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Could Single Transferable Vote help to Save Western Democracy?

May 29, 2012

Western democracy is under as much threat today as ever it was from Fascism in the 1930s or Soviet style communism in the cold war period. The threat is corporatism. Because it operates under the cloak of democracy, it is harder to defeat. In the absence of much more widespread and effective protest than there has been, the destruction of the middle class will be completed, and most of us will lead miserable lives.

 

The first essential, if we are to avoid this fate is for the vast majority of us to recognise what is happening. However, as the situation in Egypt illustrates, an apparently successful revolt does not guarantee a better situation for everyone. A well functioning democracy requires many checks and balances and an effective legislature to create them. I will argue that voting reform is a necessary condition for this to happen. But first we need to understand how the current situation has come about.

 

It is a perfect storm composed of seven interlocking elements:

  • The evolution of corporations from bodies chartered for a limited period for a defined purpose, into behemoths owing allegiance to no one and nothing, arguably not even to the shareholders whose interests are by law are supposed to be paramount(1).
  • Our ‘fractional reserve’ banking system which, whilst it helped to build the British Empire, has become bloated, no longer serves the needs of real businesses, but instead enriches speculators at our expense and dislocates the economy along the way.
  • The rarely challenged myth that democracy and the free market go together – witness the use of the term ‘liberal democracy’.
  • The emergence of a political class which no longer represents sections of the people outside the Westminster village. Members of this class of all parties have more in common with each other than with their own party grass roots, let alone the rest of us. In practice they are answerable to powerful vested interests and not to voters.
  • The evolution of a media which is all too conscious of the interests of its main sources of finance, whether it be advertising, or in the case of the BBC, licence fees the level of which is set by government. It’s not that they lie, but they prefer sensationalism to digging out the truth, and accept that many unorthodox views or embarrassing facts are off limits. Too often their sources are government or corporate handouts.
  • An overmighty Executive.
  • An economics profession which ignores evidence and censors ‘heterodox’ views.

 

We all know where this is going, an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and the steady erosion of the middle class, which although self interested is the main source of social progress.

 

So how could voting reform help? Clearly, even if it can be achieved, it is not enough on its own – there has to be effective protest. But protest on its own does not lead to a better future; this requires leadership. An effective leader has to listen and what is the best forum, if not a parliament? A parliament is more effective if its members in turn listen to their constituents rather than their party leaderships. Single Transferable Vote with its unique combination of proportionality and voter choice, has to be the best system for electing a parliament of independently minded individuals.

 

But how are we going to get it, given that our major parties do not see it as in their interests? The best hope is that the next election results not in majority government, nor in a coalition – the Lib Dems will hopefully have learn from their folly – but in minority government.

 

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Note (1): Because in British and American companies, the nomination committee is normally a sub committee of the board (and AGMs virtually never vote against the recommendations of the nomination committee), boards are self perpetuating oligarchies. Doubts have been expressed as to whether boards always act in the best interests of shareholders. Swedish companies do things differently.

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