25 comments

  • >Your anecdotal evidence of friends and acquaintances not intending to vote is buttressed by the polls, which suggest another potentially relatively low turnout on May 6. Really, this shouldn't be the case – polls suggest that this will be by far the closest election since the two of 1974 (the last time I checked, Ladbrokes' nationwide survey predicted a Conservative majority of 4 and polls over the last week have averaged out at somewhere between a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party and a Conervative majority of about 10), it is a genuinely important election with the UK's finances at the forefront and, apparently, clear dividing lines on this issue splitting the two main parties, and, for perhaps the only time in history, there is near-free access to information, data and scrutiny, including unlimited free access to every single UK newspaper and televised leadership debates that will be scrutinised intensely in real time via myriad twitter, blogs etc. So why is it?A throwaway line in 'What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' by R.E.M. (always one of a few more politically-literate pop bands) has always struck me when thinking about issues like this and is, I think, hints at the truth. 'You said "withdrawal in dusgust is not the same as apathy"' I think that people do care – this is an enormous election at a pivotal time in UK political and economic history, an extraordinary moment where defining issues of political urgency (securing the national economy whilst simultaneously addressing the debt and attempting to minimise the public hardship that will inevitably ensue) meet, in poll after poll, no strong support for either major party and an election that could go one of two or three ways – so why the mass withdrawal?Firstly and most obviously is the mass epidemic of (quite justified) distrust in politicians. From Cabinet ministers supplying their spouses with porn and MPs and former junior ministers facing criminal charges for gross fraud to slimy ex-Cabinet ministers offering their dubious services, at a cost, to fictional lobbyists and even today, in the first and surely most extraordinarily vulgar faux pas of the campaign, an SLP candidate has been sacked following a blue Twitter assault on just about every conceivable voting demographic. This kind of thing doesn't help and, I think, many have washed their hands of the sordid affairs and politics in general with it. It might be throwing the baby out with the bath water, but in many cases I imagine that this might have happened.Next, the party leaders are being both disingenuous and utterly contemptuous in their treatment of voters. Cameron has spent the last few days trying to convince people that £12billion can be found behind a sofa in Whitehall and is only now making the vaguest references to ICT projects and contract re-negotiation. Labour themselves, while emphasising the need for 'savings', have been similarly opaque. Taxes will rise (on this, the parties have been better and we have, at least, got some kind of a debate) and public sector jobs and services will be affected, to the considerable detriment, one way or another, of all. Neither party is bold enough to outline where these cuts will fall and how deep they will be, particularly regarding what this will mean for jobs and services, and the public are being starved of vital information that we need to properly engage in this debate. The manifestos, due next week, might help, but I wouldn't hold my breath.Cont'd…

  • >Furthermore, the economic climate makes the spending pledges of broadly social democratic parties like the Greens and Lib Dems (the last two parties for which I voted, incidentally) utterly incredible. Of the main parties, at least, the Lib Dems have outlined clear public spending cuts in defence and the home office in particular, but the abolition of tuition fees and other such high-cost projects are just no longer viable. Again, such pledges may well be scrapped in next week's manifesto, but in the economic climate the left wing parties are not coming across as viable alternatives. The right, in their regular emphasis on race, immigration and the EU, don't seem to address macroeconomics much at all, other than the BNP's usual emphasis on nationalisation and tarrifs, which most people would regard as disastrous and is, in any case, rarely if ever the reason people turn to the BNP.And even beyond these specific 2010 issues there's still the perennial problem of the single-member franchise. A study undertaken by the Electoral Reform Society and published this week revealed that about 60% (around 400) seats are pretty much safe for one party or another. Unless you live in the South West, Scotland or parts of the Midlands, or in extraordinary seats where a once-in-a-lifetime campaign is being waged (Stoke Central, for example, where both Labour and the far right have splits that have yielded independent candidates) your vote isn't going to make much difference. This includes my constituency and the chances of me voting with conviction rather than with tactics in mind is practically nil. I was able to vote with conviction in 2005 owing to the liberal nature of the Cambridge constituency (a result, largely of the unusual concentration of students and academics) and in the 2009 EU elections (party list PR), but won't this time. As a self-confessed political anorak, this won't stop me voting, but with 60% of the seats seemingly sewn up I can understand why many won't bother.Should people vote? I think they should: I think it is a civic duty to engage in political debate, help generate a sufficient mandate for the parliament and executive and contribute, as best one can, to the future direction of the country. This means voting and everything that goes with it – really engaging with the politics, reading the manifestos, reading a wide selection of newspapers and political literature, watching a proper news programme and so on. Am I going to try and convince anyone that they really ought to vote and that their vote will make a difference? No, of course not; and until the factors above are addressed, especially the introduction of PR, I couldn’t possibly do that and our ‘democracy’ is ultimately decided by a minority of votes which, by postcode lottery, are cast in marginal constituencies.

  • >I agree with everything other than the last point: that I will not try to convince others to vote. I say this because we are doing precisely that in debating the topic.Democracy is not a one way relationship. It is not, as many people seem to presume, simply about the government serving the people. It is also about the duty and responsibility that all people have to their country and government. How can a country be democratic without widespread involvement in the political process when by definition democracy involves the people's participation?I believe that voting should be compulsory. It would avoid minor parties assuming too much power under a reformed electoral system that pretty much anyone with sense now agrees we need. And on top of that it fulfils part of our duty to the state. What would you say to all those people who fought for your right to vote throughout the last two centuries if you decided not to vote in this election? People literally put their lives on the line to allow universal suffrage. In my opinion we spit on them if we simply refuse to get involved today.Don't get me wrong. I think there are valid reasons for not voting. Some people don't have time to research everything they should in order to make an educated decision. Some…ok many people don't want any of the main parties in government. But in the first instance it takes very little time to find out what values the parties stand for, as well as their main policy committments. And as for the second point if you desire change then you should act on it. There are 389 parties currently enrolled on the electoral register. You could vote for someone other than one of the main parties. Or, you could set up your own party. I personally feel quite disillusioned with the main parties myself. But that is why I created this document: http://www.thebigqs.co.uk/Articles/Politics/Proposals%20for%20reform.pdfI hope to hear from others who desire reform in the next few years. But for now even if I do not hear from others I have not wasted my time. For I have put my ideas forward to different parties. I have even seen some of my ideas being taken on board by the Labour party. Of course I have no idea if what I said had any impact on this. But I acted nevertheless, fulfiling part of what I believe to be my democratic duties.

  • >Interesting.You agree with everything I say about the manifold flaws, inequalities and lack of choice in the current system and yet would legislate mandatory voting?To be fair, I would never legislate voting (and I do take on board your point about the need for civic participation and a mandate, I really do) as liberty necessitates choice. If I want to withdraw myself, in disgust or otherwise, surely it is my absolute freedom to do so. I will not materially harm anyone else and should be at liberty to follow my own will. It is also an emotive fallacy to suggest that anyone has ever fought so that I should be forced to vote, still less that I would be metaphorically spitting on a stranger's grave by not doing so (and I am going to vote, remember).1) I imagine that you could count the number of soldiers fighting in the last two existential wars this country fought who would have listed, Family Fortunes-style, 'fighting for the right to vote' among their top 3 reasons for fighting, on a standard child's abacus (how many times is 'democracy' even hinted at in propaganda and recruitment posters, for example?); especially in the First World War when most of the men on the frontline and all women couldn't yet vote anyway and had no immediate likelihood of doing so. Also, let's not forget that the First World War was essentially the result of imperial competition and nascent nationalism, not a clash of political ideologies (all beligerent nations were not, to a greater or lesser extent, democracies in the modern sense of the word anyway) and the Second World War, for Britain at least, began as humanitarian intervention in eastern Europe (though, I admit, after our entrance fundamental domestic freedoms were gravely threatened for 12-18 months or so).2) Even allowing for the importance of political ideology informing frontline soldiers and civilians at war, which I'll admit was heightened in the Second World War, I would have no problem telling anyone, in good conscience and eye-to-eye, why I would choose not to vote in 2010. I would firstly explain the situation in 2010, as outlined in my post above, and then remind them (if they needed reminding) that forcing people to vote on pain of what? – imprisonment? A fine? Community service? – is nothing if not coercive and totalitarian, and what they may have fought for was my liberty to vote, for which I am deeply and sincerely grateful and proud. No one, in short, fought for me to be coerced into voting; the few who consciously did go to war with abstract political principles in mind fought for my right to (or not to) vote. There is a world of difference.I didn't know that there were 389 political parties standing. It's an interesting little factoid, but can you tell me how many are standing in more than 50 constituencies? 30? 20? 10? 1? In other words, you can have as many parties as you like, it makes little difference when, not least in the present system (which, I know, you acknowledge needs reform), voting for all but about (let's be generous) 10 of them is going to make absolutely no difference whatsoever to anything but your private conscience.I'm going to read your article in the minute. I'm sure, as ever, I'll agree with much of it, but I have to disagree with you here.

  • >You say that you should have the freedom not to vote but why should you? Many people are under the illusion that by not voting some sort of service is being done to the state. This is simply not true. If you don't vote how would I know why you weren't voting? I certainly don't support anyone voting BNP but look at what their popularity has done. The amount of votes going to the BNP has done the British people a much greater good than any amount of non voters ever could. This is because it has forced the other parties to realise how they are attributing too little attention to immigration and the problems associated therewith.This is why I support compulsory voting. Not voting serves no-one. Voting lets people know where you stand closest too. And even better, participation allows your personal voice to be heard. We certainly don't have a perfect system. But participation does have an impact, and slowly but surely social change does impact upon state change if the members of society are prepared to work at it.1) As for my comments about our ancestors fighting for the vote I was talking about (in the UK) the Unionists, Whigs and Chartists in the nineteenth century, and the Suffragists and Suffragettes going into the twentieth century. Yet despite what you say about the twentieth century wars even there political ideologies formed a small amount of motivation to fight. And even if this is not what they fought for it is what they did. For if Britain had lost WW2 we would not have remained a deomcracy. So they did put their lives on the line for our vote, even if it was not intentional.2)I fail to see how forcing people to be democratic is totalitarian. Are you saying that those 35 countries around the world, including places like Luxembourg and Australia, are totalitarian?! There are two choices for enforcement. One is not to enforce, as many countries do. This does still have an effect in encouraging voting. The enforcement option, as you yourself mention, could simply be a small fine. People could appeal against the fine if they had good reason, but the money raised would be useful in paying for the administrative costs of elections.As for the last point I agree that the electoral system needs reforming. Compulsory voting would have to be one part of a basket of reforms. This would allow you to vote for smaller parties and see representatives from parties such as the Greens getting seats.

  • >If you want compulsory voting, you have to also add a 'none of the above' option. Then people will be able to show that they're actually disgusted, not just apathetic.

  • >There are several options here:1: As you say, create a "None of the above" option, as long as these people were encouraged to voice their reasons somewhere e.g. by giving them a website address to visit, an email, a phone number etc. The flaw here is that a "none of the above" vote doesn't help anybody. We need to hear why, and most voters would leave such reasons down to media speculation.2: Asking that they vote for the viewpoint closest to theirs. I agree this one is flawed as you mention. Many people may honestly not ascribe to any of the given options. However under a system of Proportional Representation the number of choices would obviously expand. And it may not be such a bad thing that people are encouraged to create their own group in the absence of any party they feel affiliated with. The problem is that this could only work with other electoral reform, and many people simply don't have the time, education or money to start their own group.3. Votes are kept throughout the term as expressions of support. Hence if a policy is passed that someone disagrees with they could switch their vote to another party on the spot (e.g. over the internet). This would also allow voters to call an election if necessary, whereby if government support dropped below a certain level and stayed there for 3 months a new election would be held. This would allow compulsory voting because if a voter failed to switch their vote it could be assumed that they want to keep their vote with who it already is with. This is democratic but may not tackle the problem of voter apathy. It could even entrench the problem if people become too dis-interested to change their votes.Clearly there are problems with all three approaches. I think the third is good, but would still ask that everyone log in to confirm their choice on election dates. I think the 2nd is desirable, and should be the option that is most strongly encouraged i.e. vote for a party/candidate or create one/stand yourself. However I think having an option 'none of the above' is also necessary simply for those without the time to make any real participation in politics.

  • >The transferable vote thing is something that I've heard suggested by a few people recently… it'd certainly be a massive boost to accountability, but might make politics too unstable, I'm not sure. Sometimes governments do have to make unpopular decisions, do they always deserve to be ousted for them?

  • >This is why I'm in favour of allowing a 4 month period of leeway. Check out the first point here:http://www.thebigqs.co.uk/Articles/Politics/Proposals%20for%20reform.pdfUnder this system the government could sustain itself with a minority of support for 4 months before it becomes necessary for a new election to be held. This way stability could be retained, and it would be possible for governments to recover from scandals/unpopular decisions if they won't affect later decisions.

  • >Why should I be free not to vote? For the same reason as I am free not to stand for election, join a pressure group or read a manifesto: liberty not to be politically involved. I don't pretend that not voting does the state any good, only that it is the right of an individual to act according to his own free will in such matters. In any case, not voting does at least send the message that a certain proportion of the population was not mobilised to vote, statistics that are infinitely chewed over with much hang wringing by almost the entire political community, especially once turnout drops.Linked to this, the big argument you seem to be making in favour of compulsory voting is the mandate by allowing, as the sum of its parts, the voice of the people to be heard. If any individual parts are missing, the voice of the people is not complete, could well be distorted and is not democratic. (Correct me if I'm wrong here).Regardless of my philosophical opposition to compulsory voting, there are two practical considerations here that, to me, suggest that many compulsory votes will be no more useful towards this end than abstentions.1. What is done about compulsory ballots which are deliberately spoilt? I'm aware that this is fairly common in Australia and unless you want an end to the secret ballot, such action cannot be traced and criminalised under the law. Surely these are no more useful than an abstention and distort the true democratic will just as much? In other words, the end you aim to achieve by compulsory voting is impractical at best, probably impossible.2. In a single-member system such as the UL, what do you do about tactical voting? Using your second model of encouraging to vote with the party of best fit (the most practical of your models and also, I think, the essence of representative democracy; you'd be extremely lucky to find a party that held your exact views on everything) I would vote Liberal Democrat, but I don't think I'm going to for the simple reason that a Liberal Democract won't win my seat and my vote, de facto, doesn't count. How do you measure tactical voting? Or can compulsory voting only be used effectively under PR, where people can vote with conviction without practically wasting their vote? It (STV) is only used in Senate elections in Australia, apparently. As for enforcement – if it is enforced, it is merely an illiberal law. If it is not enforced (as, apparently, in some countries) it is also a farce and should be either enforced universally to the letter or be taken off of any self respecting statute book. A law is either to be applied equally, fairly and certainly to all, or it is not a law at all, merely the arbitrary use (or threat of) state power. Regarding your arguments about suffrage groups, I apologise for misreading what you meant by fighting for democracy. In any case, my original point stands – neither the Charitsts nor the Suffragettes (and certainly not the Whigs) wanted compulsory or even universal suffrage and each can be best described as campaigning for the extension of the RIGHT to vote, not its being compulsory. Given the liberal traditions of the Chartists, at least, I imagine that they would have been rightly horrified at the very prospect of being forced to vote. This is goes for those who served in the two World Wars.Do I consider forcing people go vote, using the iron fist of state law, totalitarian? In exactly the same way as I judge compulsory national service or conscription by the same. It is the state intervening negatively, without suitable justification, in the liberty of individuals. I don't think states that have compulsory voting are totalitarian, but I do think compulsory voting is an undesirable and faintly totalitarian characteristic (Britain has these, too – until recently the head of the judiciary being a Cabinet minister and member of the legislature being one that pops into my head).It's a good debate this one; I'm interested to read what you have to say.

  • >You're free not to stand for election, read a manifesto etc because many people simply don't have the time (which is a great deal more) or education to do so. Can you say the same thing about voting?You're free not to help an old blind lady across the road but do you really have a right not to do it?You say that not voting sends a message that people are not mobilised to vote but if and when it's true we know it already. And besides what use does that have anyway? Do you think more knowledge about political apathy makes much of a difference to policy decisions (other than this policy of course)?1. People spoiling their ballot or choosing 'none of the above' is far greater than no vote at all. Most people tend to assume that people don't vote due to laziness and/or an uncaring attitude. This on the other hand sends a much clearer message that people cannot identify with any party. Besides, a system of proportional representation with near to four hundred parties to choose from would suffer far less from spoiled ballots than you imagine. As you say in Australia the electoral system is proportional only for the Senate, and is not on a national basis but per state. Hence there are a limited number of parties to choose from in Australia.2. As I said before I advocate compulsory voting as part of a basket of electoral reforms that would see proportional representation in the first chamber. I think the FPTP system is quite frankly awful and so can't defend anything used with it. This does not get rid of tactical voting of course. If PR were introduced tomorrow you still wouldn't be likely to vote for the Looney party because it would be unlikely for them to ever get even one seat. But people should be allowed to vote in this way as they so choose. People will always vote in a slightly tactical manner, and this will always shape electoral results (it's just un-proportionately bad under FPTP). See: http://www.psychol.ucl.ac.uk/ljdm/Studentconference/beauty.pdf"A law is either to be applied equally, fairly and certainly to all, or it is not a law at all, merely the arbitrary use (or threat of) state power." You have strong views on what the state and legislation actually is. You're aware that a non-enforced law would be applied equally right? Yet in any case I agree with you that compulsory voting should be enforced with a small fine. You say "illiberal" like anything which is must be an act of satanic worship. Liberal connotes freedom and individualism. Any measure of collectivism in a state is illiberal yet not all collectivist acts are bad. You yourself advocate the use of taxes, and are extremely illiberal yourself in your support of high inheritance taxes.continued..

  • >In talking about the Suffragettes, Chartists and such groups you said "I imagine that they would have been rightly horrified at the very prospect of being forced to vote". I imagine that they would be shocked at the idea, perhaps even because they hadn't considered it in those terms. That is because it was not a question of the day. It was assumed that those who had the power to vote would always want to exercise that vote. I imagine they would probably be shocked and appalled by both the notions of compulsory voting and low turnout. I'm not sure which would worry them more. But they would certainly not be pleased that their great grandchildren would be neglecting their political duties.The last paragraph seems to contradict itself. You say that a compulsory vote is totalitarian and yet refute the idea that states who use such votes are totalitarian!You say that the compulsory vote is a negative intervention by the state but it has next to no negative ramifications, only positive ones. You frequently talk of freedom, as if we are completely free to do whatever we want, and a compulsory vote would destroy this perfect state of liberalism. Yet you also seem to hold the view that laws are merely a use of power by the state. There are a great deal of erosions of liberty. Indeed as a self-professed Hobbesian you must admit that the state itself erodes liberty. So I fail to see on one hand how illiberalism is always bad, and on another fail to see how the entrenchment and support of democracy could be considered wholly illiberal anyway.Compulsory voting would: raise rapidly falling turnout; force voters to fulfil their legal and democratic duties; force government to respond to the people as a whole instead of simply their 'clients' i.e. voting base; give an actual majority mandate to govern as opposed to the present reluctant minority one; and under a system of Proportional Representation would prevent minority groups wielding disproportionate power.P.S. Yeah it is a good debate. Thanks for debating it with me! Hopefully we can still keep it going a bit, or maybe even get some more people involved.

  • >I am not a libertarian: liberalism has to be limited, that's the great problem of human nature – we cannot live totally free lives.Yet it should only be limited to the extent that our actions, if going unchecked, should cause material harm to others. I don't agree that choosing not to vote falls under this category – you could, I concur, argue that it might if you consider the damage it might or might not do to political legitimacy and democracy, but I don't share that.I acknowledge that all laws are, by definition, illiberal (indeed, the state itself is a curb on liberty), but they are nonetheless sometimes necessary (this is self evident), but only so far. Good (my idea of 'good') and necessary laws limit the freedom of the individual to the extent that they protect the rights of others; bad and unnecessary ones go further, and compulsory would be one such law. In other words, I don't advocate individual liberty as an absolute and I acknowledge that the state has, in the interests of itself and its component individuals, restrict individual liberty. Surely everyone agrees with that? The question has to be one of where you draw the line between the individual and the state – I tend to be a touch more on the side of the individual than you are and, hence, I cannot support the state coercing individuals into polling booths though, you are quite right, I do support the state restricting say, an individual's freedom to take another's property.As for:'You're free not to help an old blind lady across the road but do you really have a right not to do it?'Yes, I do. It would (perhaps should) make me an unpleasant sort of person not to do it, but no law should not make a criminal for not doing so. Re: taxation I am quite liberal. I want death duties and inheritance tax levied at the highest levels possible as these taxes least affect individual liberty; I am not all that keen on high VAT and income tax, and hate taxation on commodities, for the opposite reasons. I advocate graduated taxation because those who earn more have greater ability to pay a higher proportion of their wealth without adversely affecting either their living standards or lifestyle choices. I acknowledge the need for taxation because, as I said above, I am not a libertarian and recognise the value of and need for the state and civil society. Once again, I try to find a middle ground between individualism and statism that is as close to individual liberty as possible. I like liberty and I think it very important, but I do recognise its limitations and I don't fetishise it even if I do talk about it a lot. Cont'd…

  • >'"A law is either to be applied equally, fairly and certainly to all, or it is not a law at all, merely the arbitrary use (or threat of) state power." You have strong views on what the state and legislation actually is. You're aware that a non-enforced law would be applied equally right?'I wasn't entirely sure about this; I assumed a bit like the way the UK courts were constantly interpreting the 1961 Suicide Act re: assisted suicide (i.e. applying selectively). You mean, there's a law that exists but is never applied? A bit like the old (apophrycal?) laws about shooting Welshmen for York castle and what have you? In that case, if a law is universally non-enforced is it really a law at all? The government, the WHO and all sorts of people are rather keen that I eat my five-a-day but no one enforces that either…Am I missing something here, because this appears absurd? Either the law is applied at some point and is massively unfair because it has not applied evenly, or it's never applied at all and is not so much a law as something the government would like you to do if you don't mind awfully. It sounds terrible!Finally, I didn't say Luxembourg or Australia are totalitarian states; I said that I consider compulsory voting to be a totalitarian kind of law. Relatively liberal democracies can have such laws just like Communist states routinely have elections and constitutions. Not that this makes much difference to my argument, but the point I make is that states that are genuinely one thing (liberal democracies) can still have (often do) characteristics of another.

  • >And, finally, apologies for the errors – I should spell/grammarcheck before posting. 🙂

  • >Shit! I just lost everything I wrote. Oh well, i'll write a synopsis:You have a legal right not to help the old blind woman accross the road but not a moral one!"you could, I concur, argue that it might if you consider the damage it might or might not do to political legitimacy and democracy, but I don't share that." I don't understand why not. This is basically my argument, that especially under Proportional Representation non-compulsory voting will be damaging to: democracy; the size of the mandate to govern; the government's desire/need to act on behalf of all people rather than just the voters; and also give improportionate power to minority groups who are more likely to get their voters to the polls.As for the non-enforced legislation there are a number of ways it could happen e.g. mere legal 'suggestion', an un-enforcable law such as everyone having to wear their seatbelts, or deferring enforcement into an after life. Supposedly even mere suggestions have an impact. But I agree that in reality some kind of enforcement is necessary for every act passed into law.P.S. Don't worry about making errors as long as any readers can understand.

  • >We're not going to get anywhere I don't think, and all I have to add is going beyond the debate.All I will add is that while I have a legal right not to help the old blind woman accross the road but not a moral one!" these are two separate things. Morally, according to most I am sure, it would be unacceptable for my not to aid the old lady; legally, my inaction is no business of the state, nor would be my participation in an election.PS I hate it when I lose my posts – has happened to me once or twice too!

  • >Agreed to disagree then I guess. I hate it when that happens!Just one last effort: What would you say if turnout continued to decline until no general election ever got more than 50% turnout (remember it was 59.4% in 2001 so this isn't too unrealistic)?And what would you say if 5% of the electorate voted for a racist party and 5% for a communist party, which then turned out being a combined result of 25% of the electorate due to such low turnout? Also, check out this new page: http://www.thebigqs.co.uk/Manifestos.html

  • >Your first scenario is more persuasive and, as you rightly say, not that far-fetched. I would argue that the onus should be on the state, through education and political reform and other measures, to encourage people to want to vote, not simply forcing people to vote. In such a situation I think that would be counter-productive as it would do nothing to address the evident disenchantment with the political system and also probably worsen it. I'm also not as convinced as you are that spoiled votes – and there would be many I think – are any more useful or informative than abstentions.So, the solution is not to compel externally by forcing the population to vote, but to reform internally by making them want to vote voluntarily. That might be idealistic but it has to be the right solution.Your second scenario is less persuasive. The success of two political parties, however undesirable they might be to some, is no just reason to force everyone to vote in the hope that they become marginalised. Surely the very fact that 25% of voters, even if they do make up only 10% of the population, are moved to vote for such parties suggests some genuine democratic support for their ideas. After all, even among the abstainers, antipathy to them cannot be that high or else they would have, of their own free will, voted tactically, or even set up their own groups, to keep them out (see, for example, the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s). If they did not then ultimately that's democracy – 25% of those that did have an opinion voted for one of these two parties – and so be it. Once again, the onus should be on parties and the political system to attune themselves to the masses and to seek their engagement, not force it and do nothing.In this regard, this is something of a moot debate as PR would (and has in most places where it is used) increase voter turnout by its very nature. This is the way forward.PS Nice on the manifestos. I read through Labour's last night and did my best not to fall asleep. Some very good ideas regarding education, family, constitutional reform (better than expected anyway) and even the economy, but no real sense of identity or ideological drive. It's a sum of its parts kind of manifesto, whereas the Conservative one (as much as I dislike its implications, especially on the economy where, in my opinion, they are being grossly unfair) does have a genuine ideological thrust that can indeed boil down to 'the big society' (and small state). Like it or not (as I say, I disagree strongly in certain key areas), I think theirs is a better manifesto as it stands as a potentially attractive ideology that is more than the sum of its parts.Anyway, that's for another debate.

  • >Absolutely not!Your position is, as you say, idealistic. You can think of no evidence to quote as to why more people would be inclined to vote if politics was re-'enchantised'. In fact if this was the case, that bad politics was solely at fault for low turnout, then declining turnout would not have been seen as a global trend in western countries. And don't cite Obama as an example. He mobilised the young and black vote for obvious reasons. Not all of those people will continue to vote at subsequent elections.The second scenario is to my mind far more persuasive, not less. You say that no matter how few of the voters vote for a group, as long as some do it expresses the democratic will and so therefore that group should be allowed to wield disproportionate power? That's ridiculous, and anything but democratic! If two parties in radical opposition to each other claim 25% of the votes from their respective 5% support it means that 25% of the elected representatives of the country could be opposed by 95% of the people!You suggest that this could never happen, as if 95% of the people truly opposed them then there would be huge opposition that would nullify their impact. This is again not backed by the facts. The BNP party are such a minority group yet opposition to them has only encouraged their supporters to turn out in force at every election, and has not rallied many of those opposed to their policies. I spoke at length to a voter in the last local elections. He told me that he couldn't believe that the BNP were a credible threat. I gave him all the facts and he still said that he, like you, had "too much faith in British voters". What happened? BNP were elected into the region next door, and counted high support in his region too!As for your argument that PR would automatically keep turnout high this is once again very idealistic. People said exactly the same thing when before universal suffrage. Yet look where we are now. The initial effect will wear off.Interesting about the manifestos. I think Labour's manifesto also presents their ideology clearly. Though I've only glanced at it so far. There will be a debate on which party to vote for next week. Do try and get some other people interested. I'm trying to get some party supporters to have a word too so fingers crossed it could be good.

  • >Damn, you go away on holiday for a few weeks and miss a great opportunity to plug direct democracy again! ;-)I agree with Ross and thought many of his arguments were sensible and liberal, whereas Rob's premises seemed to be in the category of scare-mongering, about racists and communists taking over. Didn't we hear enough of that type of scare.mongering from the Bush administration?"The Terrorists, the terrorists, gotta curb freedoms because of the terrorists".As for the suffragettes dying for the cause or putting their life on the line, I agree. And remember that Jesus gave his life for you too, so you should castigate yourself for not signing up to christianity.US and UK soldiers are putting their lives on the line for us too. I'm not sure what guilt trip the govt is using that for in their PR campaigns, but i'm sure they'll troll it out one day and try to get us to sign up as well.

  • >Good to hear from you again. I hope it was a good holiday.Firstly, I wouldn't exactly put Jesus and the Suffragettes in the same group. But secondly, I ascribe to the messages of both anyway in that Jesus's message was one of peace and harmony, and the Suffragette's was one of universal suffrage. Remember Christianity wasn't founded until about 400 years after Jesus died. It is quite possible for a non-Christian to judge Jesus as simply a philosopher with many worthwhile messages.It's fundamentally about who you agree with. If you agree with and believe in democracy then you should participate in it. It is hypocritical to spend hours spouting support for democracy and then walk straight past a polling booth saying you can't be bothered to vote. Even if you don't agree with any party then you still have the duty and responsibility to participate. For example if you strongly disagree with your MP then why don't you send him/her a letter saying so? It's no good ranting on the phone to a friend because at the end of the day unless you send that letter your MP will have no idea that one of his/her constituents feels so strongly about the issue.

  • >The "Jesus died for you" comparison was sarcastic, it's used by members of the cult to try to guilt trip you into obeying their teachings.I walk straight past teh polling booth because i don't agree with representative democracy. I believe only in direct democracy and will not vote until we get this.You can say rep. democracy is better than other forms of governance and that i should therefore accept it. But communism could say they are better than fascism and therefore all the comrades should accept that as well.Also, one of your arguments against direct democracy was that it is impractical because it requires people to vote (by SMS) too often about issues they feel strongly about, yet you say above that i should write a letter to my MP every time I want to voice my opinion!Not only is this far more time consuming, but also incredibly bureacratic and ineffective. Does an MP even remotely have time to read all the letters he/she recieves regarding issues of concern to the public ? No they don't!Direct democracy or nothing !

  • >"I walk straight past teh polling booth because i don't agree with representative democracy. I believe only in direct democracy and will not vote until we get this."So.. you believe in voting but won't vote until you get the right to vote more? That's ridiculous! If you want something done then go out and voice your opinions! Participate and act for change if you want to see it.You can also ring your MP or send an email. This takes substantially less time than researching all the necessary law, politics, finance etc behind each bill that you would have to do if you became a legislator.Each MP has a Research/Office Assistant or several that act on the MP's behalves. They learn the approach and opinions of their MP and are therefore able to act as a go between. For example I wrote letters on Mark Williams' behalf. He then checked them and signed if he agreed, or asked that they be changed.

  • >"So.. you believe in voting but won't vote until you get the right to vote more? That's ridiculous! "No, I believe in direct democracy, not in writing letters to Office Assistants and having them signed by an MP.

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