Friday, 24 January 2014

Reform, deform and votes

Every change is not reform but the term is used as a catchall, a sloganised sales pitch for whatever the user wants. Very many of the changes proposed to Irelands electoral system are deforms to a system that has, and is serving the country well. This is not to say we are a utopia: that impossible state is the poisonous carrot for self destructive donkeys. 

Proportional Representation Single Transferable Vote system has served Ireland well by any metric. Despite the disaster of the bankruptcy of the entire banking system at the end of the 1999-2007 credit bubble and the consequent budgetary difficulties Ireland remains one of the world’s richest (13th and freest countries (9th . A number of other metrics could be used to show the relative success of the Irish system including the numbers who vote (indicating political engagement) but the only people who believe that changing how we select our representatives want to gain power from the change.

Much more influential on of parliamentary politics is the multi seat rather than single seat constituencies that pertain elsewhere. Behaviour of public representatives is constrained by the presence of party rivals in their own backyard. 

The criticism  that this leaves TDs much too concerned about local and unconcerned about national outcomes, illustrated by a handful of examples of TDs voting against some issue on a local basis. Aside from single examples that illustrate that this occurs, it is difficult to find where this maters to the outcome. The other criticism is that TDs engage in constituency work to the detriment of their national legislative role. There is no evidence that Ireland lacks law and with a tenuous and anaemic system of local government their work has value. Occupying the time of politicians with work of value to their constituents is likely to be far more useful than having idle legislators finding ways of expanding the role of government and the state.

Irish voters enjoy an unparalleled access and closeness to their national parliamentary representatives. This access and the multi seat constituencies means governments are much less likely to push policies far from those espoused by the electorate or likely to be rejected with ferocity by it. This kind of stability is very valuable, particualrly in times of crisis.

Alternative systems that produce clearer majorities other than the barbaric single-member plurality system requires either a seat top or a list system. Any such system takes power from the voters and put it into the hands of anonymous and unexamined party hacks. This is, understandably, much admired idea by those who believe they know better than the people precisely who should be in power. On that system this government would have been decided by Phil Hogan and Ivana Bacik. There may even be voters who are NOT horrified by such a prospect...

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