Dear Sir,

With regards to the Viewpoint, Thursday 6, I think the editor was a little harsh on Spanish politicians yesterday. He contrasted the straight party line vote in the Cortes with the 122 Labour members who bucked Blair. Americans actually find the three whip votes in Westminister hard to fathom. You could ever get away with that in our Congress. Clinton sent the Kyoto treaty to the Senate where it was zapped 95-0. He did not carry a single member of his own party. The moving trucks would be pulling up to Number 10 if that happened to Blair. Why the difference. Are Americans just more ornery? Are our Senators and Representatives more independent? Hardly. The three nations have different election systems which drives party cohesion or lack of it. In the US national legislators are elected by single member districts emanating out of states that have a great more autonomy than anything known to the UK or Spain. The national parties have little or no influence on candidate selection. Members feel no reason to listen to party leaders when asked. A member with an 85% party line record are considered “loyal.” Some members hardly ever vote with the party except in organizational matters. In Britain the central offices have a strong say in recommending candidates. A promising “comer” can be guaranteed a safe seat and groomed for high office. Almost never happens successfully stateside. The locals have their own ambitions. But the single member districts allow some independence in the UK. In Spain the multi–-seat districts make one's position on the list important. The power of the central government gives the party leaders a strong say in the life and death of a member's candidacy. Hence the greater loyalty. Does this make the quality of members in one country or the other better? Probably not. It does, however, change the location of dispute. In America the open fighting is often in the legislature. In Spain it is in party conferences or in the back rooms. In Britain, somewhere in between. But all three are democracies and their leaders wear unsteady crowns. In all the politicians take advantage of and are hamstrung by the method of choosing them. They have to live in the world as it is.

Ralph McGaughey




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