30 November 2007

Lets Hope This Contempt For Democracy Can Reach A Turning Point In Both The US and UK.

From the country where turnout is the lowest in the developed world, where big money has almost completely bought the media and politicians, where computer programmes are widely used to legally gerrymander boundaries, where one side stops the counting of ballots if they think they might lose, manipulates electoral registers and 'discourages' potential opponents from registering and voting, and where non audited electronic voting makes us suspicious of even the votes that are counted, comes a new wheeze.

'California Counts' is the new way the Republicans have found to steal the 2008 presidential election, just as they stole the 2000 election in Florida.

The difficulty for electoral reformers like myself is...
that - if the proposals for California were adopted in every state in the US, then it would result in more fairness in the electoral system (note - still not proportionally fair because the Republican funded ECRI would base seats on 'winners' of congressional boundaries rather than proportionality to voters). In just this state - it would give more fairness to the minority Republicans in California while still denying the same right to Democrats in Republican states. This fairness in the largest state while unfair in nearly all the other states would be enough to give a huge bias in favour of the Republicans.

As Johann Hari in the Independent points out, apart from the virtually impossible task of changing the constitution, it was thought impossible to introduce fairness into the system simultaneously across all states. But there is a way, change the rules in a state so that 100% of delegates vote for the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote nationwide. This would circumvent the electoral college ideas of the 18th century which has led to the unfair mess of the winner of the popular vote losing the election (as happened to Al Gore in 2000). This gives Americans a glimmer of hope for democracy, lets hope that California and other states take this chance.

In the UK, the current party funding scandals give the Labour government a unique opportunity to clean up politics in this country - as Polly Toynbee points out.

Individuals and organisations are always going to want to buy influence from political parties. If we want a true democracy, we have to curtail this wealth from influencing policy. Those opposed to state funding and the capping of donations, have to ask, how else can political parties be fairly funded?

The Power Inquiry suggested a system where state money is allocated to particular parties depending on how voters tick boxes on the ballot paper. The voter is free to allocate no money to any party or donate to a party other than who they vote for. At £3 a year per supporter (donated to the local constituency party not the party nationally), this would allow a maximum (depending on support and it would probably be much lower) of £90m a year to be shared amongst all the parties (we already state fund parties to the tune of £50m a year, with the bulk of this state funding going to the official opposition - currently the Conservatives). This would be a powerful incentive for the parties to listen to voters, the more supporters they get the more money they get. Surely this has to be better than parties begging wealthy individuals or organisations for funding, who make them skew their policies as a result?

Any serious attempt at cleaning up politics has to include electoral reform. It is so disappointing that Labour has wasted its stonking majorities when it had a full mandate to implement a PR referendum by following it's manifesto commitments. But it is not too late. Labour could start a debate on this whenever it wants and the current climate is a perfect opportunity to get people to listen.

Our electoral system (first-past-the-post) gives the clue as to why our political parties are so unattractive. Membership of political parties is abysmally low. This means three main things:- fair funding is hard to come by, attracting members, voters and crucially, decent candidates, is even harder and with membership so low, the percentage of members who are tribal loyalists, corrupt or extreme are increased.

With our right wing press and no serious seat taking electoral system pressure to the left, Labour governments are increasingly to the right of their membership and electorate and the Labour leadership undermine party democracy with the argument that only by ignoring the membership can we win under our present electoral system. And those who do join left of Labour parties know that winning any real power under this electoral system is virtually impossible.

A Labour led government is the only chance we have of changing the electoral system. All the decent people who have given up on political parties, or joined the Greens or Lib Dems have to join or rejoin Labour, if we want electoral reform and restoration of party democracy. These people leaving the Labour party to the tribal loyalists has cost us many good policies. Lets push the Labour party all the way on this. If Gordon Brown did this and even if he lost the next election, he would be the most important and radical PM we had ever had.

5 comments:

  1. They've had a decade, a sodding decade to do this, and now you think Labour is the party of electoral reform? Still in need of the white canvas blazer I see.

    There are a great many problems with the system, the most obvious being the population differences for constituencies. If you live in England you have less of a say and on average the same goes if you're conservative. So far Labours commitments to electoral reform have avoided these issues and focussed on bringing in easily corruptible postal voting systems.

    I still find it hard to believe that you want to publicly fund political parties. It will further entrench the position of the main three for, sure as eggs is eggs, they will knobble it. Further, if you have any worries about politicians engaging with party members and the wider public, how do you think this will help? They don't listen much now, when they don't have to come grovelling for every penny, (an activity that I'm sure they hate with a passion), they will pay you and your ilk no mind at all.

    Oh and I do just love your idea of a "unique opportunity". I'm just off to stab a few people so that I can get a unique opportunity to transform knife crime.

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  2. Falco, political parties are the people's main way of influencing policy. If we just hand them over to a few wealthy individuals, our democracy is lost completely. Better to fund them through the state than that. Do you have any better suggestions?

    The current funding debacle is not a widespread indication of corruption, but it must be stopped, surely?

    I don't like state funding either, which is why I support the Power recommendations - people decide on the ballot paper whether or whom they want money to go to (crucially an additional decision to who they vote for, so it is not just the main parties who benefit. Also the money goes to the local party to be spent in the constituency, not on national billboards etc). Coupled with proportional representation, controls on media ownership to ensure freedom of the press, and a written constitution to protect minorities and enhance local democracy (including a provision for most tax to be raised locally and therefore give meaning back to local elections).

    If I was PM, I would spend a year forcing all this through the unelected Tory House of Lords (including the abolition of the Lords and for members instead to be chosen by lot) and then resign - safe in the knowledge that democracy was safe for a while.

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  3. Neil, the best way to clean up funding is to insist on total transparency. If all donations are above board then any conflict of interest can be clearly seen and challenged. The current problems are not with the system, the "problem" is that leading members of your party are corrupt and have got caught with their hands in the till.

    "I don't like state funding either, which is why I support the Power recommendations"

    So your solution to preventing the taxpayer being stiffed with the bill is to stiff the taxpayer with the bill?

    Much in the same vein, your means of ensuring press freedom are state control?

    Surely giving the money to the local party and insisting they spend it there will only entrench political enclaves and how will the national party pay it's way? There are still, despite the EU's best efforts a number of things that have to be done at a national level.

    I do however, agree with you entirely about devolving down tax raising powers. The resulting tax competition would be a very positive thing and make people think about where their taxes go and how much they should be, (death knell for socialism but personally I can bear the loss).

    As for the "Tory" House of Lords you have been neglecting your homework. Labour have 15 more peers than the Conservatives. See:

    http://tinyurl.com/34vq4t

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  4. Falco - 'the "problem" is that leading members of your party are corrupt and have got caught with their hands in the till'

    This is not some backhander in a Brown envelope a la Aitkin and the Tories of the 80s and 90s. What about the Midlands Industrial Council? The only difference between the Labour and Tory dodgy donations is that Labour got caught. The Tories circumvent the spirit of the law everyday and hide their donors through a host of front companies.

    You also have to remember that all this anonymous stuff was perfectly legal before Labour came to power. In a way, this is a sign that politics is now cleaner. Contrary to popular opinion the situation is actually better now than its ever been.

    For the first time in its history after 10 years of a Labour government, Labour now have slightly (nominally) more members than the Tories (who always enjoyed massive majorities before). However most of the crossbenchers who make a large proportion of the house are Tories.

    As for local taxation being the death knell of socialism, I obviously disagree. Why do you think Thatcher capped local authorities and reduced their tax raising powers in the first place?

    The idea of local parties getting the money raised locally is to stop parties targeting certain seats. Of course if we did not have this corrupt electoral system it wouldn't be such a problem. Any money the party raises nationally could be used nationally although individual/business/trade union donations should be capped at £5k or less per annum per member.

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  5. "This is not some backhander in a Brown envelope a la Aitkin and the Tories of the 80s and 90s."

    I agree, it is a much more substantial problem than that. It is also quite clear that Labour has broken both the spirit and letter of the law.

    As I have said I believe that the way forward for party funding is full transparency and I applauded the PPERA as a great step in the right direction, (it may come as a surprise to you but I don't disagree with so much of what Labour does because they are Labour but rather due the fact that most of what they do is fucktardedness in action). The current problem is that having been caught out Messirs Brown et al are trying to pretend that either they have done nothing wrong or that they should be allowed to get away with breaking the law.

    As for the crossbenchers I believe that you will find they are in fact....drumroll....crossbenchers not Tories.

    One the reasons Thatcher abolished the GLC and MCCs is fairly obvious, they were shit. This combined with her, (genuine but something I disagree with), belief in centralism and a chance to pull the rug out from under Labour made their demise inevitable. She should have devolved power further down rather than up the chain and let Labour authorities collapse under the weight of having to be responsible for their own budgets. The closer the connection that people have between what they pay in tax and the services received the less, (to an extent), they will submit to handing over their earnings to the government.

    I don't agree with capping donations, nor with restricting the ways in which parties can use them. Transparency is the key because any corruption becomes very obvious, (business park off the A1 (M) anyone?).

    I would still like to know why you support the Power recommendations if you are against state funding and how you would justify controlling the media.

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