Eric Foner’s piece on the history of the electoral college has been getting an unusual amount of attention online this week, with a huge spike in pageviews on Wednesday and Thursday. It was shared on Pocket (the app formerly known as ‘Read it Later’), but also in more surprising places, such as a politics forum on a fansite for the Texas A&M college football team. It may have been doing the rounds in less public quarters, too, on Facebook and WhatsApp, since we’ve received dozens of angry – and eerily similar – letters to the editor from people who don’t appear to be regular readers of the paper.
Boris Johnson announced last week that Parliament is to be prorogued days after MPs return from their summer recess: both Houses of Parliament will stand empty for five weeks. A new session will begin on 14 October. A Queen’s Speech debate typically takes a week of parliamentary time, which leaves just over six sitting days until the Brexit deadline. Across the press, opposition politicians have described Johnson’s power grab as an affront to democracy. The speaker of the House of Commons said it was a ‘constitutional outrage’. The thousands of people protesting in cities and towns across the UK on Saturday were clearer and bolder: they called it a coup.
To say that von der Leyen was ‘nominated’ by the Council and then ‘elected’ by the Parliament is a stretch. It may be more accurate to say the EU’s new leaders were ‘coronated’, much like after a papal conclave. They weren’t put to a public test, but selected in an atmosphere of intergovernmental informality.
The Commons vote on Tuesday night to give the Tories majorities on all the committees that are supposed to scrutinise legislation, including Brexit legislation, despite their not having a majority of seats in the Commons, has been described by the shadow leader of the house as a ‘power grab’. It’s also deeply unconstitutional. Britain is a parliamentary democracy, which expresses and enacts the ‘will of the people’, but only once that will has been scrutinised, debated and tested over a (fairly short) period of time. The idea that the ‘will of the people’ as expressed on a single day in June 2016 should be set in stone, never to be amended, runs against the principles and practice of parliamentary democracy.
On 9 March, I went to Washington, DC to consult with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-partisan organisation founded in 1987 that runs the election debates. Any candidate who receives at least 15 per cent support in five national polls is eligible to take part. In practice, this usually means that a Republican faces a Democrat in three commission-sponsored televised debates.
Something that seems to have been overlooked in all the fuss about who is and who isn't going to succeed Christopher Ricks as the Oxford professor of poetry is the new benchmark that's been set in voter apathy. After Derek Walcott pulled out of the race, Ruth Padel defeated Arvind Mehrotra by 297 votes to 129: that's a decisive ratio of 7:3, the kind of winning margin that political leaders, apart from those with the power to fiddle the results, can only dream of. On the other hand, since all graduates of the university are enfranchised, and there must be, at a conservative estimate, at least 100,000 of them walking the earth, the turn-out of 426 amounts to less than 0.5 per cent, which hardly counts as an overwhelming mandate.