May 10, 2009
The incentives of our current voting system are all wrong. We need a list system to ensure that politicians and political parties (a) put national interests over local interests (b) put ideas and vision before potholes and “pork politics”, (c) stop spending their time in their own constituencies and spend it in the Dail, considering national issues, (d) get put into ministeries on merit rather than geographical considerations and (e) most importantly, get rewarded by the electorate for acting in the above manner. A list system will also incentivise the voter to educate him or herself on what parties actually stand for and what their vision is. In turn parties and politicians will be encouraged to develop such vision and such policies.
Our current system, the proportionate representation single transferable vote, means that at election time, people are often voting for politicians based on what they have done for the local area (including such banal issues as fixing potholes and attending funerals), whether they personally know the politician or their old man, or whether they have successfully carried out nimby politics. A local politician cannot act in the national interest if it is to the detriment of his or her local area, as they will be punished at the polls. They must also spend far too much time on consitutency issues, i.e. away from the legislature considering issues of national importance, to ensure they get voted in come the next election. These incentives are all wrong and result in bad politics, bad decisions, useless posturing, absent politicians, and the likes of Jackie Healy Rae (who quite proudly boasts of his only interest being his constituency)! What politician will be happy to face his electorate on the basis that he agreed with the local waste incenerator being placed in his constituency?
While no one could be particularly enamoured with the talent of our political class, the fact remains that the system they operate in incentivies them to think and act as they do, i.e. without putting the national interest first. They cannot entirely be blamed for playing the system so as to act in their own self-interest, i.e. ensure they get re-elected. That is their first job.
A list system could change all these incentives. They are quite common throughout Europe, and while there are different varieties, and are often mixed with in hybrid List/PR systems (to ensure a balance of national and local interests), the general idea is that at the polls, people vote for parties rather than politicians. The parties would list all their politicians from 1 to 166. If they win 50% of the seats, politicians numbered 1 through 83 get elected. The party will select their politicians to ensure the most popular politicians on a national basis get higher up the ranks. Politicians will be incentivised to appeal to the whole country, as this will be the basis for their advancement. Parties will be incentivised to push their ideas, vision and policies far more than they currently do, as this will be what voters decide on over personality. Parities will cease to worry about geographic considerations and loyalty (or at least these will be down the list of considerations, rather then upmost) in promoting politicians (i) up the list and (ii) as ministers. To the extent personality is important, it will be based more on leadership and the ability to inspire or gain the confidence of the electorate. As voters will be deciding on parties more so than individuals, policies will become more important.
Such a system should go with an increase in power for local councils. It is not that local politics isn\’t important – it is. But its proper place in not in the national legislature. Keep it in the councils where it properly belongs. Furthermore, many politicans entered politics for theh benefit of their local area. That too is noble. But if that is your goal, it is not right that it be exercised on the national arena to the detriment of the country. A list system should ensure that only politicians whose actual interest and passion is national will contemplate entering the national stage. And whats more, politicans will be rewarded for putting the nation first.
This has been a bugbear of mine for some time. It is not an original idea – indeed there was a recent opinion piece in a newspaper a rival to the one DMcW writes for advocating this very idea. But this site is always hacking on about our politicians. People are always banging on about changing our system and then immediately jumping to saying we need politicans who are principled, who put the country first and so on. Change the rules of the game to a form of list system (and I\’m not familiar enough with the varieties to say which form of it would work best), and we ALLOW are politicans to behave in this way. Its clearly not a panacea, but systematically, over time, a better class of politican, party, and PUBLIC DEBATE in this country should emerge.
Theres no reason why this cant work with another idea on this site, i.e. the Elect Our Leader one. We can elect a leader, who picks his or her executive (and not be tied to picking members of the Dail and/or their party). But with a list system, we get a reformed Dail too, a better legislature, a better balance of power, better scrutiny of the executive (important for democracy) and better initiatives/legislation coming from the legislature. Politicans get rewarded for merit, and their personal and the national interest are aligned.