Crossposted from Sed Probate Spiritus
It’s interesting, and significant, that most commentary on the election of an unlikely band of largely right wing populists to the Senate on Saturday fingers the electoral system as the culprit.
On one hand, that’s right. The whole system of parties allocating preferences based on above the line voting is an abomination, taking judgement away from voters and reposing it with party hacks precisely because similar hacks have designed a system of frightening complexity.
Certainly, it would be much better if we had optional preferential voting ‘above the line’, where we could number the party/group boxes according to our own preferences. Filling in 110 or whatever squares below the line is a recipe for inadvertently invalidating a ballot, and the case for optional preferential has always been made by the difficulty of deciding between competing ideologically mad parties of whom we know little. (The same applies, really, whether those parties are left, right, or something else.)
But the voting system and successful attempts to game it does not provide sufficient explanation.
Sophisticated preference exchanges would be irrelevant if the sum of the micro-parties’ vote was really microscopic. When we see Nick Xenophon outpoll the Labor Party in South Australia (and almost outpoll the Liberals) and PUP attain half a quota on primaries in Queensland, that’s an indicator of what’s going on with the micro-parties writ large.
Enough people have voted in enough states for a disparate group of parties to leverage preference strategies. Whether or not names are too similar the point remains.
The political class needs to grasp the fact that many voters are deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the major parties to articulate a clear vision and values, to be responsive and open to input, and to be grounded in communities. To the degree that The Greens professionalise (with smart slogans and smart suits), that critique begins to apply to them too. (So it’s not just the Labor-Greens alliance under Julia Gillard that’s their problem).
It doesn’t do for politicians and their media acolytes to attack the voters – to wish that you could “dissolve the people and elect another”, to quote Brecht.
Tanya Plibersek was right on Q&A Monday night. It’s perfectly reasonable for people, who are disengaged from politics, to see Clive Palmer offering them something that they like – support for education, say – and to make the assumption that he knows what he’s on about because of his business success. It’s not an “ignorant” vote.
That’s not, of course, to say that Clive Palmer’s magic pudding economics adds up.
But I think that parties and pollies who jump to the conclusion that electoral systems should be changed when they don’t like election results should think again. Surely they are just missing the message actually sent.
(And, incidentally, Tony Abbott will have inordinate difficulty ensuring that the Courier-Mail wasn’t telling another porkie with its ‘Circus is Over‘ headline. But he should have known that all along, as he’s been riding the same wave that just swept into the Senate. It’s karma.)
NB: I’m sorry I’ve been absent for LP during the election campaign. It’s largely been about a very high workload. That still persists, and it means I will probably not have the opportunity to engage in comments threads. But I did want to start writing again.
Elsewhere on LP: Brian’s post and thread.