Will you know who you’re voting for in May 2011?

Looks like there could be an(other) opportunity for parties to play candidate/co-option games in the Assembly and local government elections in May 2011.

With at least two elections being held on the same day (never mind the strong chance of a voting reform referendum) some politicians may be fighting to retain several different jobs. Now double-jobbing has really only been addressed at an MP/MLA and MP/Council level, but a surprising number of MLAs have so far seemed happy to retain their council seats.

For some newly co-opted MLAs, standing down from council may seem premature. Better to stand for both the Assembly and Council rather than putting their eggs in one basket and losing all political office altogether. Not to mention the raft of long-standing MLAs who have so far retained their council seats

Co-option was already the method for replacing “casual vacancies” in the Assembly. The Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 (Amendment) Order 2010 has brought in the same process for vacated Council seats (with the overwhelming support of local parties).

What’s to stop a big name politician – perhaps an MP or a high profile MLA – being asked by their party to stand for council, easily winning the seat given their public profile, and then quickly resigning and handing the seat to a lesser-known party colleague?

Same could be true for the Assembly. There’s nothing to stop an MP who is currently double jobbing (for example, Alasdair McDonnell or Sammy Wilson) standing as an MLA, winning a seat, and then “doing the decent thing” and standing down from the Assembly within week, co-opting someone else into their place. Not that either of those examples is likely to stand down …

I’d be surprised if some parties, or some politicians, didn’t use this technique to boost their performance in May 2011 and beyond. Particularly if the hype around which tribe claims the First Minister sheriff badge continues. And perhaps also as a spoiling tactic between competing unionist or nationalist parties vying for seats in a tight constituency.

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  • Cynic

    Does it matter ….we all vote for donkeys wrapped in flags anyway, don’t we?

  • Oracle

    The question should not be

    ” Will you know who you are voting for in 2011″

    But

    “Will you know why you are voting in 2011”

  • No doubt, the parties will try hard to motivate voters by fear! Fear of someone else winning, being larger, falling apart … would be nice to vote for positives for a change!

  • Driftwood

    After Osborne’s October budget the pointless placebo assembly will look even more like a homeopathic ‘remedy’.

    Local councils are just embarrassing.

    As stated, vote for what?

  • PrivateBob

    That’s an interesting argument Alan..I’d like to assume that there are safeguards in place to stop such abuse but I doubt there are. Even though we might vote for parties in our heads we have PR-STV, not a PR-list system.

    Could anyone shed some light on the actual nitty gritty machinery of co-option?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Obviously I .like everyone else will be making my choice based on a list of names on the ballot paper. Its misleading to suggest that an “unknown” co-opted candidate (entering Stormont by the back door) will be voted for at all.
    But 40 years ago, political parties were banned from standing in our elections. Certain people think things were better back in the 1960s but others might think its not progress to ban individuals from standing for election.

    If MPs are banned from say standing for Parliament…court cases would follow. Five dont even sit there. Can THEY stand for the Assembly? Thus having an “advantage” (recognition factor) over unionist and SDLP candidates.
    But “House of Lords” members would surely have to be excluded also…….thus giving an advantage potentially to nationalist/republican parties who dont and wont have any members there.
    Councils?…well of course theres a long tradition where Stormont MPs zealously guarded their council seats (Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt spring to mind) and of course the 1970s and 1980s there were maybe only 12 or 18 seats at Westminster and a Stormont which stood empty.
    The Democratic Deficit was in part dealt with by politicians maintaining a profile.

    Is it different now? No….Stormont still exists on a whim?
    Whats the position with English, Scottish, Welsh MPs maintaining council or devolved seats?
    We are different? Yes…lets think up a good ruse to get rid of our political dinosaurs and let in new blood…….preferably from nice parties.
    Ooops dont mention Naomi Long. Cos AP has a much better chance of capitalising on her superb showin in East Belfast if she leads the ticket.
    So…if we cant keep people off the ticket can we stop co-option. Well yes and no.
    Because ultimately it is not actually important.
    The only important role a MLA actually has is to turn up sign the register as republican or unionist or other and vote thru the Executive.
    Thereafter the double jobber can see his seat co-opted to a loyal party activist who has carried his bags for years dreaming of the day…..or as is generally the case have his local advice centre do all the nitty gritty.
    The MP or MLA whether in Belfast, Sheffield or Cardiff really only needs to show up at Westminster, Stormont or the local Advice Centre once a week.
    In a multi seat constituency the big name always leads the ticket.
    Maximising the vote is called democracy.
    Limiting who is eligible to stand for or sit in a legislature is undemocratic.

  • I’ve asked each of the parties to comment on whether they are centrally allowing candidates to stand for both Council and Assembly, whether there are any conditions on candidacy (ie, requiring MLAs to stand down from Council if they win both) and whether their party’s MPs are eligible to stand.

    I’ll post about the answers in a day or so.

  • Framer

    The chances of big Al stepping down as an MLA are rightly discounted here. They are in fact zero despite earlier promises and SDLP party policy.

    Perhaps he needs the money.