Friday, 7 May 2010
the body politic
We have a ‘hung parliament’ here in the U.K., a predicament (or otherwise) that may take some weeks to resolve. From my perspective this is at least better than a Conservative win (from some perspectives it’s better than either a Conservative or a Labour win). What do I, a newcomer, feel about the British democratic system? Mainly that it could do with two features of the Australian system: preferential voting and compulsory voting. The Lib Dems and Labour have been making noises about the former though it’s the latter that I think is perhaps more important. Preferential voting certainly ensures that the ‘protest vote’ can be meaningful. It is not, in the preferential system, a wasted vote. If a party assumes power on second preferences they need to take note of why this is so. Does a large Green vote, for example, mean the elected party needs to look more closely at environmental issues? If the Greens get in, those who voted for them will have achieved their objective, but if they don’t the ballot may still have convinced the elected party of the importance of green interests. Compulsory voting is probably unlikely to happen here, the more the pity. This election saw the phenomenon of citizens refused the vote because they were ‘too late’ at the polling booths (I have in my mind the image of an Ealing comedy character saying ‘Sorry dear, voting’s off’). Because the election was scheduled for a weekday many people had to vote in the evening, but at the same time the booths were not equipped to deal with more than a fraction of the population and many who had turned up at the booths well within the time limit were still unable to register their vote. This is the sort of thing that happens in the USA where compulsory voting is seen as a denial of liberty. When voting is compulsory accommodation has to be made for everyone. It must be made easy for the aged and the disabled to vote. The process must be swift and the booths must be able to deal with an entire populace and not make the assumption that a third or more of them won’t be voting anyway. A few minutes of one’s time on a weekend once every few years doesn’t seem to me an onerous task (or a denial of liberty). And if you really don’t want to vote you can either risk the fine or be ticked off on the register and then draw funny pictures on the ballot paper.