Sunday, 9 May 2010

Why Lib-Lab or Lib-Con Could be Equally Undemocratic

Edinburgh South!

I voted Green (the weather was too good not to!), then nipped over to Armstrong’s to spend some coupons. Pottered about by the Castle, observing the midgies (research for my upcoming Transgressions conference!). On the way back I found poor Fred Mackintosh (Lib Dem!) standing at the crossroads at the top of the Meadows in his little suit, and they’d drawn a giant chalk flower around him. Instantly I knew I had committed a deep and unforgiveable betrayal. I went home and put his head up in the loo (see Note 1). Spent the night with David Dimbleby, and it was as turbulent as I have always imagined.

I am sure I was the most agonised voter in Britain! Fred narrowly missed out on Edinburgh South, so of course it went to Labour.

Finally the results are in:

Amusingly the wrong map!!!  Playful

Oh dear, I'm having technical difficulties. You know what I mean though.

A mixed parliament means a mixed mandate. No party can fairly enact the bulk of its programme. We deserve an all-party policy agenda. Specifically, we deserve an agenda which mixes its alignment with Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem principles roughly in proportion with each party’s popular support.

Thus 36%, 29%, 23% respectively, by the popular vote; or 47%, 40%, 9%, if you go by seats. You could say these numbers give you upper and lower limits determining how much conservativism, how much social democracy, and how much liberal democracy can legitimately emanate from Westminister (see Note 2).

There are plenty of policy mixtures which could comply with those limits. However, each party’s election manifesto is made up of interdependent policies. You can’t simply mix-and-match. A mixture must be found whose individual components complement each other, and don’t pull in different directions. We deserve an agenda that delivers technocratic efficiency as well as ideological proportionality. If it can also reflect geographical voting patterns, all the better.

That much is obvious and indisputable. The next bit is more speculative.

In considering how to weigh a particular point of policy, it’s not enough to ask how important it is to the party who put it forward. The negotiators must try to assess how popular, and how decisive, it has been with the electorate. Of course it’s difficult and involves guess-work, but polls and common sense offer some guidance.

I think that plenty of the electorate are quite shallow in our priorities. The Conservatives are probably correct when they emphasise that Gordon Brown has been dismissed as a personality. Nick Clegg and, above all, David Cameron, have both been endorsed. My hunch is that the Prime Ministership for Cameron, a high-profile ministerial role for Clegg, and obscurity for Brown, would conform with the electoral will (see Note 3). I think a lot of us are sick of the sight of Brown and have literally used our vote to keep him out of the newspapers and off the telly.

My other hunches are, first, our country is a little bit racist and xenophobic. That is reflected in the popularity of the Conservative policies on immigration (they are sort of policies) and on Europe. Second, our country is somewhat contaminated with a kind of nasty, vindictive class intolerance. This is reflected in the popularity of the Conservative’s policies on policing and on jobseeker’s benefits (see Note 4).

I don’t think, therefore, the Conservatives can be expected to compromise very much in these areas. It requires a different kind of democracy to defeat that immorality, discursive democracy rather than representative democracy. It requires grassroots movements, coordinated through networks and organisations like Hope Not Hate, the NoBorders Network and Unlock Democracy.

I think the Conservative mandate is far weaker on tax (especially inheritance tax), on efficiency savings in the current financial year, on only minimal electoral reform, on incentivizing the voluntary sector, and on plans for the NHS, education, housing, social security, and pensions. In these areas, Labour and Lib Dem can’t be expected to compromise very much with the Conservatives – only with each other.

I really have no idea about environment or defence! Probably rapeseed mecha?

If the bit I described as “obvious and indisputable” doesn’t, after all, go that way – if some lop-sided set of policies, plainly disfiguring our will, is imposed by a Lib-Lab coalition or by a Conservative government with Liberal support – if we don’t get what we deserve – then we have mandate, mandate to rise up.

Melody and I wandered out on Friday morning looking for riots and we didn’t come across any but we did find absolute armfuls of wild garlic and thistles. Bliss!

The sky looked almost too blue.

Note 1: For middle class English girls like me (originally from Newcastle!), the loo is a very important place for strong but mixed feelings. We often put up certificates and things in there, to show we’re quite proud of ourselves but not, you know, tacky. For a long time I even had a picture of me shaking hands with a man I thought was Kofi Anan! Fred went up next to my other darling, a particularly dashing axolotl whom I have also dubbed Kofi. But he will have to come down soon.

Here he is:

Note 2: (I’m leaving out the little parties because it’s just too confusing! Maybe just bung in UKIP and BNP’s 5% with the Conservatives, the SNP’s 2% with Labour and the Green’s 1% with the Lib Dems???) Imagining this spectrum with the popular vote on one end and the number of seats held on the other may look a little arbitrary; indeed it is but the arbitrariness derives from the FPP system. A kind of democratically optimum agenda configured at 36%/29%/23% Con/Lab/Lib would face a certain amount of arithmetical resistance from a house divvied up 47%/40%/9%, especially as MPs who themselves sui generis connosieurs of their constituency’s interest could do just about anything and still sleep at night.

Note 3: What mix of personalities should govern is to some extent independent of the democratic constraints described with respect to a policy agenda. In simple terms, it’s okay for a cabinet to be dominated by Conservatives, with one or two Lib Dems, or dominated by Labour, with one or two Lib Dems, provided that whoever it is superintends the kind of mixed policy agenda I describe above. (That is the sort of thing a representative is supposed to be able do. Representatives are delegates, not just trustees). But allowance must be made for the fact that many people have overridden their views on policy and specifically voted for or against Brown or Cameron.

Note 4: Thirdly (and a little less stridently) we have a knee-jerk dislike of officialdom, and prefer to judge any bureaucratic system by its failures, not by a score-sheet of successes vs. failures. I’m not exactly sure where on the Conservative programme this translates to mandate: presumably (1) wherever decisions can be decentralised with confidence that this will not lead to equally or more complex administration in the local context; (2) wherever the life of a public servant (especially a civil servant) can be made a bit more Spartan.

Note 5: This is a post about representative democracy, and what it means to live in a representative democracy. It's my stab at being non-partisan, but I am still a massive associative democrat! And my friends are all still Markists! I do worry about myself. I mean, the Conservatives abhor poofs too, but I don’t seem to have said that’s the will of the people. To defend the Conservatives in any way, however ingenious and convoluted and reluctant, on the “issue” of immigration, means I’m probably a bit a racist! I will be re-forged in the fires of deliberation like the rest of them.

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