Political Possibilities.

Posted on August 22, 2016 by

With the political turmoil in the US and UK this year, there has been a lot of discussion of the relative merits of democratic forms of government and alternatives (e.g. here and here). Many of the proposed changes seem to me to be unworkable, but others, like a move away from first past the post (FPP) systems, look to be politically possible in some places.

For those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, an FPP system is one in which the candidate with the most votes wins, no matter what. Such systems are fairly common, but not universal.

One possible result of doing away with FPP elections is a proliferation of political parties, and it is on this subject that I have something specific to say (today). One of the major problems I see in the current systems in both the US and UK is that both are effectively two party systems.* Two-party systems, by their nature, shut down certain policy options that might otherwise be viable. This has been made painfully clear by the rise of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the US, and the furor around Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership in the UK.

As I see it (and these are purely the opinions of an informed amateur) there need to be at least four, and probably more, competitive political parties in any large, indirect democracy. For example, in terms of purely internal policy it should be possible to vote for viable candidates that: 1.) are socially liberal, and neo-liberal or conservative economically (certain sorts of libertarian, maybe new Labour and mainstream Democrats?), 2.) socially liberal and economically `socialist’ or social-democratic (roughly Sanders and Corbyn) 3.) socially conservative and  neo-liberal or conservative economically (Rebublicans?, Conservatives?) 4.) socially conservative, and economically `socialist’ or social-democratic (Not sure there’s much of this in reality, but why not?).

Obviously this is pretty simplistic, and especially so if international policy is included – for example, Trump and Sanders both came out strongly against free trade agreements; the biggest complaint Labour MPs seem to have about Corbyn was his apparently lukewarm support for Remain (Bremain?). Surely you should be able to be liberal but vote for Brexit for non-racist reasons, or against free trade agreements without having to vote for Trump (if you’re a single-issue voter).

Other than ditching FPP politics, I see no straightforward solution to the two party problem, but I do have a suggestion for a more radical solution, with apologies to anyone who thought of this first. Again, I haven’t done any significant research in the area.

Why must the buck stop with one, single President or PM, who then gets to make cabinet appointments in all areas? What if we elected instead, say 6 ministers, presidents, VPs, executive officers or whatever? The thought is simply this: if the person in charge of each general policy area were elected separately, voters would be free to decouple their personal view in various areas. For example, one could vote for a trade minister who is anti-free trade, an interventionist minister for war and diplomacy, a pro-legalisation minister of morals (not really what it would be, but kinda), and so on.

Now, obviously on some issues, more than one minister would have to collaborate, but, they’re politicians, surely that what they’re supposed to be dong – collaborating to get things done in the interest of voters.

Perhaps the biggest worry with this sort of system would be disagreement amount the executives, but I can’t imagine it being much worse the the eternal gridlock of our two-party systems.

*I recognise that the Liberal Democrats and UKIP in the UK have non-negligible power, but it is also extremely unlikely that either party will form a government in the foreseeable future.

NB: Please keep comments civil, reasoned, and on topic.