Points of View: Compromise Is an Essential Part of Democracy

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), January 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

Points of View: Compromise Is an Essential Part of Democracy


Byline: Peter Emerson

HAS the world gone quite mad? It was bad enough when Chris Patten suggested that there were only two possible names for our police force, either RUC or PSNI.

It was crazier yet, in 1978, when the vote of confidence in Jim Callaghan was, in effect, decided by the act of just one MP, the late Frank Maguire, the member for Fermanagh/South Tyrone. He abstained. So Callaghan lost by one vote.

And now it's tuition fees. Yet again, it seems, the world (of politics) is obsessed with the majority vote. And yet again, the outcome might well depend upon the will or whim of just one (cajoled, bribed or seduced) MP.

Would it not be wiser to use something like the German system, the so- called 'constructive vote of no confidence', which implies that, if anyone opposes plan A, they must first propose plan B or C? Labour (well, some of them) want tuition fees, A; the Tories (they think) prefer privatisation, B; the Lib-Dems argue for a rise in income tax, C; and then there's the status quo, D. Let all the MPs express their preferences on these and any other proposals which emerge during the course of the debate; and let the outcome be the option which is the most acceptable to all.

But no. Apparently, it has to be either/or. Whether it's the simple majority vote of Westminster and the Dail, the qualified majority of the European Ministers, the weighted majority of the UN Security Council, or the consociational majority of the Belfast Agreement, it is always, it seems, a for-or-against dichotomy. …

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