Double jobbing or hedging bets #AE11

One of the issues which became a subject of heated debate at the Newcastle hustings was double jobbing.

A significant number of the prospective MLAs for South Down are also bidding to be returned as councillors – a pattern which is repeated right across Northern Ireland. Of course, this would simply continue the current widespread practice of dual mandates at local council and Assembly levels which, at one level, is uncontroversial.

For instance, at the hustings, the SDLP’s Eamonn O’Neill defended the practice, noting “that all councillors had to make a living as well as represent their constituency as the total fees available amount to £9500 per year for being a Councillor.”

Similarly, a commenter on Ian Parsley’s recent blog post on double jobbing, asks: “You can be a teacher and a councillor, you can be a GP and a councillor, you can be a postman and a councillor but you cannot be an assemblyman and a councillor? Why not?”

Of course, Dawn Purvis, who tried and failed to get a Bill passed at Stormont to outlaw double jobbing, has argued that the practice keeps new people out of politics and protects political dynasties.

What was different and of particular controversy at the Newcastle hustings, however, was the revelation that a number of the politicians seeking dual mandates would, post-election, decide to resign from one of the roles – presumably the less powerful (and lucrative) councillor position. The voters’ concern was less about double jobbing than an apparent abuse of the spirit of party co-options.

Sinn Féin’s Willie Clarke was one candidate – although he was by no means alone – in such a position. On the Newcastle Rocks blog of the hustings, his position and the wider situation was explained thus:

He also went on to say that he would be making a decision AFTER the election as to which role he would relinquish – for him a difficult decision as the entered politics to represent local issues but that he also loved making legislation. The same strategy emerged from John McCallister. It was pointed out that one of the two votes for these politicians at the next election was a wasted vote as we would be being asked to vote for the same name as Councillor and as MLA and yet only one of these roles would be fulfilled. It was clearly pointed out they were hedging bets, it is also clear that for those who are safe enough in their seats this is a strategy to secure the local seat for the party and then hand it on to a newcomer. This policy will be to the detriment of the smaller parties – in particular the Green Party and Alliance.

Sharp practice or all’s fair in love and politics?

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  • Coll Ciotach

    The answer here, and boy is this unpopular, is to make a councillor a full time job and pay accordingly. Then there is no excuse, of course we may wish to ponder the need for an assembly and local councils.

  • RebVolley

    I’m far more disappointed by those who already have positions as MPs and are contesting MLA seats. You can’t even claim lack of money for that, it equates to little more than greed – in terms of money and power.

  • Is it Double Jobbing? Yes of course and nothing wrong with that at Council Level. The postman, teacher argument is well made. There is no reason why a MLA should not be a Councillor…….but frankly its not a good idea. The problem a lot of Parties seem to have is that there are old people and young people…but theres a shortage of people in their mid years in politics.
    Hedging Bets. Certainly. And again for people in any serious doubt of losing an Assembly seat (and its not just about income) and a capacity to serve a community and Party then I see no harm in it either.
    I note that applications for Human Rights Commissioners closed on 4th March. Would we be shocked if a losing MLA was appointed in September.
    Perhaps we should seek a pledge from all candidates that they are not campaigning for election with one eye on their job application to join the Golden Halo. Clearly if they conducted themselves in a s pecific way at the election to curry favour with the people who appoint HRC commissioners it would be bad.
    The problem of hedging bets is more acute when the Elections occur in mid term. Hard to see how a serving MLA would be attracted.

    But theres a third reason. Having a big name on the ballot actually helps the Party maximise its vote and again its hard to see how this is a bad thing.
    Which brings me to Craigavon Council.
    Five (Simpson, Moutray, Gardiner, Kelly and O’Dowd) of the six people elected to the Assembly in 2003 stood for the Council in 2005. Not surprisingly all were elected. But since 2005, Simpson, O’Dowd and Kelly have stood down and new members co-opted. (I dont think their replacements were actually elected.)
    Moutray, Anderson (new MLA) and Savage (elected in 2007) remain on the Council.
    If you look at the Loughside DEA four of the five elected in 2005 only one remains on Council and the other four have been replaced by co-options.

    Now let me emphasise that I am in favour of o-option and there are claeraly individual reasons for a member standing down……including frankly death. I hav no idea why there was 80% co-option in a single DEA.
    Co-option where there is a good reason is actually very civilized. It protects minority party interest.
    But it has been shamelessly abused for party advantage.

  • The Word


    Good idea. It’s time people began to respect politicians for what they do. I have no time for this begrudgery about what they’re getting or what they’ve failed to do for them, when the same people wouldn’t knock at a door for anybody else.

    Of course, I laud the volunteer too in the sense that we’re hearing that Donegal seats were gained at the rate of 50 Euro per canvass. Who’s funding that? Have the business men become aware of the threat the SDLP pose with their rejection of war? Of course, I’m referring to the same people who foisted Raytheon on Derry and it wasn’t John Hume, contrary to popular myth.

  • Drumlins Rock

    This shows the problem of having both polls on the same day. It should be avoided at all costs in future.

  • Well, you could co-opt the runner up in the election, as that is the next most popular choice of the voters. He or she might not be from the same party as the vacating member. But that’s fine, it is the electors who should choose, not party whips.

  • Like Ive said there is just too much co-option and its being abused. The proper election date would be mid term.
    We might want to believe that voters vote for “people” but the reality is they are voting for the symbol on the ballot paper.
    Perhaps it would discourage resignations for sometimes spurious reasons if the runner up was co-opted. That would take it out of the hands of the “whips”.
    But there have been vitriolic cases in the past where councillors have died (hardly a choice they made) and the opposing parties on the councils have demanded an election.
    Its just tacky and tasteless.
    In cases like that its hardly in the hands of party whips. More in the hands of “God” and she (sic) can be very unforgiving.
    No co-option in these cases is just being decent.
    We could do with more decency not less.

  • aquifer

    Standing as an MLA is cheap publicity for a council candidate, and work as a councillor can build votes to become an MLA.

    So why should ultra local casework quality people as MLAs?

    Too many MLAs are cringeworthy, with a faint grasp of bigger or more complex issues,, and that tradition of local casework and fixing invites corruption.

    Better to stagger council and assembly elections and maybe have bigger and effectively larger constituencies too, or a proportional party top-up,, to get MLAs who are really up to the job.

  • Valenciano

    “We might want to believe that voters vote for “people” but the reality is they are voting for the symbol on the ballot paper.”

    Mostly true but not always true. I know people who vote for parties which they don’t agree with because the local representative sorted something for them. So we shouldn’t assume that.

    Besides, isn’t the whole point of having an STV system that we vote for an individual candidate? If we’re going to assume that people are only motivated by party choice then we might as well switch to list PR.

    It’s totally undemocratic that after voting for candidate X, he/she can just step down on a whim and be replaced by someone who was decisively rejected by the electorate or worse, who wasn’t even on the ballot paper and is just a party hack. We don’t do that for Westminster elections. Gerry Adams stepped down and even though a Sinn Fein successor is a foregone conclusion, there’ll be a by-election.

    The issue of protection for smaller parties is easy to solve: parties present a list of substitutes at election time and in the event of death, those subs take over. If members resign for any other reason then there’s a by-election.

  • Drumlins Rock

    In South Tyrone we currently have 3 MLA’s on the council, both SF MLA’s are not standing for the council this time, (Francy Molloy is expected to become speaker as part of the ST Andrew’s deal), the rumour is the third MLA, triple jobbing Lord Morrow who is standing for both council & Stormont, and if elected to both will shortly after co-op a replacement onto the council.

    1 Person…. 1 Job

  • Ultimately choices lie with voters. And voters in many cases are very committed (if not actually members of) political parties.
    Is Sammy Wilson standing in East Antrim going to lose DUP votes in East Antrim? Certainly…some.
    Would they lose more votes if Mr Wilson was not on the ticket? Absolutely.

    If a law was actually enacted that barred dual mandates, would it help smaller parties and introduce a new generation into the mainstream? Id say yes.
    But isnt Democracy about extending rather than limiting choice?

    But when the new lot of HRC commissioners is announced it will include some failed MLAs. But those who will be appointed already have their applications completed and returned. I know Ive sent mine back 🙂

  • Valenciano

    “Ultimately choices lie with voters.”

    They do and that’s why any co-option system is undemocratic nonsense. It’s hard to think of any other democratic system anywhere else where many of the members are chosen not at the election, but afterwards by the party.

  • ThomasMourne

    As fjh pointed out, the electorate has the power to make the decision about double-jobbing. Unfortunately, history has shown that they rarely use that power.

    My first criterion for a candidate is that she/he should not belong to a sectarian party – that rules out quite a number from the list.

    The second criterion is that the candidate holds/will hold only one elected post.

    Co-opting should not happen. Where a representative resigns or dies his/her place should be taken the the next person in the original list with the highest vote.

    The job of councillor was never intended as full-time. It should remain that way, especially as the N. I. electorate has too many representatives as it is.