Sunday 1 May 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , ,
Posted by Jake on Sunday, May 01, 2011 with No comments | Labels: , , ,

Forget whether “First Past The Post” or “Alternative Vote” is the best way for you to elect your politicians. With the imminent referendum on the voting system in the UK, politicians, journalists, activists, and even ordinary voters interested enough to have any opinion at all are focusing on the procedure of “elections”. Getting terribly heated, calling each other rotters and liars, threatening legal action for dishonesty in politics (!), they are being successfully distracted from the real issue. Not "Elections", but “Ejections”.

The question should be, “What is the most effective way to eject our politicians”. In short, “First Past The Post” is probably the most effective Ejection System for the very same reasons it is a poor Election System. Just as an MP doesn’t need more than 50% of the vote to get elected, his opponent doesn’t need more than 50% to boot him out.

Reforming the Election System is as futile as reforming the shape of clouds. Clouds form to other winds than your or my whistling. “Elections” are stitched up long before it comes to Election Day, and the stitching continues in a continuous seam long after that day. Stitched up not in the result, but in the choice.

The reality of elections is we choose from a shortlist of careful sieved individuals that has been selected by carefully sieved local party committees who themselves are not infrequently over-ruled by handpicked parachutists dropped in directly by political head offices. In Britain, according to a report by the Electoral Reform Society, only 32% of the electorate “strongly or fairly strongly” identify with one of the main parties. Which means that 68% don’t. And yet the only electable choices come from those loyal party members who slavishly follow their party line. Out of 650 members, only one MP in the current British parliament, representing a constituency in Northern Ireland, declares themselves as “Independent”.

In Britain two thirds of MPs in 2010 were elected by a minority of their voters – with the lowest winning with 29.4% of votes castAnd so we end up with a bunch of fixated individuals, with a loyalty to one or other party that doesn't even reflect the wishes of the people who did vote for them, let alone represent a majority of voters. 

Whatever electoral system we have will not change this.

Once in Parliament, these fixated individuals are further fascinated by the job prospects on offer. There are 119 individuals holding office in the current government, for which they are entitled to payments in addition to the basic £65,738 parliamentary salaries received by MPs (on top of which they have generous expense allowances running well over £100,000). These range from a tasty top-up £26,624 for a junior “whip” up to an entitlement of £41,370 for an ordinary minister, £79,954 for a Cabinet Minister, and £132,923 for the Prime Minister (though the current batch of Cabinet and Prime ministers don’t draw their full entitlements).

With 119 paid posts to play for, is it a surprise that our MPs loyalty is as fixed as a rat staring at a cobra? The statistics for how often MPs vote against their party suggests either

a) They don’t dare annoy the party leadership, and jeopardise their political careers.


b) They vote sincerely, but are a bunch of clones

Figures on voting collected by reveal that one year since the 2010 UK election, 327 MPs have never voted against their parties.

It is clearly pointless worrying that our MPs don’t represent us. In Winston Churchill’s opinion,

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried”

Politics everywhere is funded by special interests. It is easier for this to happen in the UK because politics is actually pretty low cost here. A handful of millionaires and a business/union lobby or two can adequately fund a party. We may have a certain pride that our politics is so low cost – believing it means it hasn’t been captured by the robber barons. According to the Electoral Commission, the total spend for the 2010 UK General Election by all candidates was a little over £25million. Compare this with the US$8 billion (billion, US$8,000,000,000) over two elections, 2004 and 2008, held in the 4 year US electoral cycle to re-elect their president, Congress, and two thirds of their Senate. American elections cost 40 times per head of population more!

The reality is keeping costs down means the robber barons have an even tighter control. Politicians in the UK don’t need to satisfy quite so many special interests, nor sell quite so many knighthoods and peerages, to raise the money they need – which means their money comes from an even narrower and less representative group. In 2010, the Conservative Party received over 50% of its funding from the bankers and hedge funds in the City of London.

The real question should not be how to put elections into the hands of the people. That is something that is not achievable. The real question is how to keep EJECTIONS in the hands of the people.

In practical terms we have very little choice of who gets into parliament. But we have significant power over who gets thrown out. Witness the parliamentary expenses scandal – never has there been a wider clearout of MPs who decided not to even try and defend their dodgy personal accounting in the face of voter anger.

One of the key rip-offs in Britain is the electoral system. The rip-off doesn’t happen on election day, but long before that and long after that. What we must be concerned about is not how we select MPs – as our choice is hopelessly rigged. What we must protect is our ability to throw MPs out.

When ticking the box for First Past The Post or Alternative Vote, think carefully about which option allows you to throw a rascal out. Because you will still have no choice about which rascals get in.

And if any politician ever proposes introducing “party lists”? Lists on which he can find safe “rotten slots” for his acolytes and their relatives? Well, that’s a good reason to head for Trafalgar Square with a packed lunch, a good book, and an empty bottle (for when the cops “kettle” you).


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