Thursday, September 24, 2009

On not fixing a broken system

  • Photo by Get DownDon't campaign to clean up politics.
  • Don't campaign to tighten the rules on MPs' expenses.
  • Don't campaign to increase openness and enhance accountability.
  • Don't campaign to reform the electoral system.
It's a mug's game. The system's broke. Don't campaign to fix it.

Er... what?

No, really. Do you think the electorate is stupid? Voters know that parties' promises on reforming politics are typically well-intentioned but over-sold. Devious people will always find ways to cheat the system. And politicians are seen as devious people.

But we need to prevent the abuses of MPs' expenses that were discovered this year!

The only reason these abuses were discovered this year was through the leaking of the information. Illegal, of course, but no jury in the land would have convicted. It'll be great if new systems stop these abuses, but it will always be the threat of discovery that will act as the real deterrent to future abuses.

What about recall systems for MPs found guilty of breaking the rules?

Again, great idea, but the details are tricky to get right. In the meantime, an MP who refuses to go hemorrhages support from their party, increasing pressure on them to go. Obviously it's not ideal, but if you're already of the view that "they're all as bad as each other", replacing one crook with another isn't going to help.

But electoral reform... surely it's ridiculous that one party can get control over Parliament even if only a quarter of people vote for them? It's mad that in safe constituencies you could pin a blue or red rosette on a donkey and it'd still win!


What kind of a reasoned response is that?!

An honest one. If the voters were to consider the problems with the current system hard enough, a sizeable proportion might well demand just the kind of changes that many politically interested folks support. But they don't consider these problems, because they see them as secondary to their real concerns.

Which are...?

Maybe in another blog post.

But surely the lack of engagement by the electorate in these issues stems from a failure of communication? A failure to get across to the electorate the importance of fixing a broken political system.


Is that your catch-all answer then?

OK. You tried to communicate. And maybe you failed. Or maybe these issues really are of secondary importance to most people.

So you're saying do nothing to repair politics?

No, by all means put forward sensible proposals. In fact you need to have some proposals to counter the argument that you don't care about the abuses and that you're just the same as all the other parties. Just don't expect the voters to care too much about your actual proposals or to fall over themselves to put a tick in your box on that basis. Besides which, all the other parties will also have proposals to drone on about.


Nice try. But "meh" doesn't work as a response in that context.


OK, well done. So there it does.


Now you're over-doing it.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vote to save the planet

The British General Election in 2010

Dear Voter

You lucky thing. Not so long ago, you would have had no say in who made the decisions about your country. In 2010, your vote could decide the future of the entire world.

Photo by itspaulkelly

OK. Perhaps that's putting it a little dramatically. But look at the facts. The best scientific evidence we have suggests that without massive and sustained global action on carbon emissions starting now, our world will change quickly and irreversibly for the worse.

Maybe you think there's some uncertainty about the science. Maybe you think it'd be better to wait until the evidence is clearer. Maybe you think little old Britain shouldn't act while America and China are dragging their feet. Maybe you think it's all fine and dandy being concerned for the environment when times are good, but what about jobs? Maybe you think new technologies will solve the problem. Maybe you think climate change might at worst bring Mediterranean weather to our cold damp country.

If you believe any of these things, search Google. You'll find plenty of people who will agree with you. But also take a little time to hunt down the counter arguments (e.g. the Met Office, the Royal Society, New Scientist, and the IPCC), and decide for yourself. If afterwards you still believe these things, I doubt there's anything I could say to change your mind, so goodbye, bonne chance. I hope in the end it'll turn out you were right after all.

If you're still reading, then the question is: Who should you vote for to do what's needed to fight climate change?

At election time it's easy to be fooled into thinking that you should be voting for the politicians with the best sound-bites, the best put-downs, the best haircuts. Despite all the fine words, though, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are prepared to do what's necessary to fight climate change, if that means compromising on the economy.

Why? Because they know that the economy is the most immediate issue that most voters care about. They know that saying they're against new roads and runways would be unpopular. They know that taxing carbon emissions would be unpopular with motorists, holiday-makers and consumers of gas and electricity. They know that tightening regulations on energy efficiency would increase the costs of building new homes, hospitals and schools.

Labour and Conservative politicians are going to tell you grimly and sincerely that tough measures are needed in order to sort out public debt and so build a strong economy. And they're right. But they are placing economic prosperity above the fight against climate change, because they think that's what you want.

Is that what you want? Is it?