Monday, March 10, 2008

Ten prejudices about voting systems

As usual, I agree with Freemania about communalism and opinion-based politics (he's against the former and in favour of the latter).

Now, electoral systems can have some influence upon the quality of politics, and it would be fair to say that some systems foster communalism (and other vices) more than others. I've always avoided discussions around the detail of electoral reform, because I don't really see much point in them. Not that electoral reform isn't a good thing, you understand - just that any amount of study or argument is unlikely to actually lead anywhere.

Governments determine electoral systems, and the current one is always too good a thing for any party of government to break.

But - hey! Sometimes, asking a semi-pointless question is a good exercise to try anyway. So, if we were starting with a blank piece of paper, writing a spec for the ideal electoral system, what would it look like?

Here are my prejudices on this matter - I reserve the right to rethink all of them, and these points aren't fully considered. Let me know what you think?
  1. The fairness of the voting system isn't *that* important. Exact proportionality is so fraught with problems, it isn't really achievable anyway. Proportionality in what, anyway? Political parties have factions within themselves, and any sensible understanding of how representative democracy can be improved should include a requirement for shorter generalised manifestos anyway. I don't even know how important it is that a minority viewpoint should be denied any means of taking a commanding role in government. Surely coherent government requires an occasional democratic coup whereby a particular political position is given the time and space to try something without getting stuck in a permanent pudding of consensus?
  2. It is important that few people can sustain electoral office by appealing to only one community (or an exclusive alliance of them) - whether it's racial, geographic, cultural or religious, the politicians should be rewarded for championing the interests of the whole polity. The only exception to this is in regional government, where politicians should positively champion the interests of their region against those of their neighbours. But overarching elected federal structures should have the power to referee these conflicts fairly.
  3. The electoral system should have rules that severely limit the powers of organised pressure groups or media interests in being able to have a decisive influence on the outcome. So media concentration, political advertising and a regulation of pressure groups are all electoral issues, and should be subject to legal frameworks that are more assertive than those currently in place.
  4. The electoral system should be interesting. It shouldn't be over-complicated, and it should be meaningful to those who vote, without them needing a PhD in constitutional affairs. That said, I think that Single Transferable Voting systems are good for picking people, and could make for good TV. The winner can usually say that most people have voted for them. OK. I'm really not sure about this one.
  5. People should be able to vote for people - not parties. As few of us are qualified to determine the best policies for the country to take forward, we should be choosing the people who will make those decisions on our part instead. Parties should have less power over elected representatives. The electoral system should ensure that power is distributed in such a way as to ensure that people understand that their choice of individuals is important.
  6. Democracy will be better if MPs can think and act more independently. The greatest enemy of effective aggregated deliberation is groupthink. It is not possible to overstate how undesirable groupthink is. This means that individual representatives need their own resources for communication and research.
  7. Political parties are still important though - they represent a pre-arranged set of alliances, and an approach to policymaking that will reflect upon the character of those that we vote for. Coherent government is not possible without political parties.
  8. We should only have one elected member for each assembly. It is important that everybody has the name of only one person who is their MP. A geographic link. One who is their regional government representative, one who is their local government representative, and one who is their MEP. Multi-member constituencies hold out the option to promote communalism.
  9. Voter turnout is not - in itself - that important. If any sub-group (social class, race, cultural grouping, religious grouping) were particularly prone to abstention, then this would be a problem that would need adjustment. But an agreed message that says "I you really don't know which candidate to choose, then don't feel pressurised to vote" would be a good thing. Currently, general election campaigns are exclusively an appeal to the most indecisive and apathetic voters. They enjoy extraordinary influence when they should be encouraged to stay at home sulking and feeling all disillusioned and disenfranchised instead. The twats.
  10. A higher number of candidates IS important. Political parties struggle to get people to stand as councillors. And - increasingly - 'professional politicians' are the only ones capable of succeeding at a higher level. It should be more socially and financially rewarding to be an elected representative. Being able to change things would also be a plus. And it would be a good think if you could appoint / dismiss more civil servants when you win an election as well.
There you go. If you can't disagree with at least one of those, you probably need to check your pulse.

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