Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Time We Hung Parliament

I have rarely been so disengaged from the political fairy story we call a "General Election"

Like the election of a new Pope, it has no relevance to me or mine. Nobody represents me. Nor could they ever. Not least because I'm a democrat who actually understands what that means and all the potential candidates demonstrate, just by standing for election, that they obviously don't.

What elections are about is persuading "We The People" to consent to another few years of incompetent dictatorship by a bunch of clowns who think they know how to run a country.

The underlying theory is that because "we" take the most trivial part in the process (limited, for the most part, to selecting one name from a short list of total strangers) and because we have the option not to select that same idiot in 4 or 5 years time, we can be bamboozled into believing that our role is significant enough to give the whole system some legitimacy. And, because "Democracy" is widely recognised as being the only legitimate form of government which does not involve some measure of tyranny, our Rulers label their system "Democracy" in the hope that the word alone will hide its deep authoritarian flaws.

And, generally speaking, the subterfuge works. Most of The People still believe they live in Democracies. A few mavericks point out from time to time that this is not true. (Famous example: Lord Hailsham's description of the British system as "Elective Dictatorship") but the media treat such outbursts as a bit of a joke and the issue sails straight over the heads of the Electorate. They have been well conditioned to accept that the way things are is the way things must remain.

We're permitted to change the bus driver from time to time, and even, occasionally, to decide where the bus will stop to pick up new passengers. But we can't be allowed to change the bus, or even get off it. And both the route and destination are always determined by the driver.

I watched the party leader debates with mild interest. To be fair, they did at least come across as reasonably intelligent articulate performers who won't make us cringe with embarrassment if they represent us on the world stage. But I only heard one statement which penetrated to the heart of the real political problems. It came from pretty boy Clegg and it could usefully become a mantra:

The Way We Got Into This Mess Is Not The Way Out.

Real Democrats understand that Democracy is about We The People making ALL the important decisions ourselves - NOT electing egotistical and incompetent Decision Makers to do the job for us. For that reason true democrats may consider it pointless to participate and even more ethical to stay away from the polling booths and ignore the whole process. But Clegg's aphorism sums up the one rational way for Democrats to cast your vote on Thursday.

What he reminds us is that the last thing we need is "more of the same" which is all we're going to get if the country elects another Tory or Labour government.

I'm certainly not about to argue that the Liberal Democrats are more competent than the other jokers or that they would make a better fist of running the country. There is no basis for such a belief. But you don't need to expect such a miracle or to support the Lib-Dem policies, such as they are, in order to welcome the one tiny step in the right direction which they represent.

If they achieve either an outright victory (somewhat unlikely) or a very significant share of the popular vote (30% or thereabouts - which, thanks to Clegg's performance in the debates, begins to look plausible) then they will - for the first time in our history - be in a position, when it comes to the post election wheeling and dealing, to insist on one vital change in our political system - the way we elect our dictators. They will be able to force the introduction of Proportional Representation.

Before I understood Democracy, I used to campaign for PR. I stopped doing that when I realised it was a bit like campaigning for women to become priests. I don't even like the idea of male priests, why the hell would I give a damn about women sharing the same set of delusions and unwarranted authority?

But there's no denying that PR does bring with it a couple of benefits. Whoever gets elected, nobody will ever represent me. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that voting for a party means that they must represent at least one significant political belief you might share with them. Under the present system it is inevitable that even with a so-called landslide majority, less than 50% of the electorate are represented by the Party that forms the Government. This is because the majority party in Parliament usually achieves that position with less than 50% of the popular vote and a much smaller proportion of those entitled to vote.

PR will force the system to represent (at least in terms of choice of Party) more than a majority of the voters. That is a fundamental requirement in a Democratic system and forcing majority representation would be the first tiny step in the right direction.

The second is the elimination of the Authoritarian concept of "Strong Leadership" which is made possible by the inherent corruption in the system which allows 100% of the power to go to a party with less than 50% of the electoral support. This is the result the authoritarians most fear. They would actually rather have the other side win a clear victory than be forced to concede fairer representation.

Because PR will force higher levels of representation into the system, one- party rule becomes virtually impossible. And political compromise becomes not just necessary but the only practical way to do business.

The key word is Consensus. Authoritarians hate it. That's a damn good reason for the rest of us to pursue it. And though PR won't magically make us achieve consensus, it will at least change the mindset of our "Masters" to one where the FIRST target is consensus, rather than the last. That too, is an essential step towards Democracy which, in case you didn't already know, was adopted and perfected by the Athenians over two thousand years ago primarily as a means of preventing Tyranny - by anyone (including "Majorities") against anyone.

Despite the title of this piece, I don't actually have a strong desire to see MPs swinging from the gallows - though those responsible for taking us into the illegal invasion of Iraq certainly deserve it - but a collectively hung parliament is definitely the best result we can hope for this time around.

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