Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The caretaker convention and elections

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday between Dean Knight and Graeme Edgeler about the caretaker convention and elections. Dean highlighted the fact that Key had a perfect right to call for whatever sort of inquiry he felt like, as the caretaker convention (under which the decision-making power of post-election governments is constrained) does not apply before elections. According to the Cabinet Office,

The government has the right to govern until the election. The caretaker convention does not apply in the pre-election period.

Successive governments, however, have exercised restraint in the pre-election period in two main areas [appointments and advertising]

Edgeler disputed this, on the basis that the Prime Minister could not be said to enjoy the confidence of the House, because there wasn't one. IMHO he's right - but that does not a constitutional convention make. Instead, conventions are made by a wide acceptance across the political system, and (eventually) by someone actually standing up and admitting the fact. That pre-election restraint is a sign that such acceptance is growing. And interestingly, we also have (opposition) politicians supporting such a convention:
Peters said Key should not be ordering any inquiry this close to the election. With voters going to the polls in less than three weeks, Key's constitutional role was that of a caretaker. The decision should be left to the government elected after September 20.

Its easy to say that in opposition. Its another to say it in government. But if politicians keep saying such things, I think we'll see the scope of the caretaker convention expand to take in the period after the dissolution of Parliament, while imposing greater "self-restraint" in the leadup to an election. And our democracy will be better for it.