Britons seeking democracy

This tactical voting guide published this week in the UK Guardian really represents a depressing indictment on that country’s “democracy”. Unlike here, where we have preference voting and can vote for whichever party we like the most without inadvertently helping the party we like the least, Britons (and Americans, for that matter) have to figure out which party has the best chance of beating the party they most hate in their electorate and then vote for them, whether there’s a better party for them or not.

And they call it “democracy”! Where (due to single member electorates) a party can get many many more votes than another and end up with a fraction of the MPs. Where voters have to change their vote away from their best representative to what they guess might be their best chance of beating the worst. Where they have elections in the middle of the week and (because voting is not compulsory) a third to a half of eligible voters don’t participate.

Let’s hope the Lib Dems win enough seats this weekend to force the old parties to enact reform – particularly preference voting and multi-member electorates.

UPDATE: Early 80s John Cleese on proportional representation for Britain:

ELSEWHERE: Murdoch’s Sun desperately tries to get the Conservatives over the line with the power of breasts (newspaper site NSFW). I suspect the target audience won’t notice the shameless lie on which the appeal is based.

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26 responses to “Britons seeking democracy

  1. Splatterbottom

    It depends on whether you like stable government, or prefer to give too much power to fringe parties as, for example, Israel does.

    Preference voting can also lead to people inadvertently helping the party we like the least, which explains why Fielding is a senator.

    Also, preference voting can produce arbitrary results depending on the order in which candidates are eliminated.

  2. “It depends on whether you like stable government, or prefer to give too much power to fringe parties as, for example, Israel does.”

    Sorry, in a representative democracy, if a party has 10% of the vote why shouldn’t it have 10% of the seats? Why is it “unstable” for people to have representatives in parliament who actually represent them?

    “Preference voting can also lead to people inadvertently helping the party we like the least, which explains why Fielding is a senator. “

    Exactly how? Fielding got in because of ticket voting, not preference voting – where ALP voters just ticked “1” above the line and didn’t bother to check where those preferences were going.

    Ticket voting should be reformed to give voters the option of preferencing above the line – that would’ve stopped their votes being “stolen” for Fielding.

    Sorry, but to blame Fielding on preference voting is either profoundly ignorant or shamelessly dishonest.

    “Also, preference voting can produce arbitrary results depending on the order in which candidates are eliminated.”

    Example?

  3. Splatterbottom

    if a party has 10% of the vote why shouldn’t it have 10% of the seats?

    Because it leads to small fanatical parties holding the country to ransom. Israel is a classic example.

    If you want a perfect democracy, you could have everybody vote on every decision. That would be an utter mess. I prefer a model that lets the party elected to rule actually implement their policies, not a system based on compromise where what is finally implemented is something nobody voted for.

    Fielding got in because of ticket voting, not preference voting – where ALP voters just ticked “1″ above the line and didn’t bother to check where those preferences were going.

    That’s what I thought. Preference voting encourages laziness.

    Fielding got in because of ticket voting, not preference voting – where ALP voters just ticked “1″ above the line and didn’t bother to check where those preferences were going.

    This is a suggestion is aimed at helping the Greens. I don’t see why preference voting is better than first past the post, with run-off polls for the two leading candidates.

    Sorry, but to blame Fielding on preference voting is either profoundly ignorant or shamelessly dishonest.

    Fielding could not have been elected but for preference voting.

  4. “Because it leads to small fanatical parties holding the country to ransom.”

    No, it doesn’t – as long as the other parties represent their voters and aren’t stupid. 10% can never tell 90% what to do. All that’s needed for something to pass is 51%.

    “That’s what I thought. Preference voting encourages laziness.”

    That doesn’t follow at all. TICKET voting encourages laziness.

    “This is a suggestion is aimed at helping the Greens.”

    Only in the sense that their voters presently do not have representation in parliament commensurate with their numbers, and that this is undemocratic.

    “I don’t see why preference voting is better than first past the post, with run-off polls for the two leading candidates.”

    Because first past the post is undemocratic. If you have two conservative parties, A and B, and one progressive party, C, then C can get less than half of the vote and still win the seat – splitting the conservative vote between A and B helps their biggest opponents.

    Hence the ridiculous situation in Britain where voters need to ask a newspaper which party to vote for if they want to defeat the conservatives, not which party will represent their views in parliament.

    “Fielding could not have been elected but for preference voting.”

    He couldn’t have been elected without voting. Clearly we should give it up and become a dictatorship.

  5. [where ALP voters just ticked “1″ above the line and didn’t bother to check where those preferences were going.]

    I’m a bit of a dummy here but what happens if there’s zillions of candidates below the line?

    It appears to me that the third party (LibDems) are getting a better showing in the UK than any third party here.

    …..and there’s Fielding, whatever happened, however it happened, he got 2% of the primary vote and he has a senate seat, IMO that just stinks and it’s not the kind of democracy I want.

    Having said that at least our upper house is elected by the electorate, this is why Au is more democratic than UK.

  6. “I’m a bit of a dummy here but what happens if there’s zillions of candidates below the line?”

    That’s why we should have above the line preferencing, where you can preference between the parties without having to go into the detail of choosing between their half a dozen candidates each. At the moment you have the choice of numbering every box under the line (about 70 in Senate elections) or one box above it. Too much choice or barely any. The Greens have been pushing for you to have a real choice, but the Liberals and ALP quite like being able to seize control of less committed voters’ votes.

    “It appears to me that the third party (LibDems) are getting a better showing in the UK than any third party here.”

    There’s a reason for that – the Lib Dems have established themselves as a local issues party as well in order to win lower house seats in the national parliament.

    “…..and there’s Fielding, whatever happened, however it happened, he got 2% of the primary vote and he has a senate seat, IMO that just stinks and it’s not the kind of democracy I want.”

    Don’t hand your vote over to the major parties, then. It was the ALP’s opaque ticket that got Fielding over the line, not “preference voting”.

    “Having said that at least our upper house is elected by the electorate, this is why Au is more democratic than UK.”

    One of several reasons.

  7. Thanks Jeremy

    “Don’t hand your vote over to the major parties,”

    No chance of that…

  8. Splatterbottom

    No, it doesn’t – as long as the other parties represent their voters and aren’t stupid. 10% can never tell 90% what to do. All that’s needed for something to pass is 51%.

    You know that in practice that is not what happens. If you want a lot of useless haggling by overweening ideologues, let some useless zealot control the balance of power.

    That doesn’t follow at all. TICKET voting encourages laziness.

    Ticket voting at least allows the truly stupid to cast valid votes. If the voters want to trust Labor then that is what they get – stupidity and betrayal. If they actually want to think about it and make a rational decision, they should take few extra minutes to vote below the line.

    If you have two conservative parties, A and B, and one progressive party, C, then C can get less than half of the vote and still win the seat – splitting the conservative vote between A and B helps their biggest opponents.

    So you then have a run-off vote, as is done in many countries.

    At the end of the day, do you want a bunch of parties putting their platforms to the people, with the winner getting the right to implement theirs, or do you want endless argument and compromised policies that nobody voted for?

    Small parties are small because they take positions not preferred by many voters. Rather than giving them the balance of power, they should be left masturbating in the corner, making an unseemly moaning noise, but not dominating proceedings.

  9. Splatterbottom

    Rob J:It appears to me that the third party (LibDems) are getting a better showing in the UK than any third party here.

    That is because they are more in line with public opinion, and ‘Bigoted’ Brown is further down his death spiral than K.Dudd.

  10. “You know that in practice that is not what happens. If you want a lot of useless haggling by overweening ideologues, let some useless zealot control the balance of power.”

    In practice that only happens if the other parties decide they’d rather agree with the “useless zealot” than each other. Something for their voters to consider, not a reason to endorse the abortion of democracy that is the permanent two-party state.

    “Ticket voting at least allows the truly stupid to cast valid votes. If the voters want to trust Labor then that is what they get – stupidity and betrayal. If they actually want to think about it and make a rational decision, they should take few extra minutes to vote below the line.”

    There should be a middle ground.

    In any case, don’t blame preferences for the undemocratic results of tickets.

    “At the end of the day, do you want a bunch of parties putting their platforms to the people, with the winner getting the right to implement theirs, or do you want endless argument and compromised policies that nobody voted for?”

    Sod their platforms. With a two party state, voters end up giving their support to policies they oppose just because they agree with the party on another policy. You can do that if you want, but I want parliament to reflect the opinions of the Australian people. Hint: there are more than two.

    “Small parties are small because they take positions not preferred by many voters. Rather than giving them the balance of power, they should be left masturbating in the corner, making an unseemly moaning noise, but not dominating proceedings.”

    They can’t “dominate” proceedings with any system described here unless the other parties let them. In which case they’re not really “dominating” at all, they PLUS a major party are “dominating”. The majors can always ignore them if they really are all that “extreme”.

    I note that you’re attacking a proposal to give them a voice in keeping with their support by raising this paranoid strawman of them having COMPLETE POWER. Give them any voice and IT’LL BE ALL WE CAN HEAR!

    Anyone who can count beyond 50 can see that this is garbage.

  11. Splatterbottom

    Well bend me over and slide it in sideways. You are as confused as a bisexual tranny, Jeremy. Instead of dealing with the issues you are squealing like a gang-banged hamster, having too much fun to make any sense.

    Here you are, proposing a voting system whose sole purpose is to support the Greens. You don’t address the the point about arbitrary outcomes generated by preference systems, depending on whose preferences are distributed first.

    You ignore the point that first past the post with a run-off is likely more democratic than a preferential system.

    You appropriate the word ‘democratic’ to describe your own proposals, without actually defining it, and seemingly without any sense of the need to have a workable government.

    You assume that people would prefer to be governed by unstable coalitions than by a stable government. Then you assert that theoretically a government formed with minor parties holding the balance of power shouldn’t be unstable when experience tells us it usually is.

    For example it is no use screeching that a minority is only in a position to exploit its balance of power only if the two major parties won’t agree. Your theory falls at the first hurdle because we know that in fact this is precisely what happens. It is why the GST was bastardised by the Democrats. This problem will be so much worse if we have a minor party holding the balance of power in the lower house.

    The basic points are:

    1. All systems have problems.

    2. There is no pure ‘democratic’ ideal. People want stable government, and the ability to replace it when the going gets ugly.

    3. Minor parties will always seek a system which gives them more power when the fact is that they are minor parties precisely because the vast majority of people think their ideas are inferior.

  12. “Here you are, proposing a voting system whose sole purpose is to support the Greens.”

    No – whose sole purpose is for parliament to actually represent the electorate.

    “You don’t address the the point about arbitrary outcomes generated by preference systems, depending on whose preferences are distributed first.”

    I asked you for an example and you’re yet to come up with a single one.

    “You ignore the point that first past the post with a run-off is likely more democratic than a preferential system.”

    In what conceivable way?

    “You appropriate the word ‘democratic’ to describe your own proposals, without actually defining it, and seemingly without any sense of the need to have a workable government. “

    “Democracy” – government by the people. “Representative democracy” – government by the people’s representatives.

    And I disagree that what we have now is “workable government”.

    “You assume that people would prefer to be governed by unstable coalitions than by a stable government.”

    If they want to vote for the major parties, they’re more than welcome to under any system being discussed here.

    “For example it is no use screeching that a minority is only in a position to exploit its balance of power only if the two major parties won’t agree. Your theory falls at the first hurdle because we know that in fact this is precisely what happens. It is why the GST was bastardised by the Democrats. “

    Because the Liberals did not have majority support for it, but the Liberals + Democrats were a majority, and agreed with the bastardised version. I disagreed, and do not vote for either party. Because we have preference voting, I am not forced to support either of them.

    The basic point is this: the present system results in a parliament that does not reflect the votes of Britons. Two parties can get about the same number of votes and yet one will have many times the number of seats.

    And talking of minority interests – they still corrupt the two-party state, as you well know. Lobbyists threatening campaigns in marginal electorates, lobbyists offering to support the one other major party instead… at least “minor” parties are standing for election where you can support them or oppose them.

    You might hold the electorate in contempt and worship the virtue of the Major Parties’ Benevolent Rule – I don’t think they’re doing such a good job. I’m not happy with that choice. I believe that parties’ numbers in parliament should much more closely align with their actual support in the community. The major parties should have to work for our votes, not simply be the automatic recipients just because we’re pissed off with their main opponents.

    You’re championing a system that is both unfair AND dysfunctional.

  13. Splatterbottom

    It seems no coincidence to me that you support voting systems which advantage minor parties.

    Every election night, you will hear comments to the effect that the outcome may depend on who is knocked out first, and therefore their preferences are counted. It depends on how people preference, and which preferences are distributed first.

    I could be wrong on this, but I haven’t the time to work through an example. The fact is that mathematicians have been theorising about voting systems for centuries without being able to agree on the best option.

    First past the post with a run-off gives people the option of preferencing if they want to. Some may not want to. Some may change their mind. I don’t see how this is worse than preferential voting. It is the same thing in slow motion.

    Dysfunctional systems are those that produce frequently collapsing coalitions. I prefer systems where that is less likely to happen.

  14. “It seems no coincidence to me that you support voting systems which advantage minor parties.”

    In that I do not feel that either of the major parties represent me (or many others) and would like my vote to count, yes. Duh.

    I admit it – I have a conflict of interest, in that I want to be represented in parliament.

    “Every election night, you will hear comments to the effect that the outcome may depend on who is knocked out first, and therefore their preferences are counted.”

    Without an example that’s just so much noise. Whoever gets the least first preference votes misses out – and fair enough – but their voters get a second go, and fair enough too. I fail to see what’s undemocratic about that.

    By the way, after your fuss about my use of the word “democracy”, I note you’re yet to define it yourself.

    “First past the post with a run-off gives people the option of preferencing if they want to. Some may not want to. Some may change their mind. I don’t see how this is worse than preferential voting. It is the same thing in slow motion.”

    So your opposition is to compulsory preferencing? The idea is to make sure everyone has as much say as possible in who ultimately represents them. Exhausted votes are wasted.

    “Dysfunctional systems are those that produce frequently collapsing coalitions. I prefer systems where that is less likely to happen.”

    That’s not the only type of dysfunction. There’s a reason why politicians are reviled.

  15. Splatterbottom

    Democracy is the combination of representative government, rule of law and free speech. Here we are only discussing the first of these elements. Even then there are many competing voting systems, none of which is perfect.

    Compulsory preferencing is forcing those who don’t want to preference to do so against their will. Why is that so good?

  16. In the same way as compulsory voting or jury duty are good – they’re civic duties that enable us to have a more democratic government and a more just society.

    No-one’s forced to preference, by the way – you can always hand in an informal vote.

  17. Splatterbottom

    We have optional preferential in our local council elections. Seems reasonable to me. That way i can vote for the ones I really like and walk away from the rest.

  18. Jeremy and I had a bit of a chat about my (far superior) idea for democratic reform.

    See the conversation, in all its glory, here.

  19. It’s an interesting idea, but I think it misses the point a little.

  20. The point??

    The point is that lawyers aren’t trained to think in terms of systems. Only definitions and categories. Not long term effects, variables and accumulations.

    I am presenting a systemic solution to the problem of poor political performance – borne of parties that deny Australians the option of good candidates and entrenched political elites that think they have a divine right to power.

    I’d like a second opinion, is what I’m saying.

  21. I think what I’m arguing for is quite distinctly about long term effects, variables and accumulations. And I think that what’s important is a parliament that represents the electorate, rather than a more interesting tactical contest for the established players.

  22. Speaking of The Sun, this was their page 3 girl a couple of weeks ago http://liberalconspiracy.org/images/media/sun_pg3.jpg

  23. Ok, two case studies.

    You are a Labor voter in a safe Liberal seat. As things stand, you cannot affect the outcome. Your vote is wasted. In my system, assuming Labor don’t stand a candidate, you can still vote for some independent or Green, which lowers the overall Liberal vote. If Labor do get brave, and field a (losing) candidate anyway, your vote increases the overall Labor vote – helping the entire party.

    2) You have multi-member electorates as per John Cleese. While you can vote for whichever Labor guys you want, policy is enacted by the party. Not the members from the electorate. In all likelihood, you won’t even know anything about the people you are voting for. Not unless you’re a political junkie. You just know the party leader and his team.

    So, ‘innovation’ HAS TO occur at the level of the party. The best way to introduce new ideas is to provide an avenue for a party to introduce them.

    It CANNOT occur at the level of the voter because too few people have an active interest in policy. And mass demonstrations are remarkably ineffective at policy innovation.

    The Wilderness Society should be a POLITICAL PARTY, for instance. Then you wouldn’t see the same degree of unprofessional shenanigans!

  24. Splatterbottom

    Invig, it may be possible for groups of individuals other than parties to influence public debate. GetUp! has been successful in getting its ideas plenty of play in public discussion.

  25. SB – true, but surely if they could form a party that would be preferrable? Then there would some sense of continuity and the potential of exerting real power at some point. Especially if they could win a few seats around their major centres of support.
    Cause, if you look at Greenpeace, they have degenerated into a cause-celeb outfit – always trying to drum up enough fervour to generate donations. This leads to a search for sensationalism rather than objective policy formation. I fear that Getup! might go the same way (depending upon how many paid employees they have racked up).

  26. Pingback: UK voters prevented from casting a ballot; wouldn’t have happened if they had compulsory voting « An Onymous Lefty

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