Monday, 27 June 2016

The Best Way To Improve Outcomes Is To Have Better, Fewer Voters!

It's been a funny week for the word 'democracy' - the recent EU Referendum, despite having the largest voting turnout for nearly 25 years, has called some to question the democratic process if it throws up outcomes that are unsettling.

Some have asked whether democracy itself is a sufficient system when the results bring about a sense of foreboding, and whether potential costs ought to allow a mechanism by which democracy can be overruled.
This is slightly ironic in that people are always calling for more UK citizens to engage in politics and get up and vote, yet when this does happen there are widespread complaints that too many ignorant and ill-informed people voting does not a good outcome make.

Of course, given that politically and economically the majority of the electorate are abjectly uninformed, it is not in the least bit surprising that big decisions put in the hands of the public can be a dangerous thing.

All this makes a blog post I wrote over three years ago seem quite prescient. It was there that I addressed the problem of the voting public and came up with an idea for a solution:

"The only way to vastly improve the quality of our MPs is to improve the quality of the voters – and the only way to improve the quality of the voters is to drastically reduce the number of them, and then give a randomly selected few the time and resources to rigorously research and analyse the candidates before them. 

Here’s what I’d suggest. Reduce the number of voters in each constituency to 200 people chosen at random (to ensure a proportional representation of sexes, ages, ethnic backgrounds, income groups, religious beliefs, political views, education, and so forth) and have each of them accompany the political candidates to a location in which they stay for a week, ensuring the time, resources and intellectual and emotional capacity to question the MPs, give and solicit feedback, and test the candidates’ political calibre before casting their votes at the end of the week (the benefits of the outcome would probably more than pay for the financial costs of this, and some of the offsetting savings will occur by not having to employ polling clerks throughout the country on election day).

You may worry that this will disenfranchise most of the other citizens that don’t get to vote, but there’s no reason to think this. At the start of play, everyone has exactly the same chance of being selected, and everyone in the country (both those selected and those not) will be secure in the knowledge that the people who are going to represent them in Parliament will have been chosen with the utmost rigour and analytical scrutiny by the most conscientious citizens in the country. That cannot be as disenfranchising as the current system in which every single person that votes knows that that vote will have the same use as if they’d stayed at home. 

All that said, the bottom line is, even if the system I proposed is a superior system for improving the calibre of our MPs (which seems logically unimpeachable to me), it might still instinctively be the case that our present less effective voting system is a pearl of great electoral price from which it is too emotionally and psychologically costly to depart."

As would always be the case, you'd have to decide whether you prefer including everybody in the voting process and therefore giving some of the craziest cats and bigoted individuals a voice, or whether for the good of the country you'd be happier with far fewer but possibly better informed voters.

Or suppose, if we could find a workable method for this, we somehow only allowed the smartest, knowledgeable and best-informed 1000 people in the UK to vote on who ran our country, how would that sit with you?
If allowing everyone to vote is not as good for the country as allowing a selection of only smart and informed people to vote, which seems like a sine qua non to me, then there will always be a trade off between better outcomes and a better spirit of total inclusivity in the country.

Of course, rather amusingly, I'd like to leave you with the following thought, which perhaps kills two birds with one stone. The whole country gets to vote on whether the smartest, knowledgeable and best-informed 1000 people get to vote for our political outcomes.