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Term limit lessons

Justin Webb | 00:04 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

It ill behoves us - writing here in the afterglow of a wonderfully inspiring election campaign - to sail too close to the jagged rocks that are the British political system. But here goes! In Virginia today (dampened by thunderstorms) voters are going to the polls again in a primary election to select the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2010. It's a competitive race in which any Virginian of any political party may vote. Wonderfully open and energising.
Now you have to be frank about it - without Terry McAuliffe there might have been less interest, indeed there hasn't been that much competition in the past. But still the system is geared up for an open honest fight if the candidates and the electorate want it.
So if for the sake of argument Esther Rantzen turns up in Giggleswick and demands to be on a big party ballot then the local folks - of all parties - get to choose. It gives localites control. It pushes party machines into the ditch.

But here is a further thought. The eventual winner of the race to be Virginia's next governor can only stay in the post for two terms. Term limits, which used to be a fashionable cause on the US right, are making a bit of a comeback and for reasons that British voters might recognise.

They can work in legislatures, and even in a parliamentary system in which the executive is based in the legislature it might still be possible to find a way - 12-year limits perhaps? - of getting new blood circulating constantly. But do they work? As ever there is a downside.

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