Tuesday, 9 February 2010

We need to change our POLITICAL system not our VOTING system


Today our politicians are obsessing about democracy – or rather about the process of democracy (which for most of is politicians is far more important than what we might mean by the idea of democracy). Central to the debate today will be occult arguments by anorak-wearing political obsessives about the precise mathematics of this or that system of voting. Nuances and semantics of the meaning placed on “proportionality” or “fairness” will be paraded – MPs will feel that, for once, they are engaged in a debate that matters. They are wrong!

So rest assured dear reader I am not going to lay out before you the whys and wherefores of each voting type, to discuss their merits or meaning, to ponder the significance of Arrow’s Theorem* or even to speculate on the motivations behind Gordon’s damascene conversion to the cause of the instant re-run. Instead, I propose to argue that the method of election is a matter of monumental inconsequence next to some other concerns.

And those concerns? Firstly there is the issue of accountability. Secondly there is the matter of selection. And third there is the question of what we elect MPs to do. If our parliament debates the arcane of voting systems it does so without answering the real questions around our democracy – how we allowed MPs to get beyond the law, why those MPs (or most of them) felt empowered to indulge in an exercise of blatant exploitation and why we allow them to create a special, privileged and protected position for the political party.

None of these questions – how we hold MPs to account, how candidates are selected and what we the people want our MPs to do – are addressed by changing the system of voting. That merely creates the illusion of a substantial change without making the real changes we need. And those changes?

Direct election of the executive
Terms limits for all politicians at whatever level
The power of recall
Ending state funding for political parties
Repealing the Registration of Political Parties Act
Restricting all election campaigning to the promotion of individual candidates

Without these changes the voting system – how we choose – is of little or no relevance and will do nothing to restore public confidence in politics, let alone enthusiasm!

*Although I do think that discussing the merits or otherwise of voting systems without understanding Arrow's Theorem and its proofs is like discussing a football match without considering the offside law!


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