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stv bicentennial morphs into march-stealing breakfast

by | 28 Oct 2019 | STV, Term of office | 0 comments

Jo Swinson – Liberal Democrat video interview

Illiberal Nondemocracy: Although the 2010 Liberal Democrats result will probably be eclipsed on 12 December, that best showing to date, which won 23% of votes cast, was rewarded with only 8.8% of parliamentary seats. If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union despite polling showing a distinct ambivalence for that outcome, the indefensibly undemocratic practice of first-past-the-post, coupled with the failure to reform campaign finance, can largely share the blame for how casually an oligarchy can trump democracy. Proportional representation is one of two motivations current Lib Dems leader Jo Swinson cites for joining the party she now leads, twenty years ago. image Electoral Reform Society

Unless it is Christmas, and it’s on the 25th, there is no good time in December to hold an event.

Having said that, Mahurangi Actionestablished 1974 as Friends of the Mahurangi is in the sublimely salubrious company of the Birmingham Society for Literary and Scientific Improvement in having its signal meeting in December, and on the 17th, no less.

The then Warkworth Town Council had left the Mahurangi community little time to counter plans seen as grossly inadequate to the task of treating its wastewater. History has borne this out and the wastewater treatment plant the council persisted with is now set, 45 years on, to be replaced with a scheme broadly similar to the one favoured by locals, and oyster farmers downstream, in 1974.

It is easy to imagine that, for members of the literary and scientific improvement society, their annual general meeting being bigger than Christmas. The mid-December timing, for the men of that era generally, was probably entirely jolly, in lamentable contrast to today’s manic and universally stressful frantic-more-than-festive season. Be that as it may, there is no question that the bicentennial of stv must held on 17 December, just as Mahurangi Action Incorporated’s 50th anniversary celebration must be held on 17 December, on the exact date of its founding, and also a Tuesday, in 2024. By such time, it is to be hoped that the United Kingdom has an electoral system halfways as proportional as New Zealand’s, which will get its ninth outing in November next year. But despite Aotearoa tentatively using preference voting for local elections since 2002, no significant progress has been made since, with some of its beneficiaries still blithely parroting the pig-ignorant ‘stv’s hard for people to work out, ffp’s simpler’ put-down.

2019 Auckland returns, by day

Proportional Representation Obviates Tactical Voting: Rather than rely on 30 or 40 percent voting tactically, the United Kingdom needs to have done what Aotearoa did in 1993 and introduce fully proportional representation—all-but, in New Zealand’s case. Tactical voting, in this context, is about countering the crude and deeply undemocratic fpp electoral system that has endured centuries longer than it deserved to. chart The Guardian

Failing to fix the myriad flaws in electoral systems of all architectures could prove fatal not just for democracy but for a survivable climate. Perhaps the single greatest flaw, far more fundamental that the lack of preferential or proportional fidelity is the sheer corruptibility of any system that requires campaign financing of mammonistic proportions. The Chartists had a plan for that: annual elections. Their argument:

…no purse could buy a constituency … since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

A century on, a self-serving coalition made five-year terms mandatory, which, in practice, isn’t proving to be conspicuously helpful to either of its instigators, and the public has even less respect for what should be its Parliament, but never has truly become. If polled on the prospect, few would think for a second that annual elections would be a good thing. But if it was illegal to buy elections in today’s brazen manner, and if political parties were judged on their performance over the previous 11 or 12 months, the notion of the current triennial, quadrennial or quinquennial parade of cynical liars would seem risibly fanciful.

If the United Kingdom hadn’t held its next general election until 2022, as scheduled, some young people would have been 23, and many more would have been on the cusp of 23, before being enfranchised to vote. And even if the voting age, as it absolutely should be, was lowered to 16 in the interim, the evidence is that the older a person is before their first opportunity to vote, the lower the probability is that they will engage and go on to develop a lifelong voting habit.

Global democracy index map superimposed on 2006–2108 trend

Dangerously Undemocratic World: Although The Economist reports that the retreat of global democracy stopped in 2018, it also asks, ‘Or has it just paused?’ That only 4.5% of the world’s population lives in full democracies, and even those democracies have conspicuous flaws, must be rapidly addressed, if climate action is to stand a chance. chart, map The Economist | superimposition Mahurangi Magazine

Once the cunningly constructed wall of received wisdom—that online voting is ultimately, terminally vulnerable to manipulation—is breeched and online voting becomes routine, many opportunities will be created for democracy to be crafted to suit the needs of the voter rather than the convenience of returning officers. ‘Anytime voting’ is squarely in this category. Its principal purpose is to allow citizens to vote when they are motivated to do so, regardless of whether the next election is five months or five years away, although quite how quinquennial elections qualify a country to be a full democracy, albeit 14th-placed, is a mystery—democracy delayed is democracy denied. But the other, enormous potential for anytime voting is to provide an ongoing gauge as to the response of the people to the actions or inactions of their elected leaders. If this means that public-opinion research companies spend more resources on analysis than surveys, that could be a very good thing, but more importantly, in the local government context particularly, would provide far more faithful coverage of issues and contests.

During this year’s election campaign for the mayoralty of New Zealand’s sole, 1.75-million-strong, metropolis, no polling was publicly commissioned. In the event, and under fppfirst-past-the-post the incumbent mayor was re-elected by just 17% of registered voters, the former Labour Party leader having thrashed his nearest, populist–misogynist, rival, who didn’t even make it to 8%. Had voters, so inclined, known they had the option of symbolically voting for a young person, Jannaha Henry might have at least made it to single percentage points.

Preference voting, in contrast, enshrines a voter’s right to honestly express preferences, but the public, not just political party apparatchiks, have the right to know the mood of the electorate. If, in the face of escalating global heating disruption, democracy is left to languish in its current broken and unvalued state, any remaining hope that the ascendance of plutocracy can be curbed by democracy could all-too-readily be extinguished. The young will be rapidly at the mercy of autocratic regimes ferociously more concerned with their own survival than that of the many.

Chartist meeting on Kennington Common, 1848

Democracy Delayed is Democracy Denied: The Chartists’ first demand is proving to be last one achieved, if it is granted before democracy destroyed. Democracy, which should be about democratically electing leaders has degenerated into semi-democratically electing sheep—or rather, poll- and focus-group-dissecting wolves, in-sheep’s clothing. With Auckland Council’s returning officer calling for online voting and an emphasised election day, he may even come around to the view that annual elections would be good for his election services business. image William Edward Kilburn

Whether the Warkworth Town Hall Talk on 17 December will explore wider reforms and stray onto subjects such as annual terms, anytime voting, deliberative democracy, and youth voting, or stick narrowly to stvsingle-transferable-vote is yet to be put to the panellists. More immediately, the panellists need to decide whether to sign up for a 7.30 am start, given that the gig is up concerning the ploy of beginning at midday to steal the march on any Australian celebration that might materialise—word of the ruse has reached the United Kingdom website stv Action and organisation Electoral Reform Society. The real reason for aiming for Mahurangi to host the first stv bicentennial event was to give it its best chance of raising awareness, both in AotearoaNew Zealand and beyond, as to the dire need for preference voting to replace the sort of binary bullheadedness that has produced the slow-motion Brexit self-disembowelment—dispiteous malignant narcissists intent on leaving their scar, rather than making their mark, on civilisation. The best possible outcome would be for any events triggered by the cheeky little Warkworth Town Hall breakfast to far overshadow and outshine it.

As important as it is to fix what is broke with electoral mechanics, the trend in falling turnout can only be turned around by youth voting: the only proven cost-effective means of recruiting voters—voting-behaviour-change campaigns aimed at adult citizens has proved to be spectacularly ineffectual. In contrast, by exposing all year-7–15 students, not just a few, to the Kids Voting programme or similar, the one proven route to increasing voter turnout is deployed. But for school students to meaningfully engage, they need to see young candidates. Jannaha Henry, the youngestat 21 years of age Auckland mayoral candidate attracted only a demoralising less-than 1% of votes cast. Henry would have very likely been the first preference of a substantially larger percentage of voters, had they been able to express that without fear of wasting their vote and potentially favouring a particular populist disingenuously claiming city hall was attempting to “harass people out of their cars”—chance, for a survivable climate, would be a fine thing.

Jannaha Henry, 2018

Admit that the Waters Have Grown: Despite Bob Dylan’s 1963 evocation, and exponential sea-level rise, youth is largely held at arm’s length by political élites, not renowned for a willingness to relinquish power. When the by-far youngest, 21-year-old candidate for the Auckland mayoralty, Jannaha Henry, receives the support of less than 0.23% of registered voters there are clearly substantial systemic barriers to youth representation. image Wintec

Representative democracy can’t save a survivable climate, any more than stv can cure what ails democracy—stv can’t even cure the lack of proportional representation, even the Rolls-Royce of such systems—mmp—can’t do that, absent a preference-voting interface. Key Ardern government coalition party New Zealand First, currently polling sub-5%, is at risk of being wiped out in 2020. But more importantly, no new political party—not formed by rebel or remnant incumbents—has made it into Parliament since the introduction of proportional representation in 1993.

The tools are readily to hand to craft the most engaging, most democratic, most robust and transparent voting system the world has ever seen. And civilisation, which has never before teetered on such an existentially precarious precipice, is unlikely to prevail without fit-for-purpose democracy.
Annual election Unlike governments of sovereign states, incorporated societies lack the power to make any real mischief, much less wage war, yet they are required to hold annual elections. Mahurangi Action Incorporated’s is on 9 November at 2 pm, in the Old Masonic Hall—or, if the 10-day forecast holds, around the back of the Old Masonic with a view of the Mahurangi River.
Put 17 December STV Centennial Breakfast in your calendar…

Evidence-based voter-turnout-decline interventions

Ordered by urgency of deployment 
  1. Year-7–15 voting as curtain-raiser
  2. Universal year-7–15 voting in schools—extended Kids Voting
  3. Election Day enrol-and-vote
  4. Concurrent elections, which will quickly recoup the costs of 1–3, and pay for 4–11
  5. Lifetime licence to vote
  6. Pre-enfranchisement voting
  7. Pre-enfranchisement enrolment
  8. Lowering the age of enfranchisement—currently some turn 21 before being allowed to vote
  9. Fixed, holidayised, Mondayised, and festivalised Election Day
  10. Online voting
  11. Anytime voting*

*If not strictly evidence-based, then at least, strongly evidence-suggested.


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