Democracy in Proportions
Over nearly five decades my principal professional membership has been with what was originally known as The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and what is now the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). For several of those decades the elections that the institution has conducted have used proportional representation. You are given a list of candidates and you offer preferential numbers in the boxes alongside their names, starting with ‘1’ and going down ‘2,’ ‘3,’ etc for as far as you care anything about the candidates. Those elected on this basis are a true representation of the wishes of the voters. A truly democratic process.
Compare this with the election of politicians in just about any civilized country. You are given a choice of candidates A or B, sometimes C, or more, but you are allowed only a single vote. A simple majority of votes determines the winner, but not necessarily the wish of the voters. If I wanted to vote for candidate A but you could come along and tell me that he/she may not be elected and would I like a second, alternate, choice I might well alter that simple majority situation.
That is why political parties detest the idea of proportional representation. It could destroy the party system. Wouldn’t that be a joy?
I’ve never had time for party politics. The idea that one is a registered Democrat or Republican, for example, seems to be an abrogation of self will. Does everyone who belongs to a particular party believe that you have to follow the majority – all for the ‘common good.’ It smacks of that diabolical curse of enthusiasm: a wretched state that has brought misery to humanity in many ways, notably through religion as well as politics.
My disdain for party politics – which I have mostly been able to keep to myself – has led me to never vote in a general election. If I could vote for someone who shared the same values as me, at least in the majority of my views, that person would not belong to a mainstream party, would be endowed with a humongous amount of common sense, would eschew money in preference to people, and would be open to science.
In this general election year in the US (where I am not entitled to a vote) it is painful to watch neither candidate talking about the mainstream values that are important to the country, and therefore the rest of the world. Where are the plans for bringing manufacturing back to the US; where are the plans for world security beyond hurling weaponry from drones overseas; how are the world’s banking systems going to be brought into line so that they serve rather than gouge; how is education going to be brought up to the levels of other nations so that the next generation can compete; where is the universal health system that everybody should be entitled to?
It has been emphasized again and again by successful business leaders, and I cannot include the former CEO of Bain Capital amongst them, that making quick decisions is more important than slaving endlessly over the details before deciding. You have to admire George W Bush in that respect – he at least understood that decisions had to be made, however much you might disagree with the vast majority of them. The current president seems to be good at making decisions about the elimination of human lives overseas but there don’t seem to have been any real decisions about improving the lot of the American people: certainly not to any extent that we were promised. There is no ‘fight’ in the man.
With the technology that we have today making democracy truly available would not be difficult. We could all vote on the things that matter most to us; they would have been called referenda in years gone by: today they could just be immediate people decisions. Every week, perhaps, we could be presented with the choices our world needs to make with some independent explanation of each one (like a voter’s pamphlet). We would then vote, using proportional representation of course, and then get on with our day. Then, truly, our votes really would count.