AV is not a good voting system. FPTP is worse.

The UK is currently running a referendum on whether to change the voting system from First-Past-The-Post (which is more naturally called ‘simple plurality’) to Alternative Vote (which is sensibly called Instant Runoff Voting in other parts of the world).

Having been interested in the technical details of voting systems (or ‘social choice theory’ as it’s also known), one of the big disappointments to me about the way the campaigns both for and against (as well as the media coverage) are being run is their lack of technical information. The Economist describes both campaigns as ‘insulting the publics intelligence’. There’s an awful lot of talk about things completely tangential to the voting system, such as whether soldiers have enough armour or not, lies being spread about supposed cost, and arguments in both directions about whether this moderate change for the better makes other changes more or less likely in the future, but so far I’ve seen nothing that tries to appeal to voters considered judgements rather than their emotions.

This is a shame because voting systems are essentially technical, and decisions about them should be made on an unemotional basis. In 1951 Kenneth Arrow published a book which expanded on his PhD theory that’s become known as Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. In it, he takes a number of criteria that you would hope to be true of any voting system, and then proves that no voting system (with more than two options) can meet all of them. This doesn’t mean that all systems are equivalent of course, just that any voting system is going to be a trade off.

My personal favourite for a long time was a system called Ranked Pairs and some of its variants, although these days I do find myself swayed by the arguments of the range voting supporters. Wikipedia has an interesting table listing a number of voting systems by criteria that they meet.

Part of the difficulty is that it’s not clear whether the voting system should select winners who can most motivate one extreme of the political spectrum (commanding loyal support, and with a clear vision for moving forwards), or whether it should select winners with the most broadbased support (who will continuously have to hammer out compromises), or whether it should prioritise not selecting the most hated candidate (something that Plurality often does). Different systems strike that balance in different places and are good for different kinds of situations.

Plurality voting (FPTP) in the UK has led to a situation where your vote is either a vote for the government or a vote against the government (in which case you must vote with the nongovernment party most likely to win in your constituency). Other votes are interesting from a popularity contest point of view, but make no more difference to the make up of Parliament than those who stayed at home. Is it therefore any wonder that so many do stay at home.

Of course, the biggest injustice in our voting system is the lack of proportional representation. It is possible under the UK system for a party to win the majority of popular votes in the country and still not win a single seat in Parliament. While this is unlikely, as people’s political views become less associated with the area they live in, this becomes a bigger and bigger problem. It seems bizarre that the system rewards parties for having their supporters ghettoized, and this will become only more bizarre in the world of the internet. The Green Party already suffer from this kind of geographic diffusion disadvantage.

The Conservatives scuppered a referendum on anything that might address that issue, so the referendum is a choice between a poor system of choosing the single winner in a constituency (AV / IRV) and an even worse one (Plurality / FPTP). Neither of those systems support one of my favourite criterion – the Condorcet Criterion. The Condorcet Criterion is simply that if there is a candidate that is preferred to all of the other candidates then that candidate should win. Seems obvious, but neither IRV nor Plurality can guarantee it.

A related criterion that does separate IRV and Plurality is the Condorcet Loser Criterion. That is the idea that the most disliked candidate should never win. IRV satisfies that criteria while Plurality does not. It’s the interaction between this criterion and another known as ‘independence of clones’ that pushes our system towards two parties. Imagine that the Conservative candidate is preferred by 35% of the voters, and absolutely hated by the other 65% of the voters, however those 65% are split between 30% Labour, 25% Lib Dem and 10% Green. Every one of those other voters would prefer the Labour, Lib Dem or Green candidate to the Conservative candidate. The Conservative candidate is the most disliked candidate, however Plurality might still elect them despite the fact that 65% of the voters don’t want them. Because of this, under plurality, the opponents of the Conservative candidate need to concentrate their votes to Labour to ensure the Conservative doesn’t get in.

One problem with IRV is that the tactical voting that is so necessary in Plurality happens with IRV too, and when there is widespread tactical voting in IRV, the result is pretty much as bad as Plurality – two party domination etc. What often happens in countries that use IRV is that a party gives a suggested preference order to its supporters, and so even though tactical voting is more complex under IRV than Plurality, it becomes just as widespread. If IRV is the best system on offer to the population of the UK, I’d like to see rules that stop political parties from suggesting preference orders.

Something that is very interesting is that despite ambivalence or active campaigning against IRV from most of the political establishment, most opinion polls put the result fairly close. The people of the UK know that they need change, I hope that they also know that at best this is just a small step on what is probably quite a long road to a more sane voting system.

[This report brings out some of the technical issues. ]

Politically Encompassed

Economic Left/Right: -4.38
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.67

political compass

From The Political Compass test. Anyone else prepared to put their spot on the graph? Please comment.

Oh, and I’m seriously considering donating to the presidential campaign of the candidate closest to me in the political compass (except of course, that would be against the law). It should be obvious to everyone now that who the President of the US is affects the security and economy of the entire world, not just those in the USA.

Economically Free

The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the “rules of the game” and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on. What the market does is to reduce greatly the range of issues that must be decided through political means, and thereby to minimize the extent to which government need participate directly in the game. The characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity. It is, in political terms, a system of proportional representation. Each man can vote, as it were, for the color of tie he wants and get it; he does not have to see what color-the majority wants and then, if he is in the minority, submit.

It is this feature of the market that we refer to when we say that the market provides economic freedom. But this characteristic also has implications that go far beyond the narrowly economic. Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated – a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates this source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.

— Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

Liberal Paradox

Every solution that we can think of is bettered by some other solution,
given the Pareto principle and the principle of liberalism, and we seem to
have an inconsistency of choice.
Amartya Sen, The Impossibility of the Paretian Liberal

In 1970, Amartya Sen’s paper demonstrated that given a certain set of circumstances, there could exist no social choice method (more or less a voting system) that would both respect individual rights, and make sure that the option it chose was not pareto dominated by an unchosen option.

Vilfredo Pareto has a couple of ideas named after him, but the one I’m using here is one that is often called ‘efficiency’. Imagine two people are arguing over what breakfast cereal to buy. From Sammys point of view, Frosties is better than Crunchy Nut is better than Cornflakes which is better than All-Bran. From Mothers point of view, Cornflakes is better than Crunchy Nut which is better than All-Bran which is better than Frosties.

Sammy: Frosties > Crunchy Nut > Cornflakes > All-Bran
Mother: Cornflakes > Crunchy Nut > All-Bran > Frosties

What should they choose? Well, there’s an argument to be made for most options, but one thing that they shouldn’t choose is All-Bran. If they took All-Bran home, they’d realise before they got there that both Sammy and Mother would have been much happier with Cornflakes or Crunchy Nut. Nobody wanted All-Bran. I’m going to call ‘Pareto dominated’ any option where there are other possibilites that all parties prefer. It seems obvious that whatever system we want making our choices for us shouldn’t be chosing options that are Pareto dominated.

Anyway, back to the Liberal Paradox. The problem is that there can be no social choice system that respects rights and can be guaranteed not to end up picking a pareto dominated option. Sen proved this with two book readers, Prude and Rude and a single copy of Lady Chatterlys Lover.

Prude is a bit of a censor and prefers that nobody reads it, but if someone must read it, Prude considers that he himself is more likely to withstand it’s influence than Rude. Rude wants to read it a lot, but to be honest thinks it’d do Prude a world of good and so would prefer Prude to read it. So the preferences look like this:

Prude: nobody reads it > Prude reads it > Rude reads it
Rude: Prude reads it > Rude reads it > nobody reads it

We’ve decided to combine these preferences in some way to come up with who should get the book. But really, we want to give Prude the right to not read it if the choice is between nobody reading it and Prude reading it – it’d be a cruel government that forced Prude to read in that case. We also want to give Rude the right to read it if otherwise the choice would be nobody reads it. These are rights we’re giving the individuals, because we’re liberals.

So, we can’t choose Prude reads it because we’d be infringing his rights, we can’t choose nobody reads it, because we’d be infringing Rudes rights, we’re left with only one choice – Rude reads it. That seems like a good solution.

But that’s no good either. Both Prude and Rude would prefer that Prude read it over Rude, so it’s a Pareto dominated alternative.

And that’s a problem that can happen any time you try to come to a community decision on a topic in which individuals have rights that must be respected. There are a few ways around this problem. You can ensure that you only vote on topics that don’t infringe rights (if we’re giving Rude the right to read the book, then why should Prude be allowed to say that he shouldn’t?), you could accept the possibility of choosing an outcome that is suboptimal for everyone, or you could accept that sometimes, you’ll have to infringe someones rights to choose the majority decision.

Navin Kartik, in Liberalism and Pareto Efficiency: Sen’s Paradox argues that the preferences are not independant of other peoples actions, e.g. in a real life version of the above, one person will probably be in the queue at the book shop first, and whomever gets there first gets the book without infringing on the others rights. This is quite true, but it’s not particularly relevant to the paradox, since in that example there is no attempt to use a social choice method. Instead we’re using the “early bird” gets the chance to determine the state of the world method. A dictatorship method based on opportunity. In situations where social choice methods are used (the paradox I think is really trying to be applied to democracy and governance), the decision is made in an instant taking into account the preference profiles fed into it. You can only make an escape via noninterdependence by splitting up the decision into parts that are made at different times.

The paradox isn’t that surprising – I see it as just stating that a community that’s trying to find the best solution for the whole community might choose things that are at odds with the rights of its members. What may be surprising is that following the rights of the individuals can result in choices that are bad for everyone, even those individuals.

What has happened is that giving individuals rights (to be decisive) has meant that in those choices that they are acting like individuals in competition to see their vision of reality come true.

There is a classic example of how following individuals choices can result in a situation worse for everyone.

Al Capone and Dick Turpin are both in the holding cells. They’re about to be taken for questioning. If both of them stick to the story they’ve agreed, there is little evidence to hold them, and they’ll both go to jail for four months for tax evasion. If either of them want to though, he can turn Kings evidence in which case, the other will serve 10 years, and he’ll go free. If they both voluteer to turn against the other, then they’ll both go to prision for 4 years.

It’s the prisioners dilemma. If both of them operate from a free choice to chose their own best interests, then they will choose the Nash equilibrium, and they’ll both go down for 4 years, paying the price for choosing a pareto dominated solution. If they give up their right to choose, and submit their preferences to a social choice method, it’ll look like this:

Al Capone: Al betrays > both hold > both betray > Dick betrays
Dick Turpin: Dick betrays > both hold > both betray > Al betrays

Both betraying – the Nash equilibrium – is pareto dominated by both sticking to the story, and a pareto social choice method would take that into acount. The most likely choice here for any sensible social choice method is that both stick to their story.

Giving people rights, and allowing them to exercise them in a non naive way, will lead to a situation that seeks the nash equilbrium, just like any non cooperative game. Sometimes giving up those rights to find a solution best for the community will also result in a better result for every individual in that community.

If you start from the position that individuals start with all rights, then analysing the situations where your rights are keeping you from pareto optimality can be a hint that it might be better to form a community and give up those specific rights to it. This is the rule that causes humans to band together into communities.

If you start from a position where the community bestows the rights upon individuals, then you need to be aware that the dark side of this is that sometimes the preferences of the majority are to hurt, torture and kill one or two of the communities members.

One way of modelling this would be to consider it as a iterated game. Make the rights something that a social choice function decides, but give the members of the society the knowledge that this is an iterated game, and sometimes they will be in the minority. To do this, we’ll need to attach preference values to each of the choices. These are called utility values. We can model the situation to discover if an individual will, when asked, vote to grant a specific right to all citizens or to withhold that right.

d = Disutility to me of having my right infringed by the others
u = Average utility to me of the social choice function being able to select scenarios where citizens have this right infringed.
p = Probability of being the one who has his rights infringed for any given iteration.
i = Iterations.

d(1 – (1-p)^i) – (u * i) > 0 : I will prefer to bestow this right to the citizen
d(1 – (1-p)^i) – (u * i) < 0 : I will prefer not to bestow this right to the citizen Societies are most likely to bestow rights under this model when the disutility is very high (such as death / torture), or when the members consider that they have a high chance of being in the minority. Perhaps they have fled from persecution in another place, or they are very diverse. There must also be a reasonably large number of iterations (the life expectancy in the society must be reasonably high). Seen this way, although rights may lead to some iterations having pareto dominated results, after all the iterations, we should expect that the final set of decision states is not pareto dominated by any other set, since the society would only choose to bestow the right if enough individuals thought it would be, in the long run better for them.

Workers Utopia

Warning: this article is a work of wild speculation. The existence of this article does not mean that I condone the extrapolating of a single figure for 500 years under normal circumstances. I am not an economist, so I actually have no clue what I’m talking about. My research tool for this was Google, so my figures are to be trusted :-). However, I am prepared to take instruction. If you can improve this wild speculation in any way, then please contact me: kyb at deferential.net


The tendancy of people to redefine luxuries as necessities has been the fuel to capitalism, to the benefit of the total wealth of the world. Given that capitalism doesn’t work too well without inequality, it has also ensured that many hard working people are wage slaves or in poverty. A utopian future, as Marx might have imagined, or as you may have seen discussed in Star Trek, or the Culture novels by Iain M Banks could not possibly come into existence without a massive labour surplus.

If everyone was happy with the bare essentials, the world already does have enough to provide acceptably for everyone. The surplus is not enough however for people just to do whatever they want. When I say acceptably, looking at the figures, we are talking a very basic lifestyle. Everyone would have to work approximately as hard as they work at the moment (less if the labour is divided evenly), and people just wouldn’t do it. People can’t maintain a high level of productivity if there is no personal benefit to it over being entirely unproductive, except for the nebulous feeling of satisfaction you might get. This is particularly true when you realise that the majority of people probably don’t have jobs they particularly enjoy.

But people are never happy with the bare essentials.

If there is anyone with the desire for more wealth than they have, the whole system breaks down, because inequality is self-reinforcing. In Utopia, everyone must have what they want or they will devise ways to take it from others.

How much surplus do we need?

I’ve often heard it argued that no matter how much money you have, you always want more. After reading quotes and interviews with extremely wealthy people, I’m pretty sure that simply isn’t true. No one contends that great wealth brings happiness, but the quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger is typical:

I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.

But maybe Arnie is being too conservative. How much could anyone ever want to spend, as a rough maximum? This is a fairly difficult figure to estimate. The average person in the UK spends roughly 1.5 million pounds (2.7 million dollars) over their whole lifetime, but I’m pretty sure that every one of them would like to spend more if they could. It’s not until you get to the very wealthy, where they give large portions of their money away, and still die with millions unspent that we could get an estimate for the most you’d want to spend. The wealthiest people in the world really can buy anything they want, yet even the most profligate rarely spend more than 0.5% of their wealth in a year on luxuries.

According to Forbes, Mr Over-The-Top Spender would be Roman Abramovich, who by quite a long way overspends his nearest rival with 700 million dollars over the last two years spent on play things. (Chelsea FC, a yacht with helipad, another yacht, a boeing 767 fitted with a kitchen with goldplated sinks). This amount spent is unusual even for very rich people, but if we say that the most anyone has spent on toys over a single year averages out to 350 million and multiply that up by 80 years, I think we can get a generous estimate as to how much money would be enough for even a big spender over their whole lifetime. I think that at this level, we can ignore other living costs as being negligible.

The lifetime amount is 28 billion dollars. Two people alive have a good bit more than that according to Forbes. Bill Gates (48 billion) and Warren Buffet (41 billion). To spend 28 billion dollars over your entire lifetime you’d need to be spending 40,000 dollars every hour of your life, quite a challenge. If you want to see if its possible you need to see if Bill or Warren are interested enough to try the experiment. It’d still leave either of them in the wealthiest top 10.

If we relied on peoples personal motivation to do work that they wanted to do, rather than work that they had to do, I estimate a drop in productivity to 33% of its current value. This is a complete guess, based on the number of retirees who still do productive work if they are able, plus anecdotal evidence, plus the fact that even if I didn’t need to work, I think I’d still work 2 days a week. If you’ve got any ideas for a better way to estimate this figure, then let me know. The actual figure may be much higher than this particularly if people live in a culture where productive work is highly respected, and if the majority of people aren’t so creative and need suggestions about what to do with all their free time.

If this estimate is correct, then to allow everyone to do whatever they wanted, we’d need a society that produced approximately 3 times whatever level it needs to sustain people. For the truly utopian society where even Roman Abramovich doesn’t feel like he needs more wealth, we would be looking for a GDP per capita of 3x 350 million or 1.5 billion dollars.

How much longer

Is a per capita GDP of 1.5 billion even possible? There are a wide variety of opinions on whether there is an upper limit to possible wealth or not. The Culture of Iain M Banks does it by using the resources of space and having many artifical intelligences of various levels to do all the needed work. Luxembourg is the closest so far with a tiny 58.9 thousand dollars GDP per capita. So they’re 0.004% of the way there.

In the US, GDP per capita annual growth rate has been around 2% since 1975 and has even picked up of late. Extrapolating from 2004 figures of 40100 at a rate of 2%, the US reaches that goal in 2536. The world of course reaches the goal a little later (8800 in 2004, a growth rate of 2.2% estimated from figures since 1820) in 2558. Only 553 years to go!

Cancel the Revolution!

Or at least postpone it until 2558

My best guess is that utopia (also communism) doesn’t work until 2558. All you Marxists should get your nose to the grindstone and work on increasing productivity until then. But those who are alive then will see the demise of money, and a vast flourishing of individual freedom. When people are completely free economically, they’ll have a lifetime to contemplate all they other ways they feel constrained. And we’ll finally be able to test my theory that without limits there is no creativity.

Originally posted at deferential.net

Unity of Labour

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

— Karl Marx, The German Ideology. 1845

Power Inquiry

1. Political parties have been absolutely central to British politics for many decades. But in recent years the number of people joining parties or saying they identify with one or other of the main parties has declined sharply. So how can political party membership and allegiance be made more attractive? And are there more effective ways of involving people in politics than through parties?

The larger the parties the more disenfranchised I feel. I have a wide variety of views on many issues, some of which are not held by any of the major parties, and the views that are are spread around, certainly not residing exclusively in one party. For me to have to choose two or maybe three views at national level is a travesty. Parties are perhaps good for organisational issues and perhaps for encouraging consensus, but they are bad for democracy. We need parties to be less influential in the selection of our candidates and to have less power to force candidates to conform to their overall view.

2. Some people argue that the government at Westminster is too powerful. They have called for more responsibility to be given to local councils and devolved institutions. Other people claim that the influence of unelected bodies such as major companies, international organisations and appointed authorities is too great and needs to be balanced by greater powers for our elected representatives. But would these changes really encourage more people to get involved in politics? Would they help people feel more confident about the possibility of influencing political decisions?

I am very concerned about the power wielded by big business, but this is probably an issue appropriate for debate. Moving more power locally would cause more people to become involved I think. Reducing the power and influence of unelected bodies is a great idea and would help people to feel like the government was working for them, but would probably not have as large an effect. Greater powers for our elected representatives is probably not the way to do this, since many of them have conflicts of interest or are in other ways influenced by the unelected bodies.

3. Some people claim the media breeds cynicism about politics and politicians which discourages political interest and involvement. Is this true? If so, how can the media play a positive role in encouraging political involvement?

I think the media have been on aggregate neutral in terms of the image of politics. I hope however that one day we will be in a place where people vote based on the policies rather than their general feeling, or family loyalties. If this is ever to happen, we need the media to play a positive role; we need a single source that we can go to to find out the real differences between policies stated simply and non partisanly, and some expert, non partisan analysis of the likely effects of these policies, together with summaries of the arguments for and against. Until we really know what we are choosing, how can anyone vote feeling that they are making an informed decision. Beyond that, we need independant, non partisan analysis of the performance of the current government. With conflicting figures being bandied by all sides, it’s become impossible to know which figures to trust, or to find out what assumptions underlie them. An internet accessible archive for the easy researching of political policies and performance, that archives public commentary and contains both indepth analysis and simply stated research could fit this bill. That way, every citizen could easily inform themselves about the salient facts and arguments to the depth that they are interested in. The BBC are more trusted than politicians, and could play a large role in making some of this happen.

4. The number of people voting in General Elections has declined considerably in the last ten years. Turnout is also very low in elections for local councils, devolved institutions and the European Parliament. What changes would encourage a larger number of people to feel it is worth voting?

People have to feel that their views are represented, so changing the party system would be a good start. Another practice that makes a mockery of democracy is tactical voting. Tactical voting needs to be discouraged. The idea that people could get something better by voting for something different to what they want is abhorrent. A good way of discouraging tactical voting while increasing general fairness would be to change the system from first past the post to a condorcet criteron method. My favourite for this would be a form of Ranked Pairs method, which also diminishes the problem of vote splitting. Making it easy to vote for topics that really will affect peoples lives at a local level would almost certainly help, although such things would require technological solutions and things like that must be treated with care. Encouraging younger people to become politicians would interest the young more. Encouraging politicians to become more accessible – to respond to emails, perhaps keep blogs as some are doing would help. I think a clarification about the extent to which a representative should vote with his opinion, the opinion of his constituency or the opinion of his party would be helpful. It would also be sensible to have an option on the ballot paper for “I do not feel that I am adequately represented by any of these options”, that way at least people who believed the system was failing them could express that in a way that would have a chance of being listened to. Along with a “not sufficiently represented” option, a “I don’t feel that I’m sufficiently informed to make a decision” option could also be available. If such items were added, I would also have no problem with compulsory voting. Voting is a duty as well as a right.

5. Some people argue that voting in elections is not enough. They believe today�s citizens need an opportunity to discuss and have a direct say over individual policies through other means such as referenda, internet forums and public meetings designed to have significant power to influence political decisions. Would more opportunities to do this attract participants and would they encourage greater trust in the policies pursued by politicians?

I am very excited about the direct democracy possibilites of technology, however there are many difficult problems. It is an absolute must that any system that is put in place must have source code that can be checked by anyone to ensure fairness. Systems for people who are scared of technology must be put into place, perhaps a community internet cafe with very simple voting machines. Any citizen must have the right to check the machines are operating correctly. These problems could all be overcome, and I believe that if people are well informed and have the ability to make a difference to things they care about, then they will participate. Fora and meetings are beneficial, but mainly for discussion. To participate, people must feel informed and empowered. The BBCs iCan is a wonderful example of the way that technology can help get people who normally just complain to their friends to start to involve others and actually make advances. Once the major problems with the current system are sorted out, an advertising campaign that highlights the fact that individuals can change things with examples of ordinary people who managed political change in their communities, and a snappy slogan to indicate that people with strong opinions have a duty to try to change society rather than just moaning would be really helpful.

6. Some groups in society are very unlikely to be involved in politics. Young people are far less likely to vote or join parties than older people. The poorest sections of our society and black and minority ethnic communities are less likely to vote, join parties or take part in any sort of political activity. What action would encourage greater political involvement by the groups that are least involved with politics?

Everyone will be more likely to take part if they actually believe there is any meaning to what they do politically. Less representated groups in society (including young people, and normal non politician people) will be more interested in politics if they see some of their own representing them. For the young, schools can have a big part to play. Many schools have some sort of student political body, but they have no power. This educates the students that the political body is always subservient to vested interests. To actually interest students in politics requires that student bodies should have money to spend as they see fit, and are in positions to make genuine decisions that affect the students lives. They also should have power to appeal school decisions. This would teach students that campaigning can make a difference, and would make them more interested for the future. Also simply understanding political systems can make a great difference. Model Parliaments and Model UNs etc. with schools competing could increase interest.

7. Is there anything further about participation and engagement in democracy you would like to add?

I think there is a general perception of politicians as being essentially unlike ordinary people. In universities, the parties are peopled with strange activists or Borris Johnson-a-likes, on TV and the Radio, the politicians look strange and talk funny. Many think that politicians are weirdly liberal and PC and feel like the ordinary anglosaxon isn’t being represented because we have to be so careful to represent the minorities. This is an enormous concern of many people. I think education and articles specifically targetted to address this could help. A formal process for people who feel they’re being discriminated against by their council for being white/anglo-saxon/straight/not disabled/other non minority, would be useful so that these things are considered in the open, and the people can see that justice is being done instead of spreading disinformation. There is also fear of getting involved, because the current trend is the removal of civil liberties, and this makes people more reticent about revealing their opinions and trying to change things. Also there is a feeling that even when an issue is large enough to cause many people to campaign and march on it, the government takes no notice. This is probably due to the arrogance of the government, which is understandable when the only other electable party is unelectable. As long as we have a first past the post, two party system, we will always get arrogant governments that will continue to estrange those they are responsible to. Any true government should have a few vocal dissenting voices within it or we have no chance that both sides are being heard. Transparency is important, as is the fact that when representations are made, they should be listened to. The recent ignoring of large quantities of feedback from people using the internet in the national ID scheme consultation is an example of things that reduce peoples trust in the political system.


  • The IDEA website is useful for voter turnout statistics in various countries, and for lots of other information.
  • The Power inquiry is collecting responses to the questions above.
  • The Electoral Commission is an independant body set up to recommend things to parliament.
  • The Ranked Pairs electoral method.
  • iCan from the BBC tries to get people involved.

Genocide Round Trip

In April, I went to see Hotel Rwanda, one of the few true stories of good triumphing that came out of the Rwandan genocide where Hutu militias supported by the Rwandan army, and quietly encouraged by the French army massacred nearly a million Tutsis, including women and children over the course of 100 days.

It showed how disturbingly helpless the UN force were in the face of murder and genocide, but it was good that it followed the story of a man who managed to save others rather than the many who tried and were killed. Reading into the events and background afterwards, it became more and more obvious that the rest of the world hadn’t just turned a blind eye to the problem, but at least France and the US had set back attempts to stop the killings. The UN general on the ground knew exactly what was going on in advance and had asked for reinforcements and a greater mandate but it was refused by the UN, who reduced his man power and insisted that his men used their weapons only for self defence despite the atrocities they were witnessing. I think it’s appropriate to feel angry about what happened in Rwanda, and Hotel Rwanda is an excellent way to learn about it and form a response. How many times are we going to watch massacres that make us say “never again”, before we start to do something about it? The word genocide was coined specifically to ensure that the world would act if it happened again. There’s a lot of good information about what happened in Rwanda on PBS’s site The triumph of evil.

One of the things that came out of it for me was the positive role Helsinki Watch had played there in publicising what was going on, when other agencies were quiet. When I went to their website the day after seeing Hotel Rwanda, I discovered that the UK was one of the countries believed to be circumventing anti torture rules by sending prisoners to countries where they could be tortured.

Fired up by the memory of Hotel Rwanda, I decided to take my own small stand and immediately went to FaxYourMP.com (which since then has become WriteToThem.com) to let my MP know what I thought. It was at that stage that I realised that I didn’t know who my MP was. I’ve moved a couple of times in England in the last year that I was there, and for a year since then I’ve lived in Switzerland. I decided to phone the electoral commission to find out where I was registered. Strangely, they couldn’t tell me where or even if I was registered, apparently the electoral roll isn’t computerised or something, so the best they could do was give me the phone numbers of electoral departments in every council area that I’d lived in over the last few years. Armed with a bundle of phone numbers I started ringing. At each one, I had to give a specific address, and they would tell me if I was registered to vote at that address. In the end, after phoning them all, I still had no idea. This was getting irritating, since the elections were coming up, and I actually wanted to vote.

Strange as it might seem, 192.com know substantially more about the electoral roll than the electoral commission. I discovered though that if you don’t do the free sign up, you can get some historical electoral roll information for free that otherwise you have to pay for. It’s scary what they know about you and the people you live/lived with. Various searches (and cookie deletions) later, I discovered that I had been on the electoral roll, but had been removed. AboutMyVote.co.uk gave me all the forms I needed to register to vote, but informed me that I was too late. In order to vote in the UK 2005 elections on the 5th May, I would have had to register before the 5th March, a whole month before Tony Blair even asked the Queen for permission to have the election.

Eventually resigned to my voicelessness I turned to The Power Inquiry in the hope of at least making my voice heard somewhere. You can read the ramblings about the problem with politics that I sent to them here.

One of the issues I wanted to talk about as I filled in the Power Inquiry form was the goverments obsession with ID cards. In theory, I like the idea of ID cards if done correctly, but in practice, I do not trust a government to issue them. One of the things that annoyed me about the governments handling of them was that their report had ignored a massive amount of feedback received over the internet. No2ID has a lot of information on the debate as it unfolds (including a nice idea, called ‘The Public Whip’, and a link to pledgebank, from the same people who are doing writeToThem.com and TheyWorkForYou.com).

Trawling google for more information about the UK ID card, brought me across this article from preventgenocide.org on ID cards as factors in genocide. It seems that there have been very few genocides that didn’t start with issuing standard ids with information on the holders ethnicity. If you didn’t find the fact that the UK governments website on id cards is listed as under the “Community & Race” section a little chilling (or at least in poor taste) when you visited the site, perhaps you do now. On the preventgenocide.org page, I found a link to the images. This one is the id card of a Rwandan Tutsi, a document that would have been the death sentence at any of the militia road blocks.

Interested in genocide happening at the moment? Read about what is happening in Dafur. You could fax your mp, or support charities working there.

Who Should I Have Voted For

Yes, ok, perhaps “For whom should I have voted”, but you guys don’t like the dative case.

This system compares your views on a number of different policies with the views of Kerry and Bush. Where one candidate has made a statement on something but the other hasn’t, agreeing with that statement will increase the score of the candidate that agrees, but not decrease the score of the one who hasn’t spoken about it. If a candidate disagrees with your view, then their score is decreased while a candidate that agrees with you gets a higher score. The score difference for each question is determined by how important you rate it. 0 means does not affect score, 5 affects the score 5 times more than 1. If you see two questions along similar lines and feel like you’ve already rated that topic and don’t want to rate it twice, then set its importance to 0. If you don’t know what a topic means, or haven’t decided what your view is on it, then set its importance to 0.

The candidates stances on these policies were taken mainly from this msnbc page and this bbc page. If you know of other policies that should be in this set of questions, please feel free to send them to me, or comment on this page. I need to know both Bush and Kerrys view on it ideally. If you’re european and need to see a counsellor because your views agree with Bush’s more than you’d realised, then counselling.ltd.uk might be able to help.

Since it’s almost impossible to make people vote on issues rather than personality/media appeal, perhaps something like this should be the way elections are done in the future.

In case you’re wondering, I’m -20 Bush, +35 Kerry. I guess that makes me a Kerry supporter with a score of 55.

Stance Agree How important the president shares my view
(0 unimportant, 5 very important)

Bush Score
Kerry Score

Strength In Disunity

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

–James Madison, The Federalist No 51

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In any constitutional state in Europe every sort of religious and political theory may be freely preached and disseminated; for there is no country in Europe so subdued by any single authority as not to protect the man who raises his voice in the cause of truth from the consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an absolute government, the people are often on his side; if he inhabits a free country, he can, if necessary, find a shelter behind the throne. The aristocratic part of society supports him in some countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like those of the United States, there is but one authority, one element of strength and success, with nothing beyond it.

In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them….

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.

–Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

‘I’m sure we can all pull together, sir.’
Lord Vetinari raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh I do hope not, I really do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.’ He smiled. ‘It’s the only way to make progress…’

–Terry Pratchett, The Truth