merely that it was not by any stretch an electoral democracy. 3.5 percent is not an electoral democracy no matter what the official form of the state is.

      The official forms were obviously based on the US, with the exception of direct presidential elections. However, every country has its own constitutional history and Brazil has since adopted proportional representation, centralised judicial administration of elections by the Supreme Electoral Court, a much more powerful federal government which in extreme cases can impose federal control on a state, a system of administrative tribunals, direct establishment of municipal government by the federal constitution, a radically different fiscal system, and a number of other features not found in the original model.

  5. […] Other countries have used their governments as instruments to improve health – including, but not limited to, the development of universal health insurance. Health-policy analysts have therefore considered the effect that different political systems have on public health. Most OECD countries, for example, have parliamentary systems, where the party that wins the majority of seats in the legislature forms the government. Because of this overlap of the legislative and executive branches, parliamentary systems have fewer checks and balances – fewer of what Victor Fuchs, a health economist at Stanford, calls “choke points for special interests to block or reshape legislation,” such as filibusters or Presidential vetoes. In a parliamentary system, change can be enacted without extensive political negotiation – whereas the American system was designed, at least in part, to avoid the concentration of power that can produce such swift changes. […]

    – Allan Detsky, “Why America Is Losing the Health Race”, The New Yorker (13 June 2014). URL:

    • I don’t know that Germany has been quite such a persuasive model. In terms of population Brazil and Indonesia dominate the group of new democracies and neither have drawn much at all from the German model. I’m tempted to mention Belgium, Greece, Italy and Iraq as examples of chokepoint-free parliamentary systems but I won’t.

      A whole lot of the scholarly critique of presidentialism seems to me to be based on the truly bizarre legislative customs and rules adopted by the US Congress, rather than anything inherent to presidential systems.

      California, I seem to remember, was an economic and political basket case and would the last person to leave please switch off the lights. A shift to normalising the requirements for a legislative majority seems to have altered both that trajectory and its inevitability.

  6. The main differences bewteen Weimer and Bonn were the reduction of the Presidency to a ceremonial office, and a reform of the federal system that reduced the disparity of the population between the lander. Other than those, there is not much difference.

    Brazil in 1889 simply adopted a constitution modeled on the US constitution, as did other Latin American republics. Except for the introduction of proportional representation, they really haven’t strayed from this model. I think its odd to describe Brazil as a “new” democracy if their system of government essentially dates to 1889. There have been periods of military rule since them, but after each time a somewhat more democratic version of the 1889 system was restored.

    • The presidency was not just reduced in power, it also became indirectly-elected, meaning that the change was from president-parliamentary to parliamentary. I would argue that the constructive no-confidence vote should be added to the list of major changes, along with the 5% threshold. Another innovation was the MMP electoral system, though that indeed makes little difference overall.

    • The Brazilian constitution of 1891 excluded women, illiterates and the landless (a majority of the population) from voting. Congressional seats were still apportioned by population so that the less developed a state was the more power its oligarchs exercised in tiny electorates. Two states were to monopolise the presidency until 1930 and governors could and indeed fight wars among themselves. The formal constitution may have looked like the US but the actual constitution was nothing like it. I guess its worth noting that the Old Republic was created by slave-owners who overthrew the monarchy because Pedro II’s daughter and regent supported the abolition of slavery. With the exception of the imperial family itself, the families that had dominated the Brazilian empire retained control until 1930.

      From 1930 to 1945 the country was a personal dictatorship under Getulio Vargas. There was a brief period of electoral democracy from 1945 until 1964 when the military seized power in the first of South America’s long coups and held it until 1985.

      1824 to 1985 is 161 years. Brazil was an electoral democracy for 19 of those years. I think the label new democracy fits.

      • First, a constitution that “excludes women,illiterates and the landless” from voting, written by slaveowners, where people without votes (including 3/5 of the slaves) counted towards representatives in the capital very much describes the U.S. constitution of 1787. You even have two states monopolizing the presidency for the first fourty years of the republic’s existence. Women got the vote in the US in 1919 at the federal level, and poll taxes weren’t removed until the 1960s. The U.S. did abolish slavery 24 years before Brazil, which was 89 years after independence for the U.S. and 67 years after independence for Brazil.

        My actual comment was directed towards the structure of the government, which for both Brazil and the U.S. has been a federal system and a presidential system, with a bicameral legislature where the upper house is made up of states sending in equal sized delegations. This has been unchanged for both countries since shortly after the removal of the monarchy. Brazil has made a few more fundamental changes, such as introducing the direct election of presidents starting in 1989.

        Its a minor point, but the description of the creation of the Brazilian 1st Republic is simplified to the point of being cartoonish and not supported by the histories I read. Its true that initially the Republic was an oligarchy and gradually democratized, but that is true of the constitutional development in the U.S. The U.S. lacks the periods of quasi-fascism and military rule. On the other hand, a mulatto (person of color in modern American terminology) became president of Brazil a century before anything like this happened in the U.S.

      • Brazil seems to have yo-yo between democracy and dictatorship. This present era is the longest of Brazilian Democracy. It seems to me that Brazil’s Democracy is succeeding because of economic progress, and income inequality is not as bad as it once use to be. The Weimar Republic collapsed because of the great depression. There seems to be a correlation between democratic success and economic progress. Most of not all of the rich countries are democracies, and most of not all dirt poor countries are dictatorships or else really bad democracies.

    • This may be a good question to ask, when did most Latin American countries embraced proportional representation? What was the reason for it? It seems to me that most European countries, but not all embraced proportional representation at the same time as universal suffrage. Some European countries embraced Proportional Representation before Universal Suffrage, and those countries that I can think of would be Belgium and Switzerland. France went back and fourth between Proportional Representation and the Two-Round System, probably the only country that went on the PR bandwagon and then towards a plurality/majority system. The UK embraced universal suffrage, but not Proportional Representation, Canada, and the U.S are on this track. Australia could also be the same as well with Universal Suffrage, but not embracing the Proportional Representation for it’s Senate until 1949. NZ jumped on the PR bandwagon in 1996, and it is funny that the first country/jurisdiction in the world to embrace Universal Suffrage didn’t get on to the PR wagon until so late. Better late than never.

  7. Alan noted, well above:

    A whole lot of the scholarly critique of presidentialism seems to me to be based on the truly bizarre legislative customs and rules adopted by the US Congress, rather than anything inherent to presidential systems.

    This strikes this scholar of comparative institutions as odd. Most of the scholarly literature that offers what might be called a critique of presidentialism barely deals with the US case, or explains away its relative success (i.e. no regime breakdown, generally sustained good economic performance) as due to factors other than presidentialism, per se.

    • I suspect discussion of presidentialism will get a whole lot more interesting once there is a second developed economy with an executive presidency and the US becomes much less sui generis.

      • What about Costa Rica? Costa Rica seems to be the 2nd most successful country using Presidentialism and it is with Proportional Representation with an extremely tiny assembly for it’s population size at 57 members, and 2 term limit for deputies, but they can serve again only if they sit out a term. Chile, and Uruguay seem to be successful countries with Presidentialism. How do the top 3 democracies in Latin America Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay are different from U.S Presidentialism?

        Some countries like Turkey want to move from Parliamentarianism to Presidentialism. Turkey is the parliamentary democracy that has a few coups, so even parliamentary democracies are just as prone to fail as Presidentialism. Most Latin America have extremely high income inequality and that is the reason why democracy has failed so many times until recent economic progress. Chile which is touted as a democratic success story has high income inequality. A democracy doesn’t guarantee a country is going to be rich (India), doesn’t guarantee it is going to pay it’s bills to foreign creditors (Argentina), and it doesn’t guarantee that it won’t yo-yo back and fourth between democracy and military rule (Thailand).

        Most countries that have Presidentialism except Mexico and the U.S don’t have mid-term elections. Could that be the reason for gridlock in the U.S Congress, and Mexican Congress?

      • There is not really a standard definition of developed economy.

        However, the US is the only presidential country to appear on the IMF list of advanced economies. The US and Chile are the only presidential countries to appear on the OECD list of high income countries. Even so, Chile’s GDP per capita at USD21990 is well below the average of OECD countries at USD36427.

        Latin America, home to the great majority of presidential countries, remains, despite rapid gains in recent times, low in world tables for GDP and equality. Attempts to measure the economic success of presidential economies against other systems have to reflect this.

      • I’d think South Korea is semipresidential although I concede Cyprus.

        Cyprus is on the IMF list but not the OECD list. The per capita GDP figure USD26070 which is well below the OECD average.

      • South Korea is full presidential. The country’s so-called ‘prime minister’ is appointed by the president with National Assembly approval but can only be removed by the president.

  8. “For the last 50 years Americans have been decrying the increase of presidential power whenever the party they oppose is in office. Republicans hated to see Kennedy and Clinton throwing their weight around, while Democrats deplored the ‘imperial presidency’ of Nixon and Reagan. FH Buckley, a Canadian law professor now working in Virginia, explains why presidents have become so powerful. He adds that it’s not just an American problem. Prime ministers in Britain and Canada have also grown more powerful at the expense of their countries’ parliaments, but to a lesser, and less menacing, degree.
    “He argues that American conditions today are very different from those foreseen by the Founding Fathers when they wrote the constitution in 1787. They were suspicious of popular democracy, and thought they were creating a system in which Congress would be dominant, with the President acting merely to carry out its wishes. Before long, however, the spread of popular democracy made the President the one figure who embodied the nation as a whole. He was both head of state and head of government, surrounded by an aura of sovereignty that no one else could match. Presidents could insulate themselves from Congress and appeal to the electorate over the heads of the other politicians, secure in the knowledge that fixed terms of office safeguarded their power. […]
    “Comparable changes have affected Britain, Canada, Australia and the rest of the British Commonwealth countries too, enabling prime ministers to concentrate power in their own hands, control the shape of media stories, and supervise an immense administrative state. But not to the same degree. Prime ministers are not heads of state and rarely inspire veneration. They live in terrace houses like 10 Downing Street rather than palaces. They have to face their opponents’ taunts in parliament, and do not enjoy fixed terms of office. Backbench or cabinet revolts can remove them from office. Moreover, they are not vulnerable to the kind of deadlock currently afflicting the US, where a Democratic president and a Republican-dominated Congress paralyse one another. Prime ministers lead the majority party and can prevail without breaking the rules, but only for so long as they command their party members’ assent.
    “Of the two, says Buckley, this is the better system, much less likely than a presidential system to degenerate into dictatorship. He sees recent presidents’ tendency to sidestep Congress, by appointing ‘czars’ and by using executive orders, as the road to de-legitimising the constitution. The Americans overthrew George III because they thought he was a tyrant. But now, says the pessimistic Buckley, they have burdened themselves with a chief executive mightier than any king. […]”
    – Patrick Allitt, “Is America headed for tyranny? It is when the other side’s in charge… The presidency’s power is increasing ominously – although perhaps not quite as much as this book thinks”. Review of The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, by FH Buckley (Encounter Books, ISBN: 9781594037191). The Spectator (23 August 2014),

  9. > Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago the Framers devised the wisest constitution then known to man. That was on September 3, 1787. Unfortunately, they then began to tamper with it, and the document they signed two weeks later has given us the maladies that now beset us.

    > What was the difference between the two constitutions? On September 3 the delegates had arrived at what they thought were two settled principles. The first was that Congress should appoint the president. Over the prior three and a half months, they had voted six times for a congressionally appointed president. At no time did they vote for a popularly elected president. The second principle was that the president might be removed by a simple majority vote in the Senate, after impeachment in the House. The senators, moreover, might do so whenever they thought the president was failing on the job and guilty of “maladministration.”

    > What would that have looked like, in practice? First, we wouldn’t have the gridlock that today paralyzes Washington. A president chosen by Congress would be far more likely to agree with it, especially if he could so easily be removed. We wouldn’t have our current regime, where presidents are reliably Democratic and Congress is reliably Republican, and the two are scarcely on speaking terms with each other.
    I think we’d also see less extremism and more movement toward the political center. Were all sides to talk to one another, they’d find more common ground on which to agree. There would be less tub-thumping from people pushing ideas they knew would never go anywhere.

    > Finally, the September 3 constitution would rein in what many see as dangerously excessive executive powers. Given today’s gridlock, the president asserts that if he wishes to achieve anything, he has no choice but to legislate from the White House. And so we now expect to see a presidential amnesty for millions of undocumented aliens after the November election. That’s not in line with what the Framers envisioned, of course. They thought that Congress should do the legislating — that it would be something more than the venue for State of the Union addresses. Reining in the executive would be far easier under the September 3 constitution.

    > The September 17 constitution, by contrast, makes it virtually impossible to remove a president. To do so, you’d need a president from one party, the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the Senate in the hands of the other party, and misbehavior that, in Congress’s view, rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That happened once in American history, in 1868, and even then the GOP-dominated Senate failed to remove Democrat Andrew Johnson. Ninety years later, John F. Kennedy wrote a book that praised the heroism of the Republican senator who switched his vote to save Johnson. That’s a nice story, but it lacks the added advantage of accuracy. The senator was bribed, many say (and Kennedy’s book was really written by Teddy Sorenson). […]

    – FH Buckley, “Two Cheers for Constitution Day! With the benefit of hindsight, the Framers might prefer the Constitution they didn’t sign.”
    National Review Online (17 September 2014),

    • Thanks for pointing this out, and I did not know about the original draft for the US constitution.

      I would go farther and propose that the error was in providing that there will always be a president. The president should have conceptually been similar to the dictators under the Roman Republic, only to be appointed to deal with emergencies, with powers and terms of office set forth in whichever resolution appointed the president. Otherwise, the executive agencies of the then small federal government could have been supervised by one or more congressional committees. Washington still would have become the first president, but once he died or retired there would be no need to appoint a second one for some time.

    • i think it’s also worth recalling they assumed most presidential elections would be decided by the house after electoral college failed to elect a president. What we regard with considerable trepidation is what they expected to be the norm.

      • According to William Riker’s excellent chapter on the matter in The Art of Political Manipulation, the electoral college and related rules concerning the presidency arose as an elaborate compromise between those who favoured a directly-elected president and those still preferring congressional election (as well as between small and large state delegates). Apparently, each side thought their preferred method would become the norm – those for congressional selection were convinced there would rarely be electoral college majorities, as each state or region would vote for its own candidates, while proponents of direct election thought majorities would be the norm, with the decision rarely ever coming to the House of Representatives.

    • I don’t know that this is such a persuasive case.

      The delegates will have been familiar with the Southern constitutions which have also been referred to as herrenvolk republicanism. Southern oligarchies defended the all powers to the malapportioned legislature model until the end of the Civil War as the only way to assure the continuing mastery of whites. They were also surprisingly explicit, in states like Virginia and South Carolina, in calling for the continuing dominance of slaveholders over other whites.

      The 1776 constitution of Virginia is typical. The franchise (actually the constitution merely continued the pre-existing franchise) contained a property qualification. A higher property qualification was required to hold office. Apportionment combined population and property in a kind of super three fifths clause. All statewide executive and judicial officials were elected to short terms by joint ballot of both houses of the legislature and were removable at pleasure of the legislature.

      That system would have been very close to the alleged 3 September constitution. It was not unfamiliar to the delegates and they signed a constitution that excluded the possibility of that system developing. The decisive departures were the wider franchise (even including the three fifths compromise) the longer terms of office, and the relative independence of the presidency and the courts.

      • Which ‘case’ are you referring to?

        In reading the 1776 Virginia Constitution, I cannot find the apportionment you describe, based on land, nor the qualification for officeholders; perhaps you are referring to a separate law. I also cannot find a provision allowing removal of the executive at will by the legislature (there is impeachment, but trial by the Court of Appeals). To the best of my knowledge, all the pre-1787 constitutions that provided for legislative election of the executive were assembly-independent, that is they had no censure/non-confidence vote provisions.

      • As stated, the Virginia constitution merely continued the existing franchise:

        The right of suffrage in the election of members for both Houses shall remain as exercised at present; and each House shall choose its own Speaker, appoint its own officers, settle its own rules of proceeding, and direct writs of election, for the supplying intermediate vacancies.

        South Carolina was (as usual) less delicate about the matter:

        The qualification of electors shall be that every free white man, and no other person, who acknowledges the being of a God, and believes in a future state of rewards and punishments, and who has attained to the age of one and twenty years, and hath been a resident and an inhabitant in this State for the space of one whole year before the day appointed for the election he offers to give his vote at, and hath a freehold at least of fifty acres of land, or a town lot, and hath been legally seized and possessed of the same at least six months previous to such election, or hath paid a tax the preceding year, or was taxable the present year, at least six months previous to the said election, in a sum equal to the tax on fifty acres of land, to the support of this government, shall be deemed a person qualified to vote for, and shall be capable of electing, a representative or representatives to serve as a member or members in the senate and house of representatives, for the parish or district where he actually is a resident, or in any other parish or district in this State where he hath the like freehold. Electors shall take an oath or affirmation of qualification, if required by the returning officer. No person shall be eligible to sit in the house of representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion, and hath been a resident in this State for three years previous to his election. The qualification of the elected, if residents in the parish or district for which they shall be returned, shall be the same as mentioned in the election act, and construed to mean clear of debt. But no non-resident shall be eligible to a seat in the house of representatives unless he is owner of a settled estate and freehold in his own right of the value of three thousand and five hundred pounds currency at least, clear of debt, in the parish or district for which he is elected.

        Both states required statewide officials to have $10 000 worth of land. Look up the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829 for the malaportionment and franchise issues.

        There were at the time no examples of parliamentary government and it is as accurate to call Britain itself assembly-indepdnent as anything else. A vote of no confidence by either or both houses was not yet decisive and prime ministers still had to manage the sovereign as much as the parliament. Indeed the US War of Independence would have been considerably shorter if George III had not been able to retain ministers who had clearly lost parliamentary confidence. Sovereigns would retain that power until the Bedchamber Crisis early in Victoria’s reign. Had the vote of no confidence been widely known, the legislatively-appointed governors would perhaps not have been restricted to such short terms.

        None of these matters of detail alter my original point that the Philadelphia delegates had before them a number of models of government and signed a constitution that precluded the possibility of the Southern model.

      • “As stated, the Virginia constitution merely continued the existing franchise”

        Indeed, that part was very clear, but I asked about apportionment and qualifications for officeholders, which wasn’t. This is what it says about those those things for the lower house:

        The House of Delegates, and consist of two Representatives, to be chosen for each county, and for the district of West-Augusta, annually, of such men as actually reside in, and are freeholders of the same, or duly qualified according to law, and also of one Delegate or Representative, to be chosen annually for the city of Williamsburgh, and one for the borough of Norfolk, and a Representative for each of such other cities and boroughs, as may hereafter be allowed particular representation by the legislature; but when any city or borough shall so decrease, as that the number of persons, having right of suffrage therein, shall have been, for the space of seven Years successively, less than half the number of voters in some one county in Virginia, such city or borough thenceforward shall cease to send a Delegate or Representative to the Assembly.

        I suppose “of such men as actually reside in, and are freeholders of the same, or duly qualified according to law” settles the property qualification, but the apportionment is pre-Great Reform Act style, without what you described as a super-3/5ths clause.

        “There were at the time no examples of parliamentary government ”
        I am well-aware of that. I merely reacted to your assertion that executives “were removable at pleasure of the legislature”.

  10. Interesting point here:

    “… The slow death of earmarks is one significant and overlooked reason why the White House had (and has) fewer tools at its disposal to negotiate with Republicans and keep Democrats happy. Combine that with President Obama’s distaste for schmoozing, which satisfies Congressional egos and goes a long way to bridge bridgeable gaps when it’s done properly, and the president simply could not bring a full arsenal to the table….”

    Marc Ambinder, “3 key insights about Obama from Chuck Todd’s THE STRANGER,” The Week (12 December 2014)

    …that contrasts nicely with this insight the same day from across the pond:

    “…When MPs enter Parliament these days, they face a choice. Either ‘become one of them’ so you can climb the greasy pole and get a ministerial job, or become a rebel, a backbench maverick, an MP in a party of one. If you do want to become a minister, you must audition for the job by being incredibly loyal to the point of nausea: asking the sycophantic questions in the Chamber that the whips ask you to, not rebelling even on issues that you care about, and pushing the needs of your constituents below those of your career….”

    Isabel Hardman, “Why Russell Brand isn’t wrong to fear entering Parliament,” The Spectator [UK] (12 December 2014)

    Ie, even if the head of government can’t appoint members of the legislature to the Cabinet (without requiring them to give up their seats, which would mean they become mere private citizens again if the head of government later dismisses them at pleasure), there are usually other ways and means (… so to speak) of trying to buy legislators’ support.

    Relating to this, Australia recently had a controversy because former PUP, now Independent, Senator Jacqui Lambie,an ex-soldier, announced she was going to vote against all Abbott Government Bills on principle until the Cabinet offered a better pay deal to military veterans. Some of the blog commenters took the view that there was nothing wrong with taking this approach since she is constitutionally entitled to vote yea or nay to each Bill as she sees fit. Legally, yes, but as a matter of constitutional propriety, it seems to me as wrong as a juror consulting an ouija board. Saying “I think the Anti-Smoking Bill is too harsh and that the fifteen-year prison sentence should be replaced with a $20 fine” is all right. Saying “I am quite happy with a fifteen-year prison sentence for smoking if – but only if – the Cabinet agrees to recommend greater funding for the freeway in my electorate” is, to my mind,constitutionally improper, although of course it cannot really be made illegal.

    • The Spectator piece linked to is worth a read, as is this:

      There is a silver lining in this, as I’ve noticed that as organizations evolve to put control of their members or careerism above the ability to actually accomplish things worthwhile, the career stuff to actual accomplishment ratio gets so high that the brightest members start to chuck the career. The price is not worth it if it gets the point where even if they do everything “right”, they are unlikely to reach the point where they can accomplish anything anyway.

      However, Russel Brand should run for Parliament, as an independent. The examples of Martin Bell and Caroline Lucas suggest that this is possible, though they also show that what he will accomplish as an MP is limited. However, there will be an impact as the number of MPs elected as independents increase. This was really the norm until the mid-nineteenth century, and while there was a reason for the growth of the party machinery as democracy set in, as with British trade unions in the 1970s and the big banks more recently, the parties have expanded their control to the point of killing what they originally promoted.

      This is off topic from Tom’s point about logrolling (which my opinion is OK on minor but wrong on major issues), or the original point of discussion in this thread, but I thought the point was worth making anyway.

      • “However, Russel Brand should run for Parliament, as an independent.” Would only further increase his hypocrisy: “Young people of Britain, don’t go out to vote… unless… unless it’s for me!”

      • Caroline Lucas did not run for parliament as an independent. She is a Green Party candidate and was, in fact, the party leader at the time of her election to the Commons.

        In context, I guess the reference is to how even a solo MP can accomplish things (a point on which I do not claim knowledge). But I do think it is important to make a distinction between individual MPs who run with, or without, a party affiliation. The Greens ran candidates in many other constituencies (though not close to winning), and have seats as a party in local government and the European Parliament. Independents, by definition, can’t.

      • Since this thread has drifted to the UK Greens, I should note that the Greens also elected two members to the London Assembly in 2012 which uses an MMP system: Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson. It serves more people than the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, so none are really “local government.” Green Alison Johnstone won a regional seat from Lothians (Edinburgh and suburbs) in Scotland’s Parliament in 2011, which also uses MMP. Green Steven Agnew won a seat in Northern Ireland’s Assembly in 2011 from the six-member STV district of North Down.

      • > “Tom’s point about logrolling (which my opinion is OK on minor but wrong on major issues),”

        Hi Ed, am now very curious, can you expand?

  11. Logrolling is an essential feature of how legislative coalitions are formed. However, the favors traded have to be somewhat comparable. Its stupid to agree to vote to have your country annexed by North Korea in return for a new senior center in your district.

  12. Wilf is, of course, correct that the London Assembly represents a large constituency, and that Greens have won seats therein. However, at least in my professional circles, we do not define “local government” as distinct from other levels, by the size of the jurisdiction, but by functions and powers.

    Nonetheless, I should have said “regional and local” and not just “local”. Or I could have said “subnational”, but Wilf once objected to that on grounds that Scotland is itself a nation. I can’t win!

    • Sorry for the thread drift. But the UK is tying itself in knots at the moment on how to devolve still more powers to the Scottish Parliament while leaving Scotland’s MPs voting on English laws. One long-discussed solution, acquiring new momentum, is regional Assemblies in regions of England. Not for London — it already has one — but for other regions. In London, local government is the 32 borough councils (plus “the City.”) The Mayor of London Boris Johnson heads the largest UK government outside Westminster, with 8,196,700 people (est 2011), and is a prospect to succeed Cameron as PM. Technically “local,” in reality, regional. The fact that it uses MMP, unlike any local government in the UK, underlines this point.

  13. “Logrolling is an essential feature of how legislative coalitions are formed.” It probably depends on how one defines “logrolling”, but I am not sure the quoted statement is general. I don’t think all bargaining outcomes in legislatures would be best characterized as “logrolling”.

    • Another view confirming that the grass seems greener on the other side of wherever one is on presidential vs parliamentary:

      ‘… When you talk to Notamajorcitysiders, the source of this appears to be the constant leadership change of the major parties. Many residents of Notamajorcity are under the impression that when they vote at each election they are voting for a prime minister. When I tell them that this is not necessarily the case, then they just get even more f–ked-off. “But we vote for them!” they protest with all the cognitive meltdown of someone who has been told they actually have to pay to check bags on Jetstar….’

      – Dan Ilic, “Lessons from the road on Election 2016” The Drum (Tuesday 28 June 2016)

  14. ‘… Unlike the British parliamentary system, the Constitution makes no provision for holding politicians accountable to one another. A rogue member of Congress can’t be “fired” by his party leaders, as a Member of Parliament can; a renegade president cannot be evicted in a vote of no confidence, as a British prime minister can. By and large, American politicians are independent operators…’

    — Jonathan Rauch, “How American Politics Went Insane: It happened gradually — and until the US figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.” The Atlantic (July/August 2016). URL:

    ‘WASHINGTON — In the wake of Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that he would leave office following the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, tens of millions of Americans expressed their confusion to reporters Friday about a system of government in which a leader would resign after making a terrible decision. “Wait, so he made a really awful choice with far-reaching negative consequences and now he’s just stepping down to let someone else take over? What?” said Colorado Springs, CO resident Evan Austin, echoing the sentiments of citizens across the United States who were left struggling to understand why a democratically elected head of government would relinquish control simply because they had been shown to have made a spectacularly bad judgment call. “So he jeopardized the future of his country, and instead of spending the next several years remaining in power while trying to paper over his mistakes, he’s just gone? Where’s the part where he denies any wrongdoing or tries to blame somebody else? This is absolutely crazy.” The American public noted, however, that they completely understood the part where voters who had made a demonstrably terrible decision continued to double down on it.’

    — “Americans Confused By System Of Government In Which Leader Would Resign After Making Terrible Decision”
    2(24) The Onion (24 June 2016). URL: — 53156

    To be fair, this comparison is harsher for the US at the federal than at the State level. Illinois seems to have established an efficient system for shuttling its Governors between the state house and the big house, and I recall more than one comment during the Iemma/ Rees/ Kenneally interregnum that compared New South Wales’ institutions unfavourably to California’s unpacking of Gr[e]y Davis.

    • A presidential system that provided for early elections on the event of inter cameral or interbranch deadlock would come close to answering the criticisms that were raised in NSW. The rules for a deadlock could look like the double dissolution provisions in Australia or (better) allow either branch to convene a citizens assembly empowered to dissolve both the legislature and the executive.

      You would have to protect the executive (and the country) from backdoor attempts to force a dissolution by a constitutional rule for an automatic continuing resolution. You might also provide that the executive could make acting appointments to the cabinet and that the senate must confirm or reject an appointment within a fixed time. ‘I, Daenerys Targaryen, appoint Tirion Kannister Hand of the Queen and direct that the appointment take effect immediately pending confirmation by the senate’.*

      You would possibly have something like the senate vacancies rule in Australia by which the presidency could only change hands between the parties by a popular election.

      *Fruits and Votes had to suffer a Game of Thrones reference some time.

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