Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Should Early Day Motions be scrapped?

There is a campaign that started recently called "Scrap Early Day Motions" (website/blog here). They are campaigning to get rid of the House of Commons device for registering MPs feelings about issues altogether. They say:

They serve no purpose bar perhaps generating a little local publicity – but if you can’t generate publicity without some costly parliamentary motion you really aren’t doing your job are you!

So come on… who will get behind the call to get rid of Early Day Motions. At the time of writing there are 1757 EDMs (not counting amendments). If they due really cost circa £300 a go, that equates to a cost of £527,100.

Democracy will not be worse without these motions.

Lobbyists will have to try and influence properly and not try to persuade their clients that as an EDM has been tabled they are doing their jobs!

MPs can get local publicity without these costly meaningless motions!

I am a little ambivalent about this. Whilst I can see that it could be argued that they are a waste of money, at the same time I know it is a good way for campaigns to get a foothold. I know that some electoral reform campaigns have used the "Lobby your MP to sign EDM ..." to help gauge parliamentary support and give them more traction. I also notice from Wikipedia that the censure motion which led to the ejection of the James Callaghan Labour government had its origins in an Early Day Motion (no. 351 of 1978–79), put down on March 22, 1979, by Margaret Thatcher so they can obviously have a substantial effect on occasion.

Here is a link to parliament's EDM website where you can view current and historical motions.

I would be interested to hear what others think about this campaign.


Joe Otten said...

And they should scrap all those costly debates in parliament. Honestly if MPs don't know what they believe in before they turn up to vote, they shouldn't be there.

Costigan Quist said...

Got a bit confused when I thought you'd written an EDM let to the ejaculation of James Callaghan.

An EDM is a petition only MPs can sign. Some are local. Some are non-political (e.g. congratulating the Scouting movement on reaching its centenary).

But many are genuinely political and serve a very useful purpose.

If you're a relatively poor lobbying organisation, and you can't afford expensive lobbyists to hang around Westminster and meet important people, EDMs are a relatively easy way to get your message out and gauge support.

You just need one MP willing to put it in and constituents to lobby. You've then got a nice list of MPs who've been willing sign up to your cause and you can build on that.

It isn't perfect, but EDMs are a cheap and effective way for ordinary people without piles of cash to get their case in front of hundreds of MPs.

By all means suggest improvements, but don't scrap them.

Caron said...

I think that anything that takes MPs closer to their electorate the better.

Remember as well that the recent Speaker's downfall was helped on its way by Carswell's EDM.

They have their place - both as campaigning tools for outside organisations and for MPs to raise awareness of a local or national issue.

I think we should get rid of the old fashioned title, and enable MPs to sign them online - at the moment it's a completely paper exercise.

They have a similar thing in the Scottish Parliament and there's a blog, Crap Holyrood Chat, which takes the more partisan of them apart and names and shames the MSPs who lodge them.

Oranjepan said...

If the issue is the cost to the taxpayer then make the MPs pay - so write a rule preventing them claiming it back. If they lodge inordinate numbers of EDMs they will feel it in their pockets, so it will be up to them to judge if their value is worth the price.

cabalamat said...

EDMs should be less expensive to adminster -- all you need is a petitions website that only MPs have a login to sign.

A Pirate Party government would be fully computer literate, because it would be run by people who interweave the Internet in their everyday lives, and would thus be able to prevent such obvious waste.

teekblog said...

EDMs are as close as this country gets to participatory democracy. They are an excellent vehicle for raising awareness for issues otherwised ignored by Parliament - and considering how it's nigh-on impossible to get a private member's bill any floor time it's also a good way for dissenting opinion to be heard.

I'd agree that it seems a little expensive to administer but £300 is not a lot of money if it sparks public debate!

stuart said...

Of course they should be kept. The cost argument has its limits. Elections are expensive, shall we ditch them too? This is £500k of public money I am happy is being spent.

cabalamat said...

stuart: The cost argument has its limits. This is £500k of public money I am happy is being spent.

But you could still have EDMs without spending half a million quid. It's wasteful. And it's wasteful b ecause MPs either don't know that it could be done electronically for virtually nothing, or don't care. In either case, they are unfit for their job.

Joe Otten said...

Anything MPs do in Parliament is likely to have clerical and office-space costs associated with it. Perhaps we should just demand they do no work at all.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Joe - I think you've revealed the ultimate purpose of the Scrap EDM campaign.