Posted by: Martin Scherer | 09/05/2011

A busted voting system

The British went voting last week. American and British voting systems and attitudes are very similar. They have much the same failings.  Both have systems born in a different century or three. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Because it is broke!

Today both parties want power at any cost and whether they are the best to lead or not. That is how the last British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, behaved. An abject failure who threw money to buy votes. G.W.Bush went to war to stay elected. It seemed to me, John McCain was not a chip of that frozen block. British readers will get the pun.

Opposition for the sake of opposition.

The losers oppose for the sake of opposing. Britain’s socialists and American Republicans like Trump. Once elected, the battle should be over. The job of government is to govern. The job of politicians not in government is to scrutinise. That is how democracy is supposed to work. Instead, both sides continue the fight to stay in the public eye. Meanwhile, the mice play, supporters get paid off, and the economy rots. Some mice get very fat, and gorge themselves: Big tobacco, big oil, carmakers, utilities like Enron, drugs, armaments, and big banks.

Promise everyone everything.

Rather than taking decisions on fact and principle, politicians will promise almost anything to get funds and stay elected. Electors become cynical. Only half bother to vote. Those who do, vote to keep someone out rather than vote someone in. Politicians and the media treat electors as too dumb to understand anything other than a sound bite and a pretty face.

The swinging pendulum

With the present system, the pendulum swings. Every decade, the electors get fed up with the party in government and vote them out. All change which soon settles down to the same old ways. If you want change, change the system that makes the politician.

Not a good system.

The present system creates two parties. Small parties and independents get squeezed out. Surprisingly the UK has three parties. The Liberals. That is a dirty word in the US where it means wishy-washy, indecisive. American liberals call themselves progressives. There are progressives on both main parties on both sides of the pond.

A combative system controlled by interest groups

That is a problem for British liberals. Do they work in one of the major parties to gain power to change things, or do they forever stay on the sidelines? The British Liberal Party was once one of the two big parties, in opposition to the toffs. Lloyd George was the last great Liberal in power. When the working man gained the vote, he voted for a new socialist party and the Liberals were squeezed out. By the late 1960’s the Liberal party was all but dead.

The UK fell into class war. One party funded by labour unions –v- another party funded by big business. And so the pendulum swung. The British economy was all but destroyed.

A bully boy system

It’s a very simple system but one hidden behind the walls of power. The person who wants to be the boss, promises a key number of supporters everything they want. They in turn promise others in their own party. Each promise comes more money and a title: Minister, Junior Minister  or Chairman of something. Each get an office and staff, and so government grows to a bureaucratic juggernaut.

When half the party are bought off, those getting the goodies bully those without. The bullying even has a name and people appointed to do it. The Whips. Whipping their own party into line, the leaders can ignore the opposition. Politics becomes as sham. Nothing is scrutinised. The press think the only thing to scrutinise is a politicians sex life or driving.

Ignoring the elector

So that minor politicians can walk the corridors of power and rub shoulder with the mighty, the parties carve up electoral boundaries to create safe seats. Those in safe seats are then totally ignored. Apart from elections, voters hardly know the name of their politician let alone ever see them. All the attention is paid to a few marginal seats.

In first-past-the-post, the two major parties share power over time. They prefer being in opposition than lose their chance of power when the pendulum swings. So they will use any tactic open to them to prevent changing the voting system.  

Is there an alternative?

At this election, the British voter had the chance to change the broken system.

A weaker system?

We all know the common criticisms of alternative voting systems. They lead to weak government, don’t they?

Then how is it Israel, although one of the smallest, is the most effectively defended democracy in the world? How is it that Germany is the most powerful
economy in Europe? Both have alternative voting systems.

A peaceful system?

The allies imposed alternative voting on Germany to prevent fascism rising again. The British government imposed alternative voting on the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and even Londoners to prevent extremist divisions in the UK.

Are you too stupid to understand?

You make alternative choices every day and throughout your life, and yet politicians claim you are too
stupid to make the same choice when it comes to your vote.

Surely, we want people to understand they have choices and make wise, informed choices. Rather than explain the alternative vote, politicians set out to confuse and deter the voter. They started a personal row.

A positive system.

It’s odd that we vote with a cross rather than a tick, but you cannot vote against a politician. In practice most people do vote against, by only means they have, abstain of vote for any other. Odd system.

The alternative vote system encourages the voter to positively list their preferences. That encourages voters to think about the candidates and the decisions they intend. Then every vote counts rather than a quarter of voters as today. If you don’t get your first choice, you will probably get your second choice.  As voters made that choice, voters are more likely to accept responsibility for their choice and give the winner a chance rather than close their minds in blind opposition.

A lost opportunity.

I am not surprised the Conservatives campaigned against the change. Conservatives always do and political Conservatives fear loss of power. Conservatives arrogantly think they know all the answers and have the right to take all decisions.

Socialists mistrust any answer that is given by conservatives and funded by big business. Socialists want the chance of power to reverse all the decisions made by Conservatives. The leader of the Welsh assembly promised to dig the new £120mllion Cardiff Bay Barrage back out of the ground. The voter sits like the infant child between rowing parents.

The British Liberals don’t have an opposition position. They are inclusive, believing in the freedom of all to make an informed choice. So why did they run such a lack-lustre campaign?

In the privacy of his or her homes, every politician knows the present system is a failure and an alternative voting system needs to be found. Now we will have to wait a generation until the call comes again for a positive, intelligent, and inclusive system.

This week British voters threw away the opportunity to create a better world.

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