Friday, 27 May 2011

What do we Vote for at an Election?

This headline may seem the silliest question that I have ever posed. The answer is simple right? We vote to elect Ministers. Inaccurate! we vote for a Chief Minister? Inaccurate! The consequence of what we vote for, which is Members of Parliament,  is to elect the executive arm of government i.e. the Ministers and a Chief Minister but that is not what primarily we vote for.

What then is it that the the system should deliver to us at an election? Simple really, to elect individual candidates into Parliament from amongst whom a government is formed, from amongst whom a Chief Minister emerges, who is the leader of the majority party in Parliament. Those who do not belong to the government benches join the opposition benches. The party on the opposition benches having the most seats becomes the official opposition from amongst whom there emerges a Leader of the Opposition, being the leader of that party, so we do not elect a Leader of the Opposition either.

Does the distinction that I make matter? I believe that it does because an understanding of this distinctions, in my view, will help voters to decide how and whom to vote for. The issue is one of emphasis. Gibraltar has a parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster model. The missing element in Gibraltar is that we do not have constituencies. In the UK voters elect an MP to represent them in Parliament. Although there is a party system and that pulls in electors both because of party and ideological reasons, there is also a more direct relationship with an individual person who becomes ones representative in Parliament.

The effect of this is twofold, theoretically (and it has happened) the possibility exists that persons who are earmarked for high ministerial office do not get elected into Parliament and so are excluded by the electorate from forming part of the executive arm of government. Additionally it results in the executive arm of government being chosen from amongst a large group of elected representatives being members of the party or coalition who have the majority in Parliament and so can form government. Those who are not chosen for ministerial office do not form part of the executive arm of government but become backbenchers.

It is these MPs, together with the opposition and cross-bench MPs (in the past the Liberal Democrats) who make up the check and balance in the legislature. It is these MPs who can defeat the executive arm of government. It may be rare. It may be that the whip system diminishes the chances of it happening. However, the possibility acts as a a brake. It has happened that governments have been defeated. This brake, together with the power of the House of Lords, does and has led to legislative amendment and withdrawal of both legislation and policies. The most recent example in the UK is the proposed health reforms that are now on hold for further debate and review.

In Gibraltar this does not happen. Not because the electoral system does not permit it but by the effect of the electoral system combined with voting habits that have been ingrained over the years through persuasion of voters  by politicians. The reality is that the block vote has been ingrained in us. We fail to analyse and evaluate individual candidates and vote for parties. The effect of his is, that a strong leader can manouvre himself into a position that he can put forward weak candidates, get them elected and reinforce the centralisation of power in the Chief Minister, thereby undermining democracy.

Peter Caruana has understood this over the years and used it very effectively to rule Gibraltar. The GSLP are now making enormous efforts to counteract this. First Fabian Picardo has spent time emphasising that he will engage in cabinet style government. Secondly, the GSLP seem to be gathering around themselves a stronger candidature than it has been able to gather together for a number of years. Two sound advances but not an institutionalised change in the electoral or parliamentary system. It is a change that can be and time may well reverse, especially as gathering stronger candidates becomes more feasible for the party which is perceived by potential candidates to stand a better chance of election at any given election.

The solution is, as I have said over and over again, for there to be electoral and parliamentary reform. I have made suggestions. the GSD Government have published proposals that I have already said do not go far enough. The GSD Government have asked the GSLP/liberal Opposition to put forward suggestions. The GSD Government have indicated a desire to enact and implement the reforms before the forthcoming election. To date the GSLP/Liberal Opposition has not engaged in constructive and substantive debate on the issue.

I hope this is not because the GSLP/Liberal Opposition considers itself poised for an election win and so does not want the inconvenience of systemic changes that introduce democratic counterbalances that past governments have not had to work within. In short that they do not want to create a rod for their own backs. Whatever the reforms that come about might be, they are needed and let cynicism not stand in their way. What I ask is that the reforms should provide, in a different way because, for obvious reasons, they cannot be provided in Gibraltar in the same fashion, the democratic safeguards that exist in the Westminster Parliament that our constitution has tried to emulate but only suceeded partially in doing so. I also ask that individual electors look at and vote for individuals, irrespective of party allegiances, who will be good parliamentarians and hold the executive arm of government to account.


  1. Personally I think the GSLP will not accept the Government's proposals for reform. Picardo will be seen for what he is, seeking to be all things to all men and he will not deliver

  2. Cucumberbear now speaks plainly..

    Good Morning Robert,

    Very Quickly..

    You ask that individual electors look at and vote for individuals who will be good parliamentarians and hold the executive to account.

    I think that in the current political climate unfolding this kind of thinking is already permeating the public's consciousness.

    The public has been subliminally aware of this as actions taken by the present government by fiat, by decree, with neither adequate consultation nor appeal, nor accountability, or transparency, fairness, not even apology of any kind for its numerous and grevious transgressions, have made the public realise it has a civic responsibility to ensure that this time a govt is elected that is capable of working as a coherent team instead of a group of individuals abdicating their individuality in favour of their leader.

    You have not considered the premise of election by default.

    This constitutes the excercise of choice by barring, in which an electorate elects another paty to govt by not re-voting the current incumbents.

    It looks as if a new govt will be elected mot only on the merits beginning to be displayed by the current opposition, but additionally by default, that is, by the public having had a bellyful of autocracy for 15 years and not enthusiastic in choosing to repeat the misery.

  3. I think that these ideas are just pie in the sky. I am no expert, but the notion that the electorate should select whoever they want and then expect those with most votes to form a government and then elect a leader amongst themselves seems almost disingenuous.

    I have my many doubts and I just think that it would be asking too much of those elected to carry out their own election of a leader without throwing up all sorts of problems.

    In that scenario everything would have to done by committee and by collective agreement, something which would never be achieved or at least very little would get done!

  4. Anonymous at 20:21

    I hoped that someone would make the point that you have made. I imagine that you are a fascist who believes that the closed frontier years were wasted by those of us who suffered them ... otherwise you are just an a-typical GSD supporter?

  5. Robert
    What was that rant at 20.21 all about. I have read his/her comment and then read yours again. I simply can not understand that fierce response.
    Please explain.

  6. All of us who believe in democracy allow rants :)

    Perhaps it is because of the total belief in the leader?

  7. Robert

    Why don’t you park the issue of politics for a while and write about the Government's policy on recruiting British Expats to lead Administrative and Constitutional Posts while the Gibraltar Tax Payer pays for their lucrative salaries and 25 % of their annual salary Tax Free bonuses each year.

    For example:

    Attorney General.
    Chief Executive Gibraltar Court Service.
    FSC Chief Executive.

    I believe we have the calibre of Gibraltar born lawyers like you who would be able to discharge the posts which I have referred to above.

    Your view?

  8. Anonymous at 22:11

    Good subject I will write about it on Sunday!

  9. Save Cannon Lane and Devil's Tower Road.

  10. I understand that a prominent lawyer is about to launch a campaign to boycott the general election. Apparently the idea is that if the electorate is not happy with what is on offer they don't need to vote an should feel under no pressure to o so.Interesting idea. and it might teach the politicos a bit of humility if say only 20 or 30% of us vote.

  11. Robert thanks for posting my earlier comment even though it is completely off topic. I don't mean to hijack your blog but we need as much support as we can get if we are going to stop the renaming of Cannon Lane and Devil's Tower Road. There is a Facebook group set up, on online petition and a protest for next Thursday organised. I ask your bloggers who are willing to support our cause to visit the FB group. Thanks and I won't interrupt you again.

  12. anon@ 10:47

    what a sad day for democracy if people were urged not to vote at all. By all means vote 'en blanco' but the right to vote itself should not be bypassed in order to teach somebody a lesson.

    What a ridiculous idea indeed.

    Perhaps this prominent lawyer should stand for election him/herself on this premise and test the electorate, instead of putting us back to victorian times and beyond.

  13. on the subject of Cannon Lane, why isn't the Government listening to the Heritage Trust?

    Or does it only do so when the Trust agrees with the Government?

  14. I too suffered a closed frontier, and your rant re: fascism smacks of peurile and inappropriate attitude. To think that you will accuse anyone opposing your views as fascism is quite beyond me.

    I hope you publish this and not now discard my contribution as pro or anti whatever. By the way I do not belong to any political party and have voted for three different parties during my lifetime. However I do believe in the power of the Team as a way of getting things done. If at the end of their term I don't like what they've done then I choose another team. That to me is also my DEMOCRATIC right.

  15. Hi RV,

    Would like to hear your views on the Civil Service Reforms.


  16. A protest!! for what? because they want to change street names?

    A campaign of sorts would be more appropriate I would think.

  17. Voting is democratic right and one that was achieved at great cost. If you are unhappy you should cast a blank vote. That would certainly be more appropriate and achieve a more pronounced result.

  18. Anonymous at 14:29

    There is nothing that I have written that prevents anyone presenting a team. What I propose is that the electorate chooses MPs from those standing irrespective of party labels. Then those elected will have the responsibility to select a government. That is a perfectly reasonable and correct use of the right to vote.

  19. Charles Gomez.28 May 2011 at 18:20

    As you may have read in the Chronicle I am the person who is thinking of mounting a "Vote Blank" campaign. It seems to me that many of our fellow citizens are unhappy with the quality of our democracy and I for one fear that come the next election, if there is a change, it will be superficial and the same system of vested interests will continue (same dog with a different collar). It occurs to me that there can be no better way for citizens to express their disapproval of the system that by voting in blank. In reality, of course most people will be scared into block voting as thay are at every election but it would be interesting if we all kept our nerve and sent our politicians the clear message that we want an improvement in Gibraltarian democracy, an end to nepotism and clientilism and more open government.

  20. Anonymous at 10:47 and others

    I agree that not voting is a cop out. One should exercise ones democratic right to vote. Indeed in Australia it is compulsory. I do not believe a blank vote achieves anything as I understand it is simply categorised as a spoilt vote.I also do not agree that boycotting the election is appropriate. It will simply result in skewing the poll to reflect the election of the party that mobilises most activists. The vote of the silent majority that is so decisive in an election will be the most affected in that they will be the group from whom most boycotters will come. I do ot believe it is the right idea at all. The right way forward is to change the system to encourage a more diverse candidature from amongst whom voters can choose their preferences.

  21. Cucumberbear now replies....

    All of us who believe in democracy allow rants Robert, but for the opposite reason that you offer.
    It is not becausde of total belief in our leader, it is because of total disbelief in our current leader and his unacceptable conduct vis a vis the electorate, his own cabinet, senior civil servants, the workforce, religious minorities, in fact, nearly everybody. Nauseating it is, and has to come to an end.

  22. Robert's view on the Blank Vote may have some merit. However the trenchant delivery of your view, Robert, is not helpful because the matter needs careful consideration and debate and not jerk reactions. You say the right way forward is to change the system, but how do you propose to do that? The more I think of it the more I feel that even the threat of a mass boycott might energise the existing parties to traet the electorate with more respect. Let us ponder on it.

  23. We Gibraltarians have become passive light weight individuals who don't care about anything unless it dorectly affects us.

    As much as I support the heritage Trust on their views about changing street names, I woule be alarmed shocked and consider it very pathetic if people actually demonstrated on this, but then don't show the same energy and passion to demonstrate for other more important / alarming things happening in our community right now!

  24. Charles:

    Sorry did not mean to be trenchant but at present I fail to understand what will be gained by the boycott that you are suggesting. My reaction is not a jerk reaction I have been traveling for 5 hours and pondering on the subject all that time.

    On changing the system the debate has started, so give it a chance. It the existing politicians fail to make the changes, some of us may have to stand for election on a platform of reforms. Such a coalition will have more strength at the next election but one should those presently elected or about to m=be elected renege on their promises of reform or make them inadequate.

    I am prepared to be convinced that your strategy is better but you will need to put forward persuasive arguments in favour of it to shift my present opinion but please do so. I am always open to be convinced.

  25. The change the name campaign is gathering strength and I imagine the Government will relent and keep the names as they are after all it is election year and they wouldn't want to rile the many GSD supporters who are getting involved.

    I'd hate to think this has been orchestrated in any way to make the powers that be look like they are listening and in touch with the people's opinions.

  26. To anon at 1940 it has absolutely NOT been orchestrated to make the powers that be look like they are listening.

  27. 54% of the electorate did not vote on the new constitution

    there is no "burning" issue that requires any demonstration

    gomez is proposing casting a blank vote

    a slient protest over street names

    what's all this recent nonsense?

  28. Robert,

    Do we have any competition law? If not, why not - and would it have made any difference to the surprise announcement that all travel on the Government buses (with the exception of the frontier route) will now be free?

    You might be thinking that this is an odd thing to blog about, let alone moan about because on face value the move appears to be entirely philanthropic and a vote winner to boot! When thought about for a second or two it becomes obvious that this is not so great after all. We, the tax payer will now collectively pick up the tab, and its not going to get any cheaper over time! It is likely that the next Government will be chided when (hopefully) they reverse this move as they wrestle with budgets to reduce our now substantial public debt.

    Also, we all know what happens if the Government sees commercial competition on the 'patch' - the change will almost certainly have the happy consequence of wiping Calypso Travel (operator of the red buses) from the face of the earth as they surely cannot compete with 'free' (courtesy of the tax payer) and being under-cut on the frontier route by a huge margin(also courtesy of the tax payer). Still, that'll teach them for daring to do business in a sector which the GoG has a finger in the pie, and don't worry - they'll be long dead before this unsustainable madness is reversed.

    There is something rather communist about this - not that is necessarily a terrible thing if it can be made to work! But it would be nice to know which business areas one is 'allowed' to operate in, and which are rackets that the state is involved with which entrepreneurial types would do best to avoid for risk the big hairy hand slapping them down!

    Competition law anyone?

  29. Llanito World-Robert Vasquez at 27 May 2011 22:13

    diversity and independence, as baseline requirements, are surely also fundamental now?

  30. Anonymous at 23:44

    Agreed and an important consideration!

  31. competition law?

    you must be kidding...we are part of the big EU club and the big rules on competition law are designed for the big business boys and states of europe but little gibraltar can potentially get away with local "business murder" because the EU safety nets are just too big to catch it.

    sod competition rules and laws unless you are the one making all the money and you can happily dominate in any given business sector, for as long as possible and from generation to generation.

    a wondrous and unique utopian-business empire?

  32. Kaelan Joyce said:

    Very interesting points raised on this blog entry RV, especially those ones regarding unfair competition and the Government at the expense of the tax payers hard earned monies, seeming set to run Calypso Travel (operator of the red buses)quite literally into the ground!

    Is this sh*t even legal? I am all for the free bus rides but not at the expense of undermining viable private sector business.


  33. Kaelan,

    There is no such thing as a free ride!

    Someone is going to have to pay for it all ;-)

  34. Have I got it wrong or did I read that the frontier route will not be free and that, therefore, the No 10 Calypso route will not be affected negatively?

  35. surely a resident's bus-pass could have been devised similar to the over 60's and schoolchildren's bus-pass, but instead of giving it out free, a nominal fee of £25/year could have covered some costs.
    This way tourists and non-residents, like the 6 thousand foreign workers coming in every day, would be made to pay the full fare, and locals would enjoy a reduced rate.

    Now all the unregistered spanish domestics, who pay no tax or social insurance in Gibraltar get a free bus-ride to and from their place of work!


  36. "free" bus rides for all (except the taxpayer who funds everything) is an election gimmick buying voters with their own money. Thank you (not) Mr. Holliday! The street name changes "debate" is a gimmick - Devil's Tower and Cannon will be preserved and the new streets will be named after our late bishops to show the sensitive listening side of the GSD. Picardo gathers together a gang of simpatico dilettantes to cover the business hard core of the GSLP. Gimmick. I am thinking of voting PDP at least they have n't thought of any gimmicks yet.

  37. Irma: Is "Denis Almeida" the new "Mark Ashbey" or is he the suave gentleman who used to manage Canes night club in the arely 80,s? Denis is that you?

  38. "The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
    they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
    The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading"

  39. The frontier bus, now Route 5, will cost £1 for a single journey or £1.50 return (50p and 80p respectively for the over-60s). No mention in the media of euro payments. All other routes are free in yet another another pre-election gimmick but I think most of those who drive to work and everywhere else will continue to do so. Don't think it'll make much difference.

  40. Here is an interesting unofficial straw poll result:

    Of my family in Gibraltar numbering a total of 22, 19 say they will not vote GSD at the next election. Of these 19 no less than 11 have changed their political viewpoint in the last three months.Amongst my colleagues at work and among my immediate neighbours out of 17 questioned 9 say the same. 7 are undecided and one has decided to abstain.

  41. Yes I am, however, I can't see what that has to do with the comment/s that I may have posted. What is more, I can assure you that if were "Mark Ashbey" I would sign myself as such. I have nothing to hide.

  42. Anon @12.44

    Please note that we live in Gibraltar and that our national currency is Sterling. I am sure that the transport companies involved are quite capable of converting Sterling to any acceptable foreign currency.

  43. Was at a dinner last night and out of 12 people all were voting GSD. Of those 12 all said that between 50 & 80% of their respective eligible voting family members would also vote GSD. All of them also agreed having Picardo as CM would be very risky.

  44. From the above, I deduce the following:
    1. Gibraltarians tend to go out with like minded people,
    2. Gibraltarian families tend to have the same political leanings.

    I see its turning into shalaura-sunday!

  45. What happened at the Royal Wedding ?
    I don't gettit !?!

  46. Very simple.
    Two things happened....LOL...

    First, our CM was excluded from the invitation list at the he complained...and was
    then invited...LOL.

    Second... Our CM...was very aggravated by the allocation of his position in the seating plan as he found himself squeezed into the sector reserved for the Commonwealth, which he did not like at all as it spoilt his day...LOL.. becauseL..and far away from what he might consider to be peer group...LOL..

    Now isn't that a shame?....LOL...

  47. Here is another thing... The present CM is most unlikely, because of his character, intransigence and his favouritism, ever to recieve a knighthood. This negation, for an individual of his self importance and ego must be mortyfying, no less than his seating arrangement at the Royal Wedding..LOL. As a civil title would not be forthcoming,the temptation of seeking other methods of recognition must be unbearable. The recourse open to him is to turn to the Vatican, in the hope he will be made a knight of something or other he can add as a title of sorts...LOL.

    Then his recent visit to the Vatican and his audience with God's Representative on Earth may have given him the ideas he currently has, to change the names of roads and streets to names with exclusively Catholic connections, unaware that he is, that Gibraltar is a multi cultural and multi ethnic and multi religious society...LOL. He is unaware that minorities who contribute massively and out of proportion to their sizes here in Gibraltar do not clamour to rename streets, squares, roads and steps to commemorate Noah's Ark, or Mohammed, or or any other religious icon of any other denomination...LOL. He needs seeing to, he really does..LOL.

  48. I don't see why having Picardo as CM would be risky. What is clear to see is that keeping the present one could be financially ruinous, and in the long run cause major problems for Gibraltar. Probably, the twelve you mention are scared of expressing their concerns to each other and to you in this political climate. What then may happen in the ballot would be a different story. There is a developing guarded groundswell of opinion which is contrary to the posture of your 12.

  49. Here's another thing...

    Robert, to your credit, I know you are not a member of the Sotogrande crowd at weekends or at any other time, like me.

    I cannot understand why people who are so vociferous about a British Gibraltar can then choose to set up camp in a country that is constantly, regardless of which political party is in power, always seeking to do harm to our homeland, our identity as Gibraltarians and our interests in every way conceivable and at every opportunity.

    Now, there is going to be a sea change in the current Spanish posture to Gibraltar as a whole as the current lot in government are replaced by a fanatical anti Gibraltar lot.

    I would not be surprised that they will make things difficult, imposing new punitive taxes, restrictions and nuisances of all kinds specifically tilted at Gibraltarians owning property there.

    There will be squeals of complaint that ought to be ignored here as a just reward for disloyalty in favouring a country that only seeks to do us harm.

    I await developments from a posture of quiet and morbidly curious contemplation...LOL.

  50. I do not agree that Gibraltar is multicultural. If it were we would have the same problems that affect people in multicultural societies. We have a Gibraltarian culture which happens to be blind when it comes to religious affiliation and race. Long may it continue and God save us from the multicultralists who destroy everything in their path.

  51. In reply to your attempt at a reconciliatory blandishment, if you are not careful as citizens and diligent in your civil and political responsibilities and you allow the present administration to remain, this blindness to religious and racial affiliation will be eroded because of deep seated and hidden reasons that are presently being suppressed as you very well know.

  52. I am beginning to think that reading this blog is a waste of time. I was hoping for a more pertinent contribution from the bloggers rather than a diatribe of electioneering twaddle.

    Lets keep to the issue at hand. Perhaps, RV, you should have an open thread for those who just want to have a go at the Government or the opposition and let them have a bash there!

    I'm off to read your next topic....

  53. Anon@16.55

    Firstly, I do not believe that nobody in his right mind would become a politician with the aim of receiving a knighthood.

    Secondly, North Front Avenue is hardly a good old catholic name.

    Thirdly, both Bishops Caruana and Devlin were highly regarded by Gibraltarians of all religious denominations

  54. Anon @16.55: If I lived in Israel I would not complain that the country is jewish and that everything closes on Saturday nor would I feel aggrieved that in the moslem countries islam predominates and that my rest might be interrupted by the chanting imams. Similarly in japan I would accept that the culture is based on Buddhism. Why then as a Christian should I not wish Gibraltar's streets to be named after the leaders of the majority christain faith here? We never voted for multiculturalism ergo the imposition of multiculturalism is undemocratic. Of course if people want to create a Gibraltar in which the majority faith is relegated to one among many let them put it to the popular vote. I am getting a little bit worried about the constant anti-catholic carping in this blog.

  55. To Denis Almeida and Anon at 9:54

    1. No one disagrees that both Bishops Devlin and Caruana were highly regarded by ALL Gibraltarians, and
    2. No one disagrees that streets should be named after Bishops Devlin and Caruana.

    What we want is NEW streets to be named after them ann Devil's Tower Road to remain and thereby not erode our heritage and history by renaming current streets unnecessarily.

  56. Anon@16.55

    From what I have read I find that the carping in this blog is directed at the Government and the intended naming and/or renaming of certain roads and streets. It is not anti-Catholic.

    Nobody has imposed multiculturalism on us, it has evolved over the centuries and we are the richer for it.

  57. Hi Patrick
    I am absolutely neutral on the renaming of streets and/or roads and I respect your view on this issue. However, my comment was a reply to the last paragraph of Anon@16.55's comment.

    Now look at what you've done, I am beginning to feel some affection for sound of Devil's Tower Road.