Interesting Times

Published AIMN, 30/6/2016


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There is an apocryphal Chinese curse, never attributed, but often quoted “may you live in interesting times”. And the last few months indeed years, from a political perspective, have certainly been interesting.

We have witnessed Donald Trump, despite overwhelming opposition from the leaders of that political organization achieving the Republican nomination. We have watched Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage lead the UK toward its exit from the EU. And here in Australia we elected a LNP leader so bad that he was actually overthrown by a cabal of his colleagues despite such an act being the cornerstone of their attacks on the Labor Party who had undertaken similar coups in both of their last governments.

These events, and plenty more, lead to some very interesting questions about how our democracy actually works, and particularly given some of the unexpected results, whether it works particularly effectively.

As Lincoln said, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. And whilst this is true, it is worthwhile reflecting on Churchill’s realism when he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”  When you consider the Brexit result, how that democratic process has divided a nation, and listen to why some people voted why they did, you realize he wasn’t wrong.

The role of voters is, of course, critical to the democratic process, particularly to those elected representatives who can then hide behind the “mandate” they’ve been given to push unpopular measures that were clearly not designed to actually help the electorate.   In elections winning is everything as there is no prize for coming second. Truth and facts are not only the first casualty of war, but also of politics, and the institutions that we used to be able to rely on to supply unbiased information, like the ABC, have now been either neutered, infiltrated by biased executives and board members, and their staff cowed into submission.

Without facts, voters are left to use their “judgment” to decide, which is exactly how many politicians, and the politically dependent media, want it. Given the way that the electorate is manipulated and lied to, is it any surprise that many voters make decisions poorly? And decisions made poorly lead to poor decisions.

So I am admittedly nervous about moves for greater and more regular voter input into the democratic process. Movements like Flux, or Online Direct Democracy, who wants voters to have far greater involvement in the democratic process by allowing online voting on individual issues that will determine how their member will vote in parliament, sound like a good idea, but can we trust voters to ensure they are appropriately informed before they make that call? Are these online voters going to have time to do the necessary research, will they donkey vote for a laugh, or make their decision based on what Rupert Murdoch, or indeed their preferred party leader tells them?

At least elected representatives have some degree of accountability such that they can be ousted at the next election, but you can’t hold voters to account – that would be most undemocratic.

Nor do these parties explain who determines the agenda? If these party’s members get elected, will they only be there to review and vote? Can they really contribute if they are just the voice of the voters? Voters might come to their decision for a variety of reasons, but how can these puppet politicians accurately reflect that thinking. The reality is that they cannot. They could never properly put forward an argument that they don’t personally believe in, but the majority of voters behind them have determined is the policy. We have enough party affiliated nodding dogs in parliament already who do their masters bidding, do we really need any more?

So I’m sorry to sound undemocratic, but there are many good reasons that we have a representative democracy, rather than a direct one. The reality is that we need high quality outcomes, not simply populist ones. And that means we’d be far better focusing our attentions on how we can get better quality, and party-unaffiliated representatives into parliament. The priority must be to get people who can set the agenda, and determine good policy into the decision making process first. And for that they need to be unencumbered by lobbyists, not beholden to donors and party apparatchiks, and able to work with others who might have different perspectives to come up with high quality, viable solutions to the issues that need to be dealt with.

Disillusion with the main parties is at an all time high, however this is as much a reaction to the system as it is to the parties themselves and the policies they propose. Fundamentally voters just want to be represented by people with integrity, honesty and accountability. They want their representatives to work together for the common good.  Voting for independents, of any political persuasion, will ultimately be better for democracy to flourish. In the 2010-13 parliament, we saw right wing independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott working very effectively with a left wing government, and their input probably stopped Labor over-reaching with some of their policies. Result – quality outcomes.

So whilst getting rid of the LNP has to be the priority for this election, it will only be a temporary fix if we cannot fix the system, and that means stop supporting parties that demand groupthink, and their lackey candidates.

About Steve Laing

Political observer, free thinker and problem solver, Steve contends that the current democratic processes have neither kept up to date with globalisation nor modern business practices, resulting in increasing dissatisfaction with modern politics. However, new technology could be used to not only reconfigure our system, but give the electorate even greater representation than was previously the case. For more background information on Steve, please check his LinkedIn profile.

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