Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Big Picture.

Why does policy get made? Why, with an election on the cards, does a party make a particular promise when another makes the opposite one?

Because they think it will get them elected, of course. This is the cynical way to play the game, and unfortunately it is a very successful way; but it is not the only way, and it is not a particularly democratic way. It’s undemocratic because it results in a “rush to the centre”; the result over the last few decades is that the two major parties in this country now have policies so similar it’s very difficult to distinguish between them. Their platform is populism. Their policies are determined not by ideology, or economic goals, or even a simple desire for consistency (consistency, after all, means there are certain votes you will never get); their policies are determined by focus groups, according only to what they think will be most popular.

This is why I have so much more respect for the more minor parties. Even the Christian parties, whose existence I deplore on the grounds of separation of church and state (I know we don’t have it in this country, despite being far more secular than the USA; I just wish we did), stand for something. The Greens stand for sustainability, social justice and public projects; the Sex Party stands for social libertarianism and free speech; Family First stand for the erosion of women’s rights and general conservatism. The only things that the Liberals and Labor value, at the end of election day, is power itself.

The more ideological minor parties offer us a genuine choice between platforms. They look at the big picture, have genuine values beyond the desire to be elected or re-elected, and want to remake the country according to what they believe is good. They may not be right about what actually is good, and they run the danger of being overly dogmatic, but there’s at least a level of earnestness — I won’t say honesty; they’re still politicians, after all — to what they say.

This is why I would like to divorce (not entirely, but enough to remedy this particular systemic ill) the process of democracy from the direct process of policymaking. Democracy has a rôle in a truly responsible government, but that rôle should be one of review, not of leadership. A Parliament elected by the people to represent their economic interests, their particular values and their stake in their own country, cannot act in these capacities if loyalty to the Party comes first. Relieving it of the responsibility for making policy, and remaking it as a place of democratic review for the policies of a technocratic Cabinet, would leave it freër to act in the genuine interests of the people. It would limit the abilities of parties to promise more than fidelity to their platform: a party can promise to allow a certain sort of policy through, or to reject a certain sort of policy; but if the party is stripped of the ability to actually make said policy, populist tactics will be of much less avail to it.

Part II coming on Saturday.


  1. I voted today. State elections are always so much more boring than federal ones. Less options. In the upper house I just got Libs/Nats, Labor, Greens, DLP and FF to choose from.

    It was pretty much just a fail piece of paper.

    Not related except that it's election related.

  2. It's even worse in my region — I have the two majors, the Greens, and three loony Christian parties. I wish I could put them all last (save the Greens, but even there there's an element of “least evil” about it). At least the Sex Party’s running in my Lower House seat.