Sunday, 29 April 2007

Politics has eaten itself


Rhodri Morgan reminds me of the character Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Beeblebrox becomes President of the Galaxy, a role that involves no power whatsoever, but merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge. That would seem to sum up Rhodri’s position rather well.

Irregardless of the outcome of this week’s elections, the resolutely middle class Labour leadership in London will still be in charge in Wales, exercising its control over and above local party level, imagining a world formed in its own likeness.

If, as seems likely, the vast majority of the electorate demonstrates its disenchantment with the party political system by simply not voting on Thursday, the politicians will choose to ignore the serious political message it actually represents and will just carry on squabbling amongst themselves in the way they did before before the election.

This is not democracy. True democracy is dead in Wales because politics has eaten itself. The Assembly will have no legitimacy because it will not be representative of the wishes of the people and, sadly, this would still be the case if most of the electorate were to vote.

In elections to the Welsh Assembly, we each have two votes. We cast the first for the candidate we want to be the Assembly Member for our community and the second for a political party or independent.

If our candidate wins, our first vote is effectively deemed to be for that candidate’s political party. If our candidate loses, we might as well not have bothered voting since we will not be represented unless we cast our second vote for one of the parties from whose ‘top-up’ lists ‘additional members’ are appointed. Additional members are deemed to represent constituencies used prior to 1999 in European elections. Well, that all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? No?

Applying the d’Hont system to the second vote results in those parties that fail to contest more than half the seats having no right to additional members. Additional members are there to correct proportional imbalances caused by the vagaries of the first past the post system. The whole setup assumes, you see, that we vote for party political dogma rather than for individual people.

Now, even though the majority of us are still likely to have voted against it, the party with the most assembly members is presumed to have a legitimate mandate to form a government. It has the right to select a First Minister even though he might not have won the majority of the vote in his own constituency, let alone in the country.

Who would come up with such an unrepresentative, undemocratic system, and why does it work in such an illogical manner? Surely the Westminster government wouldn’t impose such a system to further its own interests by perpetuating the status quo? After all, the Welsh Assembly was only intended as a sop to devolution, heading off the nationalists by promoting a fireless dragon with no powers to make laws or to raise taxation. (I know the Assembly is due to get greater powers but they fall well short of full executive government.)

In their desperation to get elected, politicians now ensure that there is no discernable difference between them. Rather than candidates standing on principles, the parties use sophisticated techniques to establish the issues that are least likely to be contentious. Thus they approach elections with limited social ambition and that, in a very large nutshell, is the reason for the situation we have now.

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