Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Elections to the House of Laity: One member, One vote - now!

Paul Bagshaw is publishing an important series of articles on his blog about the electorate for elections to the House of Laity of the CofE General Synod, and of diocesan synods. In them he argues that this electorate should be all those on parish electoral rolls, rather than the lay members of deanery synods as it is a present.

He starts with

One member, One vote - now!

in which he writes:

The present system

At the moment those on the electoral roll of a church vote for Deanery Synod members. These people then vote for Diocesan and General Synod members.

This system of indirect voting means that there is no accountability from governing bodies to the people in the pews - the people who very largely pay for the Church. Where there is no accountability, the people don’t count.

The consequences of change

It isn’t possible simply to change the voting system as though it was a technical matter with no other implications.

  • The marginalization of the laity is a cornerstone of our present synodical system.
  • To change the franchise would be to change the whole set of relationships which currently structure the church - clergy:laity, diocese:parish, General Synod:parish.
  • Inevitably too the present kingpins in this structure - bishops and parish clergy - would also have to modify the ways they work and their relationships with the people around them.

The fundamental change will be to treat each enrolled member as a fully adult member of the Church. I think such change will be beneficial - and equally that it will be resisted.

Subsequent articles to date are:

How we got here (briefly)
One member : One vote - simple!
General Synod votes for direct election of lay representatives (almost)
2011 debate on lay representation - background paper 1
2011 debate on lay representation - background paper 2
Let’s have a review - the GS debate on representing the laity, 2011

The articles can also be all be read on this one page.

Paul Bagshaw has also written this background article

Lay representation on General Synod

and this related article:

The Church is not a democracy …

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 8:00pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

The recent techie development in submitting Christmas attendance figures perhaps offers a perspective on how the suffrage could be extended.

Posted by: David Thomson on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 9:02pm GMT

In this debate why start from a zero knowledge base? Why not look at our sister churches who use democracy more/better, to see what works well for them. Could anybody from TEC or elsewhere, where they even elect Bishops (whatever next), enlighten us as to how representatives for their various bodies are chosen in their churches.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 10:06pm GMT

Paul Bagshaw's blogsite 'Not the same stream' is consistently excellent, analytical and informed... and in this case one member one vote is a radical and inspiring idea.

Sadly however, it won't happen as the General Synod, which is the body that ultimately would have to agree to change the system has too many vested interests and too much inertia.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 10:32pm GMT

In "Radical" he's got the right chancellor but the wrong bishop: it was Mervyn Stockwood that Garth Moore fell out with, not Hugh Montefiore (who was only a suffragan at Kingston and nothing to do with consistory courts). It's all in Michael De-la-Noy: "Mervyn Stockwood: A Lonely Life" (Mowbray 1996) 143–44.

It also led to the strange case of Re St Mary’s, Barnes [1982] 1 All ER 456, in which Moore had to sort out a faculty that Stockwood, sitting in person, had made a complete mess of.

I tried posting a comment to this effect on Paul Bagshaw's site but it dematerialised when I hit the preview button - maybe he'll see it here.

Posted by: Frank Cranmer on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 11:33pm GMT

It does seem rather non-representative of the laity in parishes that they have no direct representation in the membership of the General Synod. Only the politically motivated seem to grab the power - and by a scheme that is not amenable to the grass-roots membership of the Body of Christ.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 11:37pm GMT

No taxation without representation.

I wonder whether, in an age of declining membership, but where those who remain have, perforce to be more active to keep the show on the road (and not forgetting the thousands, lauded by the recently departed ABC for their community involvement in many ways), it is any longer possible to exclude us from the decision making of the institution.Indirect elections are a formula for keeping power in few hands, one member, one vote would begin to break this open.

But more would be needed. Those standing for election must be obliged to declare any affiliation with political and church societies and manifestos must be written to ensure that the views of the candidates on the issues of the day are plain to the electorate. There should be hustings and good opportunities for real questioning, and these should be reported so that the electorate know who and what they are voting for.

This obviously brings into question the role of Deanery and the demographic of General Synod. But none of these things are 'too difficult' any more than the creation and security of the electoral roll and the mechanics of the process.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 9:47am GMT

I am a member of the Business Committee of the General Synod, and this matter lies before us at the moment. We will be making some proposals (yet to be finalised) to the Synod probably sometime this year. I can honestly say to those who are already assuming that intertia, vested interests and the like will win the day, that this is simply not the case. The merits of Paul Bagshaw's proposals will inform our ongoing discussion about the best way to elect the lay members of Synod. But TA readers need to be aware that one of our biggest problems is ensuring that every parish prepares an accurate Electoral Roll which is properly updated and maintained. Otherwise we face the likelihood of legal challenges. Having said that,readers should not discount the merits of Paul's suggestions and I'm sure the Business Committee will continue to reflect on what he offers us.

Posted by: Simon Butler on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 10:58am GMT

It is not at all clear to me that the proposal to give everyone on the electoral roll a vote in synod elections would lead a more representative synod membership. Most people would not vote. However, where a PCC or a priest feels strongly about the issues of the day, candidates would be recommended and arms would be twisted to ensure votes are cast.
It is worth reflecting on the recent vote for police commissioners in which about 15% of the electorate voted. We British are not keen on voting, except perhaps at General elections.

Posted by: Tim Budd on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 12:21pm GMT

If Mr Butler is suggesting that some parishes can't or won't maintain up to date electoral rolls then the current system is also corrupt and suspect since it is the Annual Meeting of those on the electoral roll which elects Deanery Synod representatives who are the electoral college for the Synods.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 1:19pm GMT

The theoretical ways of creating a more democratic and representative electoral system aren't always the best pragmatic ways of achieving this. We can make all the systems we like, but if the majority don't engage with them, then they are open to abuse. Even if electoral rolls are up to date, it is unlikely that everyone on the roll will turn up to the APCM to vote. Then there is the question of the extent to which it is those who attend the church regularly (and what is the definition of regular?) who should be voting; or should there be some representation of the whole parish (quite a lot of the criticism of the result of the recent vote on women bishops is that the C of E is out of step with the country as a whole, which it serves, though the vote does also seem to have been out of step with the views of congregation members). Could electoral roll members who are on more than one roll (possible for students etc) vote in more than one diocese? And though fewer couples now go on electoral rolls to get married in particular church, what about that particular case? I'm not saying the franchise should not be widened, - but I don't see many church members being very interested in voting without a lot of encouragement/pressure. Even in the last GS elections, the proportion of deanery Synod members who voted was under 50% in nearly all dioceses, I think (I don't have exact figures, but in several it was nearer 30%) And the issues are not always straightforward. The most effective reform might well be to put all manifestoes on the internet; to ensure that all affiliations are declared and to find a way of enabling open electronic hustings (not done last time even by forward-thinking dioceses because of the risk of not being "fair" to all candidates if they chose not to reply etc) When a diocesan hustings produced a turn out in single figures, this sort of reform is perhaps more urgent than complicated franchise reform of the system. Let's try to get the current system to work well, and then see what what changes could make it work better

Posted by: RosalindR on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 2:29pm GMT

Would it not be sensible to give the vote to PCC members? That would seem quite easily to broaden the electorate from just Deanery Synod members. To be a PCC member implies both engagement and (collective) responsibility for parish affairs (including money). To widen it beyond that would seem to be very expensive in terms of process, justifiable only if there would be a high 'turn-out'.

Posted by: GR on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 6:33pm GMT

Simon asked: In this debate why start from a zero knowledge base? Why not look at our sister churches who use democracy more/better, to see what works well for them. Could anybody from TEC or elsewhere, where they even elect Bishops (whatever next), enlighten us as to how representatives for their various bodies are chosen in their churches.

TEC has 100 dioceses and I suspect that each one has its own way of selecting delegates. Fortunately, the Diocese of Washington DC put theirs on their website: http://www.edow.org/convention/info/delegates-clergy/beingadelegate

In Colorado, I recall electing members from our congregation to represent our parish in our state Diocesan Convention. I think the General Convention delegates are selected from there. I'm happy to find out more. My center of focus is Outreach (many would call it mission) rather than governance. But I know exactly where to go to express any thoughts or concerns in advance of our conventions. After General Convention, there is a big meeting where all are invited to hear about what happened there. So there is a sense of open channels for the interested... I have generally felt that my concerns were well-represented, even if they didn't "win" all the time.

I'll get back to you if no one else writes about our processes for electing bishops. My understanding and experience is that it's highly local. The national church confirms the bishop, however I don't think they are allowed to reject a bishop without specific reasons. Someone else should give a more informed process.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 7:04pm GMT

Thank you for all these comments, Frank Cranmer, in particular - I've now changed my post. An embarrassing error.

In response to Simon Bailey (and others) I've just posted a piece on the legal vulnerability of electoral rolls. http://notthesamestream.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/considering-electoral-roll.html

On the issue of engagement and whether people would vote, and in what proportions, I guess it's chicken and egg: currently people are disenfranchised so why should they bother? And I think those who say 'more will be needed' are absolutely right.

Posted by: Paul Bagshaw on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 11:05pm GMT

The idea of PCC members as the electorate is interesting. It gives some weight to the size of church but not so much wild variation that the voting could be skewed by organised voting by one or two very large churches.

A question which has not been raised is the constituencies. Everyone seems to assume the status quo that all lay reps vote by STV for a single slate of reps from a diocese. Is this the best way or should constituencies be smaller? (Genuinely open question).

Posted by: Wilf on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 11:13am GMT

If the system is going to change (and change it must, for all sorts of reasons), then there is no logic in changing it for another system that is obscure and difficult (if not impossible) to explain to all and sundry. Extending the vote merely to PCC members will still make the process easy to manipulate, and impenetrable and arcane to the outsiders.

The only serious contender is one person one vote - enfranchise the whole C of E. Let's make it worth while to get on the ER and let's encourage even "pew fillers" to get involved and engaged. Who knows what may happen!

Posted by: David Chillman on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 3:47pm GMT

Note: I have long been an advocate of a wider franchise, noting, for example, that decisions on Resolutions A, B & C have an impact on the legal rights of everyone living in the parish - for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and e.g. for whether clergy who happen to be friends are welcome to participate. Reserving such decisions to the PCC seems to invite incomprehension and misunderstanding. But my arguments have not (yet?) proved persuasive.

The wider franchise, though, risks leaving the Deanery Synod without any rationale at all. It ought to be possible for nearby parishes to cooperate for the common good. In my own deanery it seems to be essential - else our action betrays our rhetoric.

Maybe the deanery needs to be evacuated of political nicety in order to discover its missional purpose?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 10:36pm GMT

Whether a wider franchise is desirable or not the real problem is that people simply don't bother to vote. Perhaps Peter Owen could give us the percentages for the last Synod election...they were, I believe, depressingly low.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 9:22am GMT

I cannot find figures for the 2010 elections, but you can find percentage turnouts for 2005 here:


Posted by: Peter Owen on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 9:17pm GMT

Thanks Peter..as i thought..I suspect 2010 was no better..pretty depressing, but things may be better next time as some electors wake up to the consequence of their indifference /laziness.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 11:32pm GMT
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