A majority is not a mandate

We have a major political split in our house. Half the voters here believe that it is our duty to vote. The other half believes that one should not dignify as ‘democratic’ a process that allows us only to chose between one bunch of manipulative hypocrites we heartily despise and another bunch of manipulative hypocrites we despise even more. Admittedly there are only two of us in all, but I can’t help feeling we are a microcosm. And if democracy is government of the people by the people for the people, we both think there’s still a long way to go before we can seriously call ourselves a democracy.

But so what? I wouldn’t be exactly the first person to bemoan the superficiality of parliamentary democracy. But will I be the first to wonder how we got into a situation where a deeply unpopular party can win by a landslide? Like Thatcher, Blair has a massive majority, but did either of them have a mandate? Not that I can see. But if we all go out and vote for people we don’t like, don’t trust and don’t believe in (and poll after poll says we do), will that stop them saying they have a mandate to hand over yet more of the family silver to big business, the US government and an equally unloved, undemocratic European Union?

And that is exactly why so many people will stay at home on polling day: we can endure them running the country – is there a choice? – but we really can’t stomach the self-congratulation.

But what democratic system could distinguish between a majority and a mandate without becoming horrendously complicated? How about this: instead of voting for the single candidate of your choice, how about voting for every candidate – but vote by giving them each a score. And while we’re at it, how about negative scoring for the ones we really hate? That way we can say exactly how much – or how little – we like them. Love the Tories, hate Labour? +5 and -5. Despise Labour, but hate the Tories? -2 and -5. Don’t really mind the current government, but prefer the Lib Dems – a little? 0 and +2.

It is a tantalising prospect. How many candidates would win by getting the lowest negative vote? Would whole elections be won and lost because one side seemed a little less revolting that the other?

It gets rid of a lot of other problems too. No excuse for not voting now. No need for protest votes or tactical voting or not voting for the Lib Dems because they’ll never get in – in this system, there are no wasted votes.

It’s an amazingly simple solution. We wouldn’t need to change anything about voting except the instructions on the form. Counting the votes would take no more than a calculator. We would know exactly what the electorate thought of the elected. And so would they. Democratic heaven.

It is that simple – and potentially quite devastating in its implications. Which is why no one in the political system would dream of implementing it. That would take modesty, honesty, principle, and courage – the very opposite of what it takes to top the greasy pole these days. But what a prospect – politicians who had to admit that they were, at best, the least bad option. It might even encourage people to vote like they mean it.

More of RJ Robinson at http://richardjrobinson.blogspot.com/

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