28 October 2009

A Radical Idea for Power2010

Sara Bedford has tagged me to come up with an idea for POWER2010 - a campaign billed as "the chance to have a say in how our democracy works for us all". I wanted to think of a brand new suggestion, away from the agreeable but well-rehearsed arguments for proportional representation, an English parliament, elected House of Lords etc. This is my attempt.

(I say brand new. I've not heard anyone suggest this before. Please let me know if this idea isn't a new one, I'd love to hear more about it.)

I'm 25, and a huge concern I have with our democracy is the lack of interest, and therefore the lack of representation, that the younger end of the electorate have in politics. I also think that the reforms often put forward do little to address this issue. Sure, lowering the voting age to 16 will help the weeniest bit, but nowhere near enough to address the huge imbalance between young and old election turnout.

So to address this, my proposed solution is a major shake-up to the way we vote: Instead of just grouping voters into constituencies based on geography, voters are also grouped based on age.

It would mean that instead of having, say, an MP for Bolton East, there would instead be an MP for 40-to-45-year-olds in the North West of England.

Why would this be a good thing? Well, primarily, it would mean that young people are equally represented compared to old people. So in order for a political party to form a government, they need to attract the youth vote as much as that of middle-aged and the elderly.

It would surely enfranchise the young and increase their turnout, but if young turnouts were still lower, it is no worse than the system we have at present with large variance in the size of the electorate in each constituency.

This electoral reform should work with any voting system. So it could be implemented around the existing first-past-the-post system, or (even better) integrated into a more proportional system.

There would be quite a few administrative difficulties: there would need to be multiple ballot boxes at polling stations, stronger voter registration to ensure ballots are connected to the correct age, etc. I am sure some expensive consultants could be hired to sort these sorts of things out.

I really can't see any real downsides, but if you can, the comments button is yours.

UPDATE: D'oh, it is customary with blogosphere memes to tag bloggers to take on the same challenge, and I forgot. I think I'm going to plump for Charlotte Gore, Thomas Byrne, Constantly Furious, Stuart Sharpe and Eric Fish.


Mark Reckons said...

Blimey Duncan. That is a suggestion I have never seen before! Could be interesting to mull it over and also to see what other people think.

Have you let Guy Aitchison from OpenDemocracy know about your idea BTW?

Guy Aitchison said...

Hi Duncan, great idea - like Mark I certainly haven't seen it anywhere else and I've read through tonnes of ideas we've been sent in at Power2010.

Is there a danger though that this reform might reinforce the divides that already exist between different age groups by giving each group its own politics?

ps - dont forget to submit this on the power site:

leftoutside said...

That's a pretty interesting idea. I've definitely not seen it anywhere and I've studied even the boring bits of electoral systems and reform.

However, I would say it does sort of rest on shaky foundations when age isn't as well delineated as geography.

Its not that you can't tell how old someone is, its that this could become some sort of gerrymandering, with small c conservative MPs always getting returned in some seats and liberals getting returned in others in much the same way as our present system. Within larger reforms it could be very interesting though.

I had a stab at something along roughly similar lines. University Constituencies. Which reflects my bias as a recent University leaver but also my belief that Universities do act as a fairly well contained political community.

Duncan Stott said...

Thanks Mark. I'm sure there are all sorts of concerns that could arise. Let me know if you think of any.

Guy, I would say that is a risk, it could even be probable. But would that be any worse than the current geographical nature of our politics that creates a urban/rural divide? Oh and I'll go submit it now.

Jennie said...

My radical idea for reform is to make anything other than full RSS feeds be punishable by death :P

Duncan Stott said...

Fair comment, LeftOutside, but again this it is no worse than what we have already. Other electoral reforms are required to solve these problems.

I skimmed through your University Constituency idea. Looks interesting, but I think I need to have less beer in me to fully think about it! :s

Duncan Stott said...

Tee hee! I'm a total statwh0re, and wanna get my visit numbers up. And I have no guilt!

scarier said...

Well that's certainly orginal!

One thing that occurs to me is the difficulty of campaigning for election under your system. You'd have a very dispersed population to target.

Also, it strikes me that it could be a thin end of a rather dodgy wedge. If people of different ages need different representatives, then why not MPs for men and MPs for women? MPs for "the Muslim community" or "the gay community". Once you open up arguments about what the important demographics are that need to be reflected in the electoral system, I worry that it's a can of worms that will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

That's just me, though.

Jennie said...

I will visit your blog to comment on it if I read something interesting in it on my feed reader. If all I can see is a bare url I won't visit at all. Your visitor numbers will actually increase if you have full feeds (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070813/014338.shtml), so I can only assume that most people who use feed readers feel the same way...

But, you know, your funeral :P

Guy Aitchison said...

"Would that be any worse than the current geographical nature of our politics that creates a urban/rural divide?"

Good point. But if we do away with geographically-defined constituencies, Scarier's point about other groups wanting their own representation would have to be addressed - and I think the link to a "local" MP who campaigns in your area makes sense to people.

By the way why do you think it is young people are disengaged? Or rather, even more disengaged than adults are?

Duncan Stott said...

Scarier and Guy, I'll try and address your points together.

I think it is important that I'm to point out I'm not suggesting doing away with geography in the definition of constituencies, I'm suggesting adding age representation on top of geography. How exactly this would be divided up I'm not sure: there is a trade-off between having large geographical areas with small age-bands, or smaller areas with larger age-bands. Getting this ratio right would be about taking into account practical considerations, like how difficult it would be to campaign, how the polling and counts would take place...

With regard to other demographics, if you can make a good case for how they aren't well represented by the current system, I'd be open to including them. Is there a gender divide in turnouts, or an ethnic minority divide? Also at some point we'd have to say enough is enough. I'm proposing 2-dimensional constituencies, adding more and more dimensions would get far too complicated.

Why are young people disengaged? I like Jo Swinson's answer to this question: you're asking the wrong person, I'm a young person who is engaged in politics, try asking them. But it is a bit of a cop-out. I think there is a chicken-and-egg situation going on. I don't know what started it, but young people don't vote as much, which means politicians don't address their needs as there are no votes in it, which means young people don't feel addressed, and don't vote, which means politicians... etc. There is a feedback loop which has created a slippery slope. Something is needed to break the cycle.

Duncan Stott said...

Jennie, I had given full vs partial RSS almost no thought. I was given the option, I thought it would mean more traffic, the end. I can see how it winds people up, although I have to say I have no problem visiting people's sites who don't provide full feeds from my RSS client. So OK, I'll change it, just for you, with one condition: I get to write a snide, sarcastic post about it. Deal? :)

Jennie said...

So long as if you do, I'll get to see it ;)

Thomas Byrne said...

Have you seen the UK Youth Parliament? No thanks to a tick box exercise. :o

Sara said...

There, I knew bt tagging you we'd get something a little different :-)

Constantly Furious said...

An interesting idea. Some obvious drawbacks, but some even more obvious benefits.

Now, what am I gonna suggest?