Thursday, May 01, 2003

Watty's been exercising his franchise:

Although I am wondering just how much point there was to it tonight. The smallest ballot paper I have ever used had but two names on it, and although mine might turn out to be the casting vote, somehow I doubt it. The party of national government, elected two years ago by a supposed overwhelming majority, doesn't seem to think it worth their while putting up a candidate in this ward, or indeed in many others on the council. Which leaves us with what is, on the face of it, a truly democratic vote - the person who has more than half the votes will be elected. Of course, if you wish neither candidate to represent you, you do not have a voice - out of the wide potential spread of political opinion, I was tonight faced with only two possibilities. Since the two parties concerned will contest the overall make up of the whole council, I can pretend that my vote did at least influence that outcome. It did, of course, do nothing of the kind. If the person I voted for does not win, then my vote is not playing any part in the process, other than the important one of noting that yes, even though I am unhappy with the process, I still feel it is important to take part in it.

The Edlesborough election is not, sadly, representative of the opinion of the people who live here - it's a pretty thin kind of democracy, really. Only those who feel obliged, or who are involved have bothered to vote, and no pollster would accept the result from such a self-selecting sample; one in which a proportion of voters will not have bothered because the party they support was not even on the ballot paper. The turnout will be minimal, verging on the pathetic, and I can't honestly say that had I not bothered, or chosen the other candidate, there would have been the slightest difference in when and how efficiently my dustbins are collected. So why do I bother? Well, like Churchill said; democracy is the worst possible system of government - except for all the others. And it is a democracy, and a freedom which would be keenly missed if removed; and it is the most valuable thing we can do as members of society - to participate in deciding how that society is run, and having the opportunity to dismiss those who we percieve to be doing it badly.

But. like I say, it's also a pretty thin kind of democracy, and it wouldn't take much imagination to make it more representative. By my quick count, there are 59 seats on the council, and the current council is split pretty much 50/50. I doubt very much, however, that political opinion in the district is split that way. At present, real political power is held by a handful of independent councillors, most likely chosen on single-issue campaigns, who have staggeringly disproportionate influence. If the council were truly representative of the views of the electorate - and if that electorate were obliged to vote - then of course there would be a great deal of horse-trading and debate; but isn't that what democracy is all about? The argument is that the current system produces strong government; but it actually produces government intent only on winning elections, not representing the views of the people - the two names on my ballot paper tonight make that point very clearly.

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