Sunday, June 14, 2009

Enemas of reason

I have established to my own satisfaction the prime source of everything that is wrong with British politics.

Surprisingly, it is not the Daily Mail (at least directly).

The problem is our first-past-the-post system of voting for MPs. This allows parties to gain power despite not having a majority of voters actually vote for them.

Further it means that politicians are not interested in garnering a wide base of support, they are only interested in attracting the votes of "scorekeepers" in marginal constituencies.

Scorekeepers, as detailed in this article by Danny Finkelstein, are people with no particular ideological commitments but who vote for the party (or more accurately, the individual at the head of the party) who they believe to be the most effective manager of the government:

The Scorekeepers “are non-ideological pragmatists who trust or distrust each side equally. They tend to see politics not as a contest of world views, but merely as alternate teams of possible managers of government, each contending that they can do a better job. The Scorekeepers are not choosing directions in their votes, they are hiring managers.”

The problem is that these scorekeepers are engaging in the same folly as managerialists or progressives. The notion that all our problems could be solved if only we all followed this or that political programme, or this or that heroic manager.

If the history of the 21st century teaches us anything it is that grand schemes for the improvement of the masses rarely work, and often have strongly negative outcomes for everyone. And all those scorekeepers are bound to be disappointed, so their support gradually wanders over to the other control party after a few elections.

Polly Toynbee highlights this here:

Our electoral system is the reason why each campaign seems more reductionist and vacuous than the last. The parties are competing for an ever more cleverly identified few thousand wavering voters in marginal constituencies. Pollsters find these few vague voters hardly think about politics at all. They are difficult to engage even for a fleeting moment, don't read papers but may vote if taken by some slogan that catches their eye. Most people are not like that: even if party tribalism has weakened, these target voters tend to be exceptionally uninterested in politics. Yet everything depends on them.

What matters most in politics is the constant churn of debate and argument and conversation and trial and error. I don't believe there is or can ever be one ultimate solution to political problems, rather there must be (controlled) conflict between parties against a backdrop of individual freedom, democracy, and an open society.

This outcome is best served in this country by the replacement of the current FPTP parliamentary system with an STV proportional representation system, a written constitution, separation of powers, and a reduction in the power of the executive relative to the legislature.

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