Monday, May 01, 2006

"Most sweet voices"

posted by k

Whenever people lose trust in government, two solutions are advanced:

The government (that is, all the people rather than some of them) should fund political parties, and
Voting should be made compulsory.

Both arguments are superficially attractive.

At the moment, parties are over-dependent on rich individuals and companies. This has results that are even worse than cash for peerages (buying a seat in parliament - not just buying a fancy title). Funding (to win elections) takes a high priority so that parties are encouraged to manufacture or endorse policies that are attractive to the rich and to big companies. Parties' main concern becomes the perpetuation of their own power.

This wouldn't change if we were all compelled to fund all parties. Big media approval would still be paramount; there would be no parallel compulsion on parties to listen to members of the public. But we would all work and pay taxes to fund party organisations. Our taxes would pay for conference platforms, make-up for leaders on TV, suits and hairdressers - not just leaflets and broadcasts.

For some people, funding political parties might be offensive. Certain religious groups do not vote because of their convictions. What would we do about fascist parties? Should people of Asian origin, for instance, be compelled to fund the BNP through their taxes?

And how about compelling people to vote?

While I expect I shall always attend the polling station (I might one day choose to spoil my ballot paper, but I'll be there) my libertarian instincts are against compulsion. Obviously, I would like wider participation in democracy.

Who will be compelled to vote - the homeless, the seriously ill, the prisoners? Those who need most help from the state will probably remain on the fringes of democracy. But these people might have much to contribute in debate, if we could learn how to listen. Those outside the electorate - long-term residents, illegal workers, fugitives from torture and repression - may be taxed for party organisations, but how will their insights be heard?

If nothing else changed, compulsory voting would probably give even more weight to conclusions of focus groups. Marketing politcal packages would have even more in common with selling evenings out or holidays. People might find they had even less influence.

Politics and political discussion need to involve many people. We need to move beyond what one individual can imagine. Our debates needsto be creative so that we can move beyond what is currently imaginable. And we need to outline the limits of the ballot and the party system.


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

The great problem I have with the idea that "all should vote" is that there seem some sort of romantic notion that the people who aren't voting are the educated, thoughtful elite - when the people who actually think about and care about politics likely DO vote. Do we really want 40% more voters who are apathetic, dispondant and couldn't give a flying monkey even when they are the the booth - that to them it literally makes no difference which person or party they choose so why not pick a name that sounds familiar?

4:25 pm  

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