Thursday 3 June 2010

Listening- but to whom?

In the contest for the leadership of the Labour Party there is much talk of listening to the electorate and reconnecting with party members and core supporters.

Of course, now that the electorate is party members they will listen to committed activists, but during general elections, and between them, the listening is to focus groups. The aim is not to seek to stimulate the faithful throughout the country and inspire the nation with a vision of how society should be, but to discover how to attract the support of a handful of "floating" voters in a handful of marginal constituencies.

This might be acceptable if these floating voters were serious minded citizens carefully weighing up the views of contending parties and deciding where to put their cross (or, one hopes, in future, their Number 1). However the "floaters" are more likely to be those on the fringe of democratic participation for whom the decision is not for whom to vote but whether or not to bother to turn out to vote at all.

The democratic ideal, in which principled leaders urge on the electorate their different views on how society should be organised, is turned on its head. Now leaders ask the lowest common denominator of the electorate:" What are your principles? OK - well adopt them."

This will continue to be the case as long as elections and decided in that handful of marginals, and the Alternative Vote will do nothing to change that. The best way of encouraging real debate, both within and between the parties, is STV.

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