AV Referendum and Nick Clegg 66

Paddy is getting his knickers well and truly twisted about personal attacks on Nick Clegg in the AV referendum campaign.

There are two strange things about this: firstly Paddy has been around long enough to know that a high profile complaint that the campaign is about the personality of Nick Clegg, will just focus all the media comment on the referendum still further on the personality of Nick Clegg. Secondly, I really cannot find much evidence of these deeply personal attacks on Nick Clegg by the No campaign. Where are they? It is almost something they don’t have to say. Such is Mr Clegg’s reputation that “AV? Nick Clegg” (snigger) is enough to almost kill the Yes campaign. I wonder if my commenters can help identify these deeply personal and unfair attacks.

Actually, if Paddy had the sense to read this blog, he could have learnt six weeks ago that Clegg would cripple the Yes campaign. I can’t see why it is a shock. And if Clegg is that unpopular, perhaps he should ask why, on the day that three quarters of English universities confirmed they are charging £9,000 a year tuition fees.

I shall vote for AV. It is a little bit better than first past the post. John Reid and David Cameron are both against it, which is good enough for me. One day I hope we will get real reform to STV. AV is a very slight improvement – actually more equally sized constituencies will do more than AV to improve our democracy. That ploughs on despite intense New Labour opposition.

Meantime, what has happened to the coalition promise of a fully elected House of Lords, elected by STV? That is a genuinely liberal measure, which is doubtless why Clegg appears quietly to have jettisoned it.

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66 thoughts on “AV Referendum and Nick Clegg

  • Philip

    I have received two ghastly-looking leaflets from the No campaign (maroon and pus-green – Lord Ashcroft really needs to hire some less retinally challenged designers). The first squeals that Clegg and the Electoral Reform Society denounced AV as a "miserable little compromise" and then pre-emptively criticises them both for wanting to change the system again in a few years' time. The second shrieks that "AV leads to broken promises" and cites as proof all the nasty things Nick Clegg has done with the opportunities granted him under first past the post. It is all very unfair.

    Incidentally, this second leaflet also manages graphically to illustrate the idiocy of FPTP with a picture of five piles of ballot papers in which the winner's votes are clearly outnumbered by those of the people who voted against him.

    • Craig_Murray

      Nobody has delivered any leaflets to my home, other than two New Labour ones for the local council election. Sounds like I am not missing much.

  • mike cobley

    I am tempted to suggest that if Nick Clegg has become such an albatross that he's dragging down the party's popularity and impeding the Yes2AV campaign, one wonders why he should remain leader of the party. New polls suggest that the Yes campaign is holed beneath the waterline, and if it fails the referendum I would have to ask what is the point of the Coalition or indeed Nick Clegg?

  • Richard Robinson

    I got a leaflet through the door this afternoon, printed "on behaf of NO Campaign Ltd."

    Excerpts :- "Nick Clegg is unpopular because he broke his promises … that's why he's pushing for AV to save his party". "The only vote that would count under AV would be Nick Clegg's". And more, but I can't be bothered. No other person is named.

    Maybe this stuff is rgearded as "politics as normal" by those who play such games, but if I read it in the course of an argument, say, here, I'd regard it as "ad hominem" and disregard the rest (just as I had to fish it out of the bin to copy those bits out).

    I was intending to vote yes anyway, but if I hadn't been it may well have tilted me. Unless I subsequently receive a similiarly shoddy one from the 'Yes' people, of course, in which case I may fall back on "Fuck both your houses".

  • Tom Welsh

    What puzzles and upsets me most about this campaign is the sheer venom and lack of compromise exhibited by both sides. It's almost as if British people were gradually becoming American – you should see the names they call one another.

    I can see that PR has its appeal: parties that otherwise get very few representatives can increase their influence. OTOH, it's complicated and often leads to deadlocked situations where negotiations between parties blot out actual governing.

    FPTP is unfair in that sense; OTOH it is a tradition that has been acceptable to all our ancestors for 1,000 years and more, and at least we know who our MPs are.

    As Robert Conquest remarked, everyone is conservative about what he knows best. And "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a good rule of thumb when in doubt. So I'm going to vote "No" – and I'm sorry to have upset those people who no doubt will be upset.

      • Tom Welsh

        It's a matter of priorities, isn't it? I have become quite disillusioned with democracy in general – as it is now implemented. But the big problems I see are the disproportionate influence of rich and powerful people over the electoral process; the sheer ignorance and apathy of most voters (not to mention those who don't); and the lack of choice. I disapprove of warmongers, and I have gradually come to realise that I just won't vote for anyone who commits the supreme international crime – or supports it. That effectively deprives me of the vote.

        It would be nice to get back closer to the roots of democracy in ancient Athens. I know it didn't work out at all well for them, but one element they had that we have completely discarded is the ability of the people to punish as well as reward. When officials came to the end of their (short) terms of office, the electorate voted on how well they had done. Good performance could be rewarded by money, land, a statue, etc. Bad performance might incur a fine, baninshment, or even the death sentence (life was cheaper in those days). At the very least, the Athenians got permanently shut of those who let them down most heavily.

        • mike cobley

          If we actually had a proper functioning democracy – a truly representative electoral system, a truly free press, safeguarded democratic institutions, and avenues whereby the populace can restrain government between general elections – it would be a somewhat different story. As it is, we have a hamstrung, crippled, deeply compromised version of democracy through which the public's voice is scarcely heard. Please, dont be disillusioned by that.

        • evgueni

          On "getting closer to the roots of democracy in ancient Athens". This is referred to as Direct Democracy and it exists today in modernised forms around the world, steadily growing in popularity whilst we in the UK bicker about AV versus FPTP, how quaint. The only country in the world where DD is practiced at both the national and local levels of government is Switzerland. See Gregory Fossedal's Direct Democracy in Switzerland for an introduction to the subject. The Swiss could never be duped into a foreign war of aggression but this has little to do with PR and everything to do with DD. Actually there is a tremendous amount on DD published on the internet, considering that it is one of the most excluded topics in the mainstream. E.g. google Verhulst Nijeboer Direct Democracy, or John F Knutsen Blueprint 1992, or Brian Beedham Direct Democracy..

          In Britain we have not even progressed as far as a formal recognition of the principle of popular sovereignty that is the basis of the democratic ideal. We have 'parliamentary rule', that is to say our Parliament is sovereign rather than the people that it is supposed to represent. What does it mean – not much, because even our Parliament itself is deeply flawed as a democratic institution. The most significant flaw of all is the same one that afflicts our media, namely that the political agenda is controlled by a small clique. There is no formal mechanism that allows even a *majority* of MPs to initiate a discussion on a topic of their choosing, beyond the Private Members' Bill annual lottery. Consequently, some things are permanently off the agenda, taboo subjects that never get an airing. Add to that the patronage and the "party discipline" and you get an institution that is fundamentally unable to fulfil its stated aim of representing the people. Incidentally, the people as a whole and any political party in principle have interests in common only up to a point. Thus even a properly functioning Parliament cannot ever be fully representative of the people so long as party politics is practiced in it.

          By comparison, going from FPTP to AV is a tiny step but definitely in the right direction. It would give a chance for the proportion of democratically minded individuals in Parliament to increase, hopefully leading on from there to better things. I think this is the crux of it – it is about hope, and on the flip side – how could AV make things worse than they already are?

  • Guest

    A no vote on AV from me, full STV or nothing. What an upside down world, Murdoch supporting the SNP, must think one day Scotland will go independent and making friends just incase!!!. Wonder what arrangement he has come to with some in the SNP ?, the SNP are going further to the right everyday.

      • Guest

        You could well be right on that one Craig.

        "We're bought and sold for English gold
        Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!".

        • mike cobley

          Bought and sold for global gold – get it right. Scotland (and indeed every part of the UK) is threatened by the ruthless greed of international finance. In that context, independence has a limited use.

      • Paul Johnston

        Isn't it easier to bully someone small rather than someone bigger?
        More likely a case of "divide and conquer".

  • Dick the Prick

    My best bud, who's not too political, asked last night 'why didn't Clegg just get the co-alition agreement and then throw in the towel on the first major disagreement and force an election and look like he had a huge pair of cojones?' to which my reply was 'err…no idea there chum'.

    We've all been taught when dealing in politics, cui bono? For the Libbers, I genuinely canny figure it out, Cap'n.

    And another thing while i'm at it; when did Blighty stop respecting erudition, wisdom, experience and age when we've got 3 bloody teenagers running their respective parties, each fit for FA? Ho hum – does AV make a difference when the choice is between shit & shite? Cheers Craig – awfully nice weather what what!

    • Guest

      "to which my reply was 'err…no idea there chum'."

      I am beginning to form a theory about Clegg, I think he wants to be another Blair!. He is no liberal, Blair was no socialist, they both have the same wide boy opportunism about them. Like Blair, I think the only thing on Clegg`s mind is Clegg. I cannot understand the Lib Dems letting him get away with it all ?, what is going on ?.

  • Ivan K.

    Here is my suggestion of a fairer voting system:

    Each voter at gets ten voting tickets, and each party or candidate has a separate voting box.

    The voter inserts the tickets in any combination he/she likes between the boxes… and his pocket, too, why not.

    10 to one candidate, none to others; or 4-3-3 between candidates; or one to one party, one to another, and eight to his pocket.

    • CanSpeccy

      Total rubbish. You get to vote for your own constituency representative, and that's it. That's the constitutional basis on which MP's are picked. Parliament is not designed to serve in place of a plebiscite on specific issues.

  • domestic extremist

    One day I hope we will get real reform, not STV but proportional representation with multi-member constituencies, so that small parties with scattered support can emerge and build up a serious challenge to the hegemony of the barely distinguishable dinosaur parties.

    We also need a citizen right to call a binding national referendum on any proposal that collects sufficient support, and to recall an MP at any time a significant number of constituents demand it.

    • mike cobley

      When Chris Huhne ran against Clegg for the LD leadership, one of his ideas was the People's Veto, whereby the people can by popular referendum force the government to retract acts of parliament for amendment or abolishment. Shame that nothing further has been heard of it.

      • evgueni

        This is sometimes known as 'abrogative referendum' and is one of the more limited instruments of direct democracy. The Italians have it and it has proved useful on occasion but still the Italian government is what it is..

        Imagine having a conversation with someone who can only say No or nothing at all.

  • Guest

    "not STV but proportional representation"

    I want that, but STV is the minimum I would accept, but then just as a step to full "proportional representation".

  • Sean

    There is also this lovely piece – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/av-refer

    Classic Telegraph bull-shit – that people who will be voting that day will have an undue influence on the result over people who will choose not to vote on that day, reads, well, like blaming a democratic process for the delivery of a democratic result.
    So there you have it – The Daily Telegraph: "Tough on Democracy, Tough on the Causes of Democracy."

    But like any good narrative, the ending is a belter – "Ministers have admitted that the May 5 date for the referendum was chosen by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is campaigning for a Yes vote". What, using electoral process to influence the outcome in a favourable direction by having it on a day that people planned to vote anyway? The Scoundrel!

    It's funny how the average Conservative/Labour/Liberal politician only ever seem to questioningly engage with widespread voter apathy & an ever-dwindling turn-out when it appears not to head in their favour..

    • mark_golding

      Telegraph – "We will, in the coming months, see if Mr Cameron has the guts to use his own, non-nuclear, weapon and get rid of a man(Vince Cable), who one senses, is rapidly replacing Ed Balls in the Prime Minister’s affections as the most annoying man in British politics.

      Vince Cable speaks his mind – so what – it is in the public's interest to do so. It is also in the public's interest to prevent the Murdoch enterprise from increasing it's stranglehold on the corporate media.

      I comstantly remind myself of this:

      Rupert Murdoch has given his full backing to war, praising George Bush as acting "morally" and "correctly" and describing Tony Blair as "full of guts" for going out on a limb in his support for an attack on Iraq. (PUKE)

  • CanSpeccy

    Britain has a representative democracy. That means every constituency elects its own representative to speak for the particular interests and issues of the people of that constituency.

    If people wanted a Liberal representative they'd vote for one. PR is a Liberal scam to steal seats from more popular — which is to say more representative — candidates.

    Referendums would lead to chaos. What do folks in Chelmsford or anywhere else know about human rights in Libya? Essentially, nothing, obviously — other than the lies told them by Clegg, and Cameron on instructions from Rupert Murdoch and the Conservative/Liberal/BNP/Whatever Friends of Israel.

    What's needed is an honest system of government, which means that governments would be compelled to state the real reasons for their actions. How that would be imposed, I am not sure, but lopping a few heads at the Tower would seem like a good start. Tony Blair, one might expect, would have a good one-liner to please the crowd as he mounted the scaffold.

      • Philip

        Britain does have a representative democracy, in that the people are allowed to vote for people who represent party interests to their constituents and explain all the complicated bits.

        Britain also has PR politics; it's just that the PR doesn't stand for proportional representation.

    • Tom Welsh

      " What do folks in Chelmsford or anywhere else know about human rights in Libya?"

      As much as they (or anyone) knows about human rights anywhere.

      "Right is the child of law; from real laws come real rights, but from imaginary law, from ‘laws of nature’, come imaginary rights… Natural rights is simple nonsense, natural and imprescriptable rights… nonsense upon stilts". – Jeremy Bentham (“Anarchical Fallacies”, 1843)

      As for Libya, they probably know that it has little or nothing to do with them; and that the Libyans will not thank them for meddling in their affairs, probably with bloody and destructive results.

    • evgueni

      On the myth of "representative democracy" see Inventing The People by Morgan. The idea of representation is logically rooted in the same place as the divine right of kings. Representative democracy is a contradiction in terms, though of course no one in their right mind will argue that it is not more "democratic" than even more concentrated forms of government.

      As for your contention that referenda would lead to chaos, this is easily dismissed. The Swiss have been doing it for over 150 years and the situation if plainly not chaotic there. What is your counter-argument to that – surely not that the Swiss are ahead of the folks in Chelmsford in evolutionary terms?

      • CanSpeccy

        Oh, the folks in Chelmsford can be relied on to vote sensibly on whether they agree to the construction of additional minarets, whether women should dress like pillar boxes and stuff like that.

        But the thing is, Switzerland is not an empire or the sidekick of any empire, so the Swiss don't have to decide difficult questions such as whether Col. Qhaddafi is killing his own people in defiance of international law, or simply putting down a CIA inspired insurrection as any legitimate government is permitted to do under international law.

        • evgueni

          The Brits also do not *have to* decide any such thing. This is not how modern DD works, in practice. They would however have a strong opinion about how much the foreign adventures cost and how many British lives lost as a result, this as a minimum. On occasions when our free press do their job properly there will be other things to consider, too.

          What's your point really?

          • canspeccy

            What's my point? To rebut your fallacious argument, which I have done, that you can run an imperial regime on the basis of Swiss-style referenda!

          • evgueni

            I am afraid that you have not rebutted my argument. Rather you created a straw-man argument to rebut so that you could avoid the one I presented.

            I have the impression that you are in possession of few facts about modern Direct Democracy. It is OK to say 'I do not know'.

          • canspeccy

            That's the whole point about Britain's Parliamentary form of government: that it is not direct. If you want to decide every issue by plebiscite, why not say so?

            But all those politically correct liberals who want direct democracy are in for a shock if they ever get it. An immediate end to mass immigration for a start. Then expulsion of all the illegals. Restoration of hanging — in public, probably. Lot's of fun.

            Heck, maybe it's not such a bad idea, after all.

          • evgueni


            My impression was correct then and we are talking about different things. Your idea of direct democracy is too simplistic.

            For a start, plebiscite is emphatically not an instrument of direct democracy. On the contrary, it is a trick used almost entirely to give an illusion of legitimacy to the status quo. When the required result is not assured, the plebiscite is either dropped or the result ignored, e.g. EU referendum.

            As for your assertion that the savage masses would make terrible use of DD, we seem to have come back on ourselves so here is my counter-argument to that, again. How come the Swiss after 150 years of DD practice at the national and local levels, have not done any of those terrible things? Are they still warming up, or do they belong fundamentally to a different branch of humanity?

          • CanSpeccy

            but they have done those terrible things. They banned the construction of minarets, right? Which made liberals the world over howl.

            Then they voted to deported convicted foreigners.

            I could go on.

            But the British public are completely incapable of telling when Clegg or Cameron are lying through their teeth so they'd continually be suckered into imperialistic wars and other things about which they know essentially nothing: Saddams nukes, Qhaddafi killing his one people, etc.. That is where direct democracy of any kind fails. But the Swiss as I've pointed out, having a purely defensive military, do not have to decide such questions.

            Liberals certainly don't want any kind of real democracy, or referendums or any other arrangements that would prevent them using political correctness to bludgeon the public into accepting what the public knows perfectly well is contrary to their interest.

          • Clark

            His "point" is to have a dig at me, 'cos I live near Chelmsford and think that AV would be a minor improvement over FPTP.

          • CanSpeccy

            Hey Clark, I was only kidding.

            All I know about Chelmsford is that Charles Dickens visited the town in 1835 while covering an election as a news reporter. His verdict was that it was the "dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the earth."

            However, judging by the Wikipedia article, it actually seems like a really interesting place. It must have changed since the 1830's, and perhaps Dickens was in a foul mood when he visited.

    • mike cobley

      So if we had true PR, where a superconstituency would elect 3 or 4 MPs in proportion to the votes cast – that wouldnt be a representative democracy, is that right?

      Sorry, but your argument is incoherent.

      • CanSpeccy

        If you have a constituency with three of four MPs you finish up by electing jerks like Nick Griffin. LOL.

        Anyway, when you talk of constituencies with multiple representatives, you're talking about populations of up to half a million or more, which makes nonsense of the idea of local representation.

        You might as well have a national referendum and then allow the parties to pick their own MPs according to their share of the national vote. Which would be a total trashing of the British Parliamentary system of government.

        The problem is that no one really trusts a liberal, for obvious reasons — think Clegg — so the Liberal candidates come in second or third nearly everywhere.

        So why not just accept it: If people wanted a liberal government they'd vote for the bastards.

        • evgueni

          A smattering of Nick Griffins would not make the weather in Parliament. Besides, not all his ideas are unpalatable. I think he proposed nationalising the means of exchange during the last election, pure thought-crime as far as the rentiers are concerned.

          You appear to be irrationally attached to this myth of representation, even though you glimpse the truth yourself in a subsequent post below: "he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices [his judgement] to your opinion". In other words, your MP does indeed represent you when he agrees with your opinion but is otherwise free to ignore it when he thinks he knows better – very convenient (for your MP and for the moneyed elites who wish to subvert your precious representative democracy to serve their own ends).

          You have sidestepped my argument earlier. The Swiss have both parliaments and referendum rights at all levels, the latter being seen as complementary to representative democracy. The referenda are for the most part optional (only triggered if an Initiative succeeds) unless an international treaty or a constitutional change is involved in which case a referendum is mandatory. This is the most effective way yet discovered to keep government honest, so what is it that irks you about it so much?

          And just to clarify – FPTP and I&R rights are not mutually exclusive in principle. However it is a fact that the large established parties have no interest whatsoever in rocking the boat. The hope lies with the smaller parties and independents. Thus it is UKIP, English Democrats, Respect etc that are talking about these ideas, not Labour, Tory or sadly even Lib Dems.

          • canspeccy

            "A smattering of Nick Griffins would not make the weather in Parliament. Besides, not all his ideas are unpalatable. "

            With direct democracy, you'd get more than a smattering of BNP politics, but it would be without the BNP to smear everything with their Marmite and other crap designed to smear anyone supporting their policies. Remember, more than two-thirds of the population want an end to mass immigration. With direct democracy, they'd get it. Most want the restoration of capital punishment, they'd get it.

            But actually, what you're advocating is some bogus direct democracy whereby the liberals sneak into power and then decide everything for themselves on politically correct lines in total defiance of public opinion.

            Well one thing one has to admire in a Liberal is that they can get elected to Parliament demonstrate their total dishonesty and yet avoid being lynched.

            But I bet this won't get past the politically correct censor here at CM.org.

          • evgueni

            This is not very coherent. Would you mind backing up your assertions with some kind of evidence. 'Bogus direct democracy'? Do explain!

  • Art

    I think it was Edward de Bono who proposed a pretty foolproof way of making the existing system fairer. An MP's vote in Parliament was worth the percentage of votes he received at the poll. If they got 50% of votes they counted for half a vote in the House.

    Apart from some additional work for the tellers, it is almost flawless as an interim measure.

    • canspeccy

      Surely Rube Goldberg had a better idea. For one thing de Bono's bloody silly idea takes no account of the voter turnout. Why should someone elected with 51% on a turnout of 25% have as much clout as someone elected with 51% on a turnout of 100%? Then why not take into account how much tax the voters pay? Why should the representative for Birmingham Ladywood, where 11% are on the dole, have the same clout as the representative for Westminster where everyone's paying capital gains tax?

      This kind of argument could go on for ever. But it is entirely nonsensical because MP's are not there to act as proxies for their constituents in an unending series of national referenda. They are there to study issues and make judgments. As Burke put it:

      "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion"

      A sound opinion, in my view.

      My own MP in the Parliament of Canada is a socialist. Now I would never vote for a socialist (unless the only alternative were a liberal — can an alternative be anything but "only"?) . Nevertheless, my MP is a generally sensible person, who works tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. I respect her integrity and her contribution to our community though I would not vote for her.

      So what is wrong with the fact she won less than 50% of the vote in the last election? Nothing, obviously. We need a conscientious representative in Parliament. We have one. There's no need for fancy math or any other device merely to get more unpopular liberals into government.

      • evgueni

        Turnout is not a problem. Every person has a democratic mandate which they can use (vote), or forfeit (not vote). If some
        people do not bother to vote in a poll it is by and large because they do not care enough about the outcome. It's a molehill, not a mountain.

        If the people that did not vote last time realise that they do care after all, there is always next time. This is how it works
        now, isn't it?

    • CanSpeccy

      Sounds like a good idea. I'd vote to send Tony Blair, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the Tower as war criminals — which is why no such scheme in any meaningful form will ever arise.

  • Ed Davies

    "That means every constituency elects its own representative to speak for the particular interests and issues of the people of that constituency."

    Yeah, right. On all matters that Parliament deals with my interests and opinions are exactly the same as all those who live within a few tens of kilometres of me and I share none with people further away so there's absolutely no need to justify the idea that a "constituency" should be defined geographically.

    • CanSpeccy

      If you define a constituency in terms of "a few tens of kilometres" your talking the whole of the UK! So what you really want is to turn the election into a national referendum and then have the parties select their own MPs according to their share of the national vote. Funny thing is, the Scots don't vote the same as the English or the Welsh, and the people in clapped out places like Wigan don't vote the same as the geniuses of finance who commute to the city from Surrey and the home counties. And as I recall, the folks in Devon regard the Cornish a bunch of foreigners. So your idea that there is no merit in local representation seems mistaken.

  • Clark

    The FPTP system causes positive feedback. The complexion of Parliament changes just as we should expect it to under a positive-feedback dominated system – occasional big swings, with gradually reducing majorities between. The alternative on offer is AV, which should suffer somewhat less from positive feedback. Therefore, vote for it.

    • evgueni

      I like the systems approach! A colleague of mine once remarked that everything in life can be thought of as a PID control loop, I tend to agree (obviously within reason).

      I think of our political system as an essentially open-loop affair with horrendous inherent biases and distortions. The will of the people is the input signal, the governmental monopoly on coercion and violence provides the "gain", government policy being our output. There is very weak feedback in the form of elections and opinion polls but nowhere near enough to compensate for the distortion and instability, so essentially the system remains open-loop. The input variable is badly under-sampled at the sampling rate of 4-5 years.

      There is an effective internal filter on the input signal and FPTP is part of it. This filter ensures that the range of possible inputs is limited. John Brignell once summed this up nicely: "We expect politicians to lie, but the British Government is unique in basing its whole philosophy on prevarication and mendacity. Like the long-lived Government of Margaret Thatcher it is sustained not by its own worth, but by the complete absence of a credible alternative."

      Going away from FPTP to PR would reduce distortion in the system. Can you explain why you think FPTP provides positive feedback? I think the strongest feedback that can be added to the system is Initiative & Referendum rights. The Initiative rather than compulsory referenda deals nicely with the potential problem of over-sampling (voter fatigue) – no feedback is generated so long as the signal is reproduced with good fidelity.

  • evgueni


    I have put this argument to Craig elsewhere but here it is again. Compare DD with RD, not with some ideal society in which things never go wrong. If we do that we find that the Swiss ban minarets and are tough on illegal immigration etc, terrible indeed by some standards! On the other hand our government kills innocents, in our name, by the million, and also aids and abets others who do the same. Do you really prefer our system?

    I see that your argument depends on you taking a dim view of the British people as a whole, contending that they would make quite different use of DD from the Swiss. According to you they are too ignorant and brainwashed to resist the imperialist impulses of the politicians. But you do not back this up with evidence – this is your own pessimistic assessment? I think it is very wrong. I cannot think of an equivalent study for the UK, but Chomsky demonstrates convincingly that the American public disagree profoundly and consistently with US foreign and domestic policy, and especially wars of aggression. These facts are suppressed of course, and the opposite picture is promoted in the media.

    I think you mistake the forced outcomes of party politics for explicit support of party policies and trust in politicians. In an election, people must choose the least bad party or forfeit their vote. Apply the same process of elimination to a question like whether to bomb Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya and the least bad option from the people’s point of view is clearly ‘do not bomb’ because a) it is an established fact that politicians are trusted about as much as estate agents; b) it is our tax money and our relatives’/friends’ lives on the line; c) in the absence of a 100% convincing case in favour it is better to err on the side of caution before sanctioning action that has unknown consequences in terms of deaths and suffering.

    I guess it is easy to get the impression from the popular media like mainstream newspapers and tv news programmes that the public by and large support the government agenda, at least initially before the true consequences become clear. I think it is an illusion, though the media do play a pacifying role – preventing us from knowing the true extent of the opposition to government policy and thus acting more to oppose it.

  • CanSpeccy


    Yes, we probably don’t disagree — at least on certain points!

    The present system of so-called democratic government is essentially a front for plutocracy, the “elected” representatives doing PR for the plutocracy, that is, representing the government to the people. This bears little relation to the original form of Parliamentary democracy in Britain going back many hundreds of years, under which MP’s truly represented regional and class interests.

    So, failing a truly representative system of government, the introduction of Swiss-style referendums would bring a degree of genuine democracy that that perhaps would, overall, be beneficial.

    If you let it rip, government by referendum would give you the BNP platform, without the old Nazi’s and without that Masonic conman Nick Griffin. The troops would be brought back from Afghanistan immediately, the RAF would stop bombing Libya, Britain would leave the EU, mass immigration would end immediately, etc. All desirable consequences.

    The down side could be in the economic sphere. Free university education for everyone, for example, seems popular, but would be a total waste of money and would ensure that university education became an almost total waste of time. The urge for government to subsidize industries might be irresistible, in which case Britain would soon go totally broke.

    However, it would be quite in keeping with the Swiss style of democracy to pass a balanced budged law. In that case all economic extravagance would result in immediate tax increases. People would then surely soon get the point and stop demanding wasteful government expenditure.

    OK, I’m for it: the Swissification of Britain.

    But, s


  • Clark

    evgueni on 21st April 2011, that is an excellent analysis. The positive feedback is in tactical voting and the fear of splitting the vote, which keeps the vast majority of voters voting for the big parties. As the failure of the elected government becomes increasingly clear, increasing numbers of voters defect, but only to the second most likely candidate in their constituency, because that is the only candidate with a chance of displacing the incumbent. Eventually, enough “momentum” is gained to flip the system over to the other major party, and the cycle repeats. Occasionally, insufficient momentum is achieved, but then the third party comes to the rescue and forms a coalition.

  • Clark

    Evgueni, thanks for making me clarify my thinking. I’m saying that _each swing voter_ acts under positive feedback, in that they wish to vote in concert with many other voters. This forms the dominant element of the filter in the input signal that you mention. This is why the overall negative feedback of elections fails to stabilise the system and leads to a bipolar sawtooth oscillation instead.

  • evgueni

    I think you have it right there – under a political system like the Swiss one, a majority of the electorate always have the option to reverse a decision they regret. It is less clear what happens wrt decisions that are regretted by minorities, but:
    – at their disposal is the Initiative right which allows for a referendum to be called. Even when it is doomed to fail, at the very least it forces an open debate of the issues. Our minorities in the UK have no such means of recourse.
    – most people belong to some kind of minority whether it is along ethnic, economic, religious etc lines. Thus in an open debate about minorities’ rights it is possible to appeal to a person’s sense of natural justice by reminding them of this fact.
    As it happens the Swiss are not known for trampling over minorities any more than other developed nations. As for balanced budgets, in the literature of DD research there have been studies that show more DD rights result in more efficient delivery of public services (this type of study is possible because Swiss cantons differ in their DD arrangements).

    This sentiment – that Representative Democracy had a ‘golden age’ in the UK when it worked better than it does now.. I don’t buy it, though it is often expressed by British as well as American commentators. Perhaps the system can appear to be working to everyone’s advantage at times and in places of sustained economic advancement. Then the illusion disintegrates when the economic trend reverses. The historical record is unambiguous – ‘representation’ was a useful fiction whose purpose was to wrestle the power away from the Sovereign and into the hands of the nobility. Here is a review of Morgan’s Inventing the People:

  • evgueni

    I wonder if the systems approach will ever be tried in political ‘science’! I do not recall any EEE & Politics degree options at uni, or Political Mathematics 🙂

  • Clark

    Evgueni, I haven’t heard of systems analysis being applied in political science, but it certainly should be. The internal dynamics of a political system may well override any “democratic input” from the voters. If the gross behaviour of a political system turns out to be predictable from that system’s structure alone, claims of “democracy” for that system are discredited.

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