UK Politics: A brand new electoral system fit for a coalition age

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Debate Rating: COLD


Here’s an idea – an idea for a completely new electoral system.  Let me explain the background first.

I have to say that before this Coalition government emerged, I thought the idea of a coalition between a couple of left-leaning parties was just what the British body politic was crying out for.  It didn’t happen that way, of course.  New Labour finally blew it under the weight of its evermore creaking contradictions – and the Lib Dems rather more rancid right-wing tendencies came out on top as national government and power beckoned.

But I do now begin to wonder if the problem is really Cameron & Co – or something else.  They are, after all, simply quite old-school first-past-the-post politicians – politicians who find themselves biding their time for a future they expect will bring them ultimate victory.  They may, of course, also be conscious that they’ll get soundly kicked out at the next general election – but by then, through awful self-inflicted economic crisis, they’ll have stamped their positions and policies on anyone who dares to follow on.

Whether this anyone be a different party or – simply – different leaders within the same unhappy grouping.

It does, however, seem that a certain trend and tendency is being established.  Two fairly impervious postures with an osmotic membrane of a kind sidling between.  That the Lib Dems are running the risk of extinction at the moment, precisely because they have allowed the aforementioned process of osmosis to poison the public’s perception of their politics, and that their prior chameleon-like ability to pick and mix has metamorphosed into the uncertainty of violently flip-flopping behaviours, doesn’t mean that the functionality theycould provide isn’t going to be needed in the future.

Which is where we come to my idea for a new electoral system: an electoral system designed to enable coalition government by facilitating its transparent formation.  Let’s say, some way down the line, the United Kingdom (or whatever it is by then) decides to adopt electronic systems of voting.  Let’s even suggest, once adopted in that typically British toe-in-the-water way, we decide to embrace further advantages such systems could bring.  One of these advantages could run as follows: for many years, and throughout the first-past-the-post era, people have complained that voting for one party or another inevitably means compromising on certain issues.  Yes.  Labour might be OK for one voter on welfare but not hit the mark quite on Trident.  Or the Tories might convince someone on the economy (well, this is a thought experiment and we are supposed to use our imagination) but not on privacy rights.  Or the Lib Dems might get it right on grass-cutting and dog-control policy but be totally all over the place as far as drugs is concerned.  How about, then, we use an electoral system which allows us to vote for a different party in a discrete number of specially selected policy areas?  Yes!  Once the votes were all counted up across the national landscape, each party would have direct responsibility for those areas the public had judged they should be in charge of.  And a representative from the relevant party with expertise in the corresponding area would then be assigned by the party to hold the ministerial portfolio in question.

The figures of Prime Minister, Speaker and so forth could all still exist.  The PM could, even, continue to have responsibility for reshuffles and changes of government.  But in each case, he or she would have to choose from members of the parties which the people had voted for in each policy area.

This would clearly be a brand new electoral system – a system which depended heavily for its functionality on virtual-community technologies and multifarious software tools.  But it would also be a brand new electoral system entirely fit for a consensual and collaborative – that is to say, a coalition – age.  No longer would politicians have to triangulate their positions.  No longer would the electorate have to compromise when they voted.  In everything we began to do in such a body politic, honesty, sincerity and directness would become the definers of a completely new era in representative democracy.

What say you?

What upsides and downsides do you anticipate?

And how on earth, once accepted the principle by a sufficiently large constituency of citizens, could we convince enough of our first-past-the-post, anti-collaborative and anti-consensual politicians to finally and utterly let go of their carefully-tended turfs?

This post also appeared on Miljenko's blog here.

Posted 05/02/13 by Miljenko Williams Write a reply

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Thanks Michael for those comments – apologies for not replying sooner.

I’m not sure Mussolini would have approved – the idea is to allow politicians to be more honest about what they believe in and allow voters to have more power, not less, over how those who are supposed to represent them actually work. It’s obviously not an idea which can operate until – and if – we have a mostly electronic system of voting. So I submit it as something for an appropriate moment in the future.

However, collaborative working is the tonic for most other areas where human beings organise en masse. It’s only politics – and perhaps the law – where conflict is seen to be the only way to guarantee transparency and efficacy. And as we can see, the system is currently breaking down – so even the guarantees once offered are no longer an upside to be kept in mind.

I am reminded of Peter Levine’s definition of “good democracy”: it should be representative, indeed encourage and allow participation – but also be efficient. All I’m trying to suggest in this post is that we begin to wonder how technology could achieve those twin goals.

No intention, at all, to create a Fascist state. If that is the result you perceive, then I’m obviously on the wrong track. The intention, if anything, was to avoid Roosevelt’s definition of Fascism from taking hold in a body politic – the English – where private power has a growing stranglehold over practically all parts of the political spectrum.

And here, I think for sure, Mussolini would have been delighted.
14/02/13 18:36 by Miljenko Williams (Agree)
You must be awarded points for raising interest. However, the practical implications of your idea problematic. What about policies that cut across various departments that could be controlled by various parties? How would you implement them? Who legislates them? Do we have an effective dictatorship in each policy area, with just one party voting? What about constituency matters? How is the Prime Minister chosen? Your idea sounds a bit too Corporatist and something Mussolini would have approved of for my liking.
14/02/13 18:34 by Michael Comba (Disagree)
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