7 December 2009

Our Fishy Democracy

(Before I start, a quick appeal: does anyone have a full set of general election data? Preferably in a spreadsheet. Mark Pack pointed me towards this Harvard University site, which is the best I've found. But the number of rows doesn't tally with the number of parliamentary constituencies... there appears to be 18 missing. [Edit, see update below.] Now then, on with the show...)

Since the post on an electoral reform I dreamt up last month, I've been pondering other novel ways we could improve the representativeness of our democracy. I've had a couple of other (interesting but perhaps not advocatable) ideas. The first will take a much bigger write-up, with detailed explanations and number-crunching and graphics and an epic soundtrack, oh and a large chunk of my time. So that will have to wait for another day.

The other idea is a rather silly one, based around using a stick (rather than carrot) approach for getting politicians to engage more with their constituents, and also the public to engage with politics.

To begin, a decent-sized fish tank would need to be purchased and installed in the House of Commons. Then, come the next election, every vote that isn't used will be assumed to be a vote for a fish. I suggest some sort of minnow. If the human candidate with the most votes fails to surpass the number of non-votes, the minnow is duly elected and added to the House of Commons tank.

The minnow can't swim into the lobbies, therefore has no vote on divisions. The fish would not need a second home allowance, but would have a staff allowance to handle constituency work.

Fortunately minnows don't usually see much life beyond their first birthday, so its constituents would soon get the chance to elect a great ape in a by-election.

What this fish system would do is ensure that MPs have a proper mandate from the electorate. If they didn't try and get the vote out, the chances are that they would lose their seat to something wet and scaly. Similarly, it would encourage the electorate to get off their fleshy posteriors to ensure they are represented by something land-dwelling.

So, with a spring in my step, I thought I'd apply this new rule to the last general election. The result wasn't so encouraging.

In 87% of seats*, more people didn't vote than voted for their MP.

Those are some empty-looking benches. We're gonna need a bigger tank.

* Don't rely on that exact percentage too much. Like I said, there are 18 out of 646 seats missing from my dataset. But I doubt the number would change that much.

UPDATE: The 18 missing constituencies are the ones in Northern Ireland. Thanks to Ben Mathis.

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