Although I’m not British myself, I was appalled by the amount of people I met in the past few weeks who said that they hadn’t voted in the recent election. In a world where democracy is violently fought for, and occasionally violently imposed, to abandon your right to vote seems a crime. The reasons are always the same – politicians are all alike, too many broken promises, and nothing ever changes.
So recently, I’ve been challenging people to propose changes to the current system to make it better. Below are a few of the better suggestions, along with the reason why I, personally, don’t think they would work.
1. Abandon political parties
Pros: One of the main problems most voters have in a mature democracy is the issue of partisan politics. Most elections are a referendum of Left-wing versus Right-wing policies, leaving voters with a choice between the liberal tax-and-spend approach and the conservative objectivist stance. One of the key problems with this is that voters feel that they are voting for a Prime Minister, rather than picking the person who will best represent their constituency on a national level. By eliminating parties, voters will be free to pick the right man for the job.
Cons: Democracy runs on consensus. Removing the formal, pre-agreed consensus of parties will leave an unpredictable mess of casual alliances, some of which may be based on personal relationships (because politicians are human beings, despite what some may say). Predicting the effect of your individual vote on the shape of the overall government of your country will become an impossible task.
2.Abandon general elections
Pros: As in the previous point, a lot of voters are concerned by the fact that most elections are fought on national rather than local issues. The exception to this rule are local by-elections fought when an incumbent government has a comfortable majority – these elections are decided entirely by local concerns. So why not run all elections like this? Stagger all constituencies so that each representative has a five-year term, but the elections never coincide. This would allow voters to make a response to national concerns as they happened throughout the life of a government, while also freeing them to vote for the most competent candidate without worrying about putting the wrong person in the head of the national parliament.
Cons: Stagnancy. A government with a 100-seat majority would need to lose 101 consecutive elections to lose power, and the law of averages says that they’d eventually win a few. Expense, also – drumming up interest in democracy costs money, and it’s easier to do it in one huge election than keeping voter interest ticking over indefinitely.
3.introduce a “Voter’s licence”
Pros: Politicians fail the electorate every day, but it’s also fair to say that we fail our politicians. Voters are fickle, uninformed, biased and partisan. Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to ask that voters undergo a certain amount of training before being allowed to vote – perhaps a mandatory 3-year course made part of the education system, with an exam at the end. Passing this exam automatically adds you to the voter’s register for life, and failure to take part excludes you from voting. After all, this is the process you need to go through before driving a car, so why not introduce it for the right to pick leader who can set taxes and declare war?
Cons: Any exclusionary system has been shown in the past to be borderline fascism. Creating a syllabus that is satisfactory for all political viewpoints and doesn’t discriminate against the natural voting tendencies of certain voting groups is a task beyond the wisdom of Solomon. Who, ultimately, would get to choose what separates a good voter from a bad voter? Also, radical political changes would become a thing of the past, as all parties tailor their manifestoes to the mindsets of those qualified to vote.
4. Incentives for voting
Pros: The biggest problem in modern democracy is that people simply aren’t taking part, and a lot of people don’t vote because they feel they have nothing to gain from the process. So incentivise voting. Give a tax break to everyone who casts a ballot. Combined with making polling day a national holiday, this should ensure a huge turnout, which would produce a government that really represents the voters.
Cons: A huge surge in fringe candidates, as disillusioned voters who hate the main parties (but want their tax break) will end up voting for the candidates on the margins. Discrimination against conscientious objectors, who deliberately refuse to vote as a means of expressing dismay with the whole system (unless a “No Vote” option was provided). Finally, voting should in itself be an incentive. It’s a rare and noble right, and those who waive that right already pay a price – they have to live in a country ruled by a government that somebody else picked.
5.Vote for issues only
Pros: Replacing a parliament with a panel of experts, and then asking the voters to guide those leaders in each issue, would restore the heart of democracy. Each policy, each decision would reflect the will of the people. Accepting a package of policies, as we do in the current party system, would become a thing of the past, as would policy decisions affected by a desire to get re-elected. The precedent already exists, in bodies such as the US Supreme Court.
Cons: In the current system, we don’t send secretaries to parliament to do our bidding. We elect leaders to study the issues and make their own decisions, mainly because most political issues are too complex for the general public (try asking your barber about the fine details of farm subsidies some time). Policy-making is, and should remain, a full-time job.
6. Shoot the lot of them and bring back fascism
Pros: No more lies from politicians, just orders. Also, the uniforms are nice
Cons: All that incessant marching.