What are elections for?

Here’s a quote I read today.

It’s how PR (Proportional Representation) systems are meant to operate, and is far preferable to a minority government. It’s a mature and sensible approach, and a step away from the pathologies of winner-takes all so common to Westminster systems with single member electorates. The result will be the representation of the will of a larger proportion of the electorate, and it’s hard to see how that’s anything other than a positive..

There’s nothing particular about the source or its context (Tasmania) I want to note, but its a sentiment I’ve heard many times and it happens to trouble me.

The positive in this instance seems to be that the government will be made up of politicians elected by a greater proportion. Likewise proportional representation is desirable because it increases a chance that an elector will have a politician in parliament to call their own.

The problem I have with this viewpoint is that it implicitly supposes the reason we have elections is to have politicians, and that I guess the point of politicians is giving viewpoints in parliament and arguing.

Are politicians really the end goal of democracy?

As far as I see it, politicians are only the means to an end: governance – which I’ll start calling policy. The identity of and colours flown by the people implementing the policy may be of great importance to political tragics (who should get football teams), but it’s what they do that counts more than whom they are.

[I’ll put in an apology here to any political scientists whose grass I am ignorantly cutting]

And we can’t make policy proportional. Under one government, there can be, at any given time, only one basket of policy. We can’t have an ETS that runs only for Labor voters and a restriction on immigration only for Liberal voters, a legalisation of drugs and guns for LDP voters, gay marriage and forests for Greens voters and massive cash payments for clearing paddocks for Nationals voters.

No matter how a government is constituted as a single party or a dizzyingly diverse coalition, there will only be one policy basket.  Whilst there is diversity in the electorate this policy basket isn’t going to satisfy everyone no matter how we structure the voting system.

So then what? If the policy basket by nature will be singular, maybe then the only real choice is to find a singular voter that is still shaped by all of the electorate. The mythical average voter. Any one person’s changing opinions will affect in some way the average, so a electoral system in which the winner is s/he who espouses the policy most attractive to the average may well be as democratic as we can get in a practical sense.

Of course, this is just the Median Voter Theorem transformed into a normative statement. It’s not a very good description of most winner take all electoral systems, but I think the unusual combination of compulsory preferential voting gets us closer than we might otherwise be, since there is no virtue in playing to the base.

In a winner takes all parliament, quite apart from matters of stability, the vote that gives a majority is less likely to come from a party playing to the edge. Since major parties dislike dealing with each other (since it helps their greatest adversaries) they will prefer a coalition with the smaller parties whom play to the  fringe, which can only pull policy away from the average. A parliament that looks less representative by its members may produce more representative policy.

By all means, if someone wants to vote for a minor party, let them (I do).  Finding the median relies on everyone acting normally. If they’re fortunate they’ll shift the median voter

It’s just that I don’t think the best outcome of voting is getting a personal ideological champion’s words inscribed in the hansard. It’s about getting a policy mix acceptable to the electorate collectively, if not as a mass of individuals.

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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29 Responses to What are elections for?

  1. The issue is further complicated in Australia by our fused executive and legislative branches. This means that elections in the lower house have two purposes: the formation of parliament, and the formation of government. As Tasmanians are about to learn, these are not the same things.

    I am, of course, quite torn these things. As a member of the catherd, I sometimes like the endless gridlock that proportional systems seem to generate as a matter of course. But on the other hand, that very same gridlock creates a long period of heightened sovereign risk. Stability is useful too.

    I think that the key is to remember that for we tedious liberty types is that we prefer primarily a smaller and less powerful government. Once we have constrained its boundaries, we want it to be as consistent and as efficient as possible. Governments formed from multi-member systems are unstable enough to make this much more difficult.

    Put another way, the question of ‘how do we decide among mutually exclusive options?’ is broader than ‘how do we elect parliamentarians?’. The difficulties of the latter are made less important by shrinking the state as much as practicable — by referring back questions of mutual exclusion to individuals.

  2. Gummo Trotsky says:

    The argument in this post goes off the rails from the outset:

    The problem I have with this viewpoint is that it implicitly supposes the reason we have elections is to have politicians, and that I guess the point of politicians is giving viewpoints in parliament and arguing.

    Are politicians really the end goal of democracy?

    As far as I see it, politicians are only the means to an end: governance – which I’ll start calling policy…

    No such implicit assumption is required by the viewpoint you’re arguing against – merely the pragmatic recognition that, regardless of how we achieve the end of “governance”, it will inevitably involve the election of politicians, or their appointment by other means. This is where your argument gets derailed. Then, instead of hitting the brake and calling in the track repair crew, you throttle up your locomotive with the answer to your rhetorical question and the decision to call governance “policy”.

    Governance extends beyond “policy” and putting into effect the “policy basket” that got your party elected to govern in the first place. Even on your restricted view of governance (= not much more than policy) during a three year term of office, politicians will be called on to make policy in exigent circumstances to meet unforeseen changes in circumstance.

    The LP post you’ve linked to takes a particular view of areas of governance you haven’t considered – the legitimisation of democratically elected governments by the electoral process and the question of how governments are to conduct themselves when they set about executing their policy programs. The difference, that is, between authority and political power.

  3. Paul says:

    IMHO the merging of our Executive and Legislative roles part of our problem.

    Negotiation is an essential requirement for democratic resolution of conflicts.

    Our Constitution set out our Executive and Legislative roles as separate.

    “Separation of Powers” was to ensure separation of our Legislature from our Executive to force them to negotiate, to be conciliatory, to reduce opportunity for abuse of power.

    Politicians used the salami approach slicing away our Constitutional restrictions upon their ability to abuse power.

    Now Executive Government rules by decree, rather than waiting for required governing legislation to be approved by Parliament. [eg Telstra]

    Do we really wish to be governed by decree ?

    Need correct accumulation of power by Executive Branch.

    Need return so Executive Government acts in accordance with legislation passed by Parliament, not on a PM’s decree of intention to pass later.

    Dog wags tail, NOT tail wags dog !

    Unlikely to be popular with many politicians, seeing themselves obtaining control (current/future) and eager to rule by decree.

    Easiest solution is popular election of Governor-General.

    Such requires a single bill through Parliament.

    IF unable to pass such Bill, a single House can pass said bill for a s.128 referenda.

    IMHO majority of population seek elect their Governor-General to govern, later perhaps a change of title.

    Popularly elected G-G required to select his/her Executive Government Ministers from either House of Parliament, no requirement concerning party.

    Ministers from either House of Parliament remain accountable to Parliament concerning activity of our Executive Government.

  4. R Cornwell says:

    I think that the Tasmanian election outcome is a classic example of the undemocratic nature of PR.

    In order to govern you need to aggregate a majority accross a range of views. In a two party system this coalition building happens within the party and forces the parties to address the issues at the centre. Voters then largely know what they are getting in advance.

    In PR, parties can get a place in parliament by appealing to a small segment of the voters, oten by appealing to extreme views if you only need a small proportion to get in, or appealing to a single issue. If there is then a hung parliament, the politicians can then make all sorts of unexpected deals giving results contrary to what voters expected. After all who knows what the Shooter’s Party’s

    In my view elections are primarily to provide a mechanism to kick out incompetent or out of touch governments. Electoral mechanisms (like Australia’s lower house) that facilitate this generally give good outcomes in the long run. PR systems can make change very difficult. Often single issue parties will obstruct all change as they stay in parliament by appealing to their true believers. Any compromise may weaken them. The Greens largely do this. Have they ever been pragmatic in their legislative dealings?

  5. BUNSEN says:

    Are we discussing the pros and cons of the Hare Clarke system or the benefits of better representation?

    I live in a certain state and along with the rest of the inmates have to endure the results of the unicameral system operating here.
    In Queensland the Senate/legislative Council/house of review has been replaced since about 1922 by a series of committees that operate fairly well below the radar.
    The whole show is definitely not world’s best practice and any suggestion of restoring an upper house is met with immediate pre-emptive damage control from both parties.

    Other democracies seem to manage better with demonstrable track records of fair representation.
    The Tasmanian model actually means what?
    That in the long run their politicians have to work harder, be less adversarial (therefore more time and less stress towards working harder) and need to respond a little more to the needs of their constituents?
    That’s not too hard a bargain for all concerned.
    As for Queensland – we might as well have a monarch/dictator along with their supplicant advisory council and for all intents and purposes that is exactly what we have.

  6. ennui says:

    An electoral system usually refers to the total architecture involving all the structures and operations necessary to run an election eg voter and candidate qualifications,electoral boundaries, method of voting etc What we seem to be discussing here is the consequences of particular voting methods

    A useful set of criteria for evaluating electoral systems was proposed by the ANC when South Africa was establishing a new government system:-

    * Does it deepen democracy and reflect the democratically expressed will of the people?
    * Will it contribute to nation-building and maintain political stability and peace?
    * Will voters feel effectively represented by the elected parliamentarians?
    * Simplicity in terms of voter understanding and
    * Practicality in terms of implementation

    There is obviously no universal ‘best’ system – one’s view is dependent on the weighting given to the various criteria.

    Gummo takes the view that the only significant factor is the first mentioned above – “the legitimisation of democratically elected governments by the electoral process …”
    Underlying this view is the belief that the elected government should not merely reflect the electorate’s wishes it must be representative of all the voices.This may provide warm feelings but it is a narrow view and diminishes the importance of other significant criteria.

    The ‘full’ preferential system applicable in the H of R does provide electoral results which reflect the way in which people have voted. As Alexander Hamilton suggested in the Federalist Papers – “the sense of the majority should prevail”
    Such a system – unlike, for example, Hare-Clark – generally satisfies the various criteria listed above.

    Notwithstanding various parliamentary enquiries, there has been little call for major changes to the electoral system. It would seem that Australia has managed to find arrangements that satisfies the needs of the general electorate.

  7. Richard Green says:

    Gummo – If you came looking for an argument you may be dissapointed, I’m not one one for adversarial debate, only discussion. I still want to extract some of your points from your vitriol because I think there’s something to gain in there.

    That said, there’s nothing in the paragraph with the train metaphor that I can really understand, considering much of the original post is discussing whether and how an electoral system be should be evaluated in terms of these politicians being elected towards that end, as opposed to their election being an end unto itself.

    In the following paragraph you appear to overlook the behaviour of politicians in power. Whilst they will have to react to contingencies that were not directly put to voters (and the “average voter”), they are obviously anticipating their reaction at the consequent election. The tools they use are obviously flawed (instinct, polls, focus groups) compared to the election itself, but they’re good enough that their governance towards these contigencies will not stray far from what the “average voter” wants. In this situation we’d expect (and we get) parties that present near identical policies at elections. This is often bemoaned by the political class who like noise, movement and conflict (they’ll take an Abbott over a me-tooist), but maybe its a sign of success. Elections are working to shape governance constantly. The given policy/governance basket of the “average voter” (which I think I have to stress to you is only singular at a given time, not over time) is being approached at by any party that wants to form government, and by the party in government.

    Whilst I stated there was nothing particular about that LP post that was pertinent except that it reflected a larger sentiment I had questions about, you use it to raise the question of legitimacy. More explicitly authority, the accepted right to govern. In the context of what I wrote it would mean that the governance/policy I see as the end would not be accepted (and thus be practical) without the implementors being seen as having the authority to wield that power.

    In this instance identity of politicians would be important. I agree that such legtimacy is important but I would counter however by say that fairly minor increased legitimacy of legislators offered under a PR system would come at the expense of the representativeness of the ultimate result (how the power is wielded).
    That said, the opaqueness of of many PR schemes and the deal making required under coalitions doesn’t do much for authority. Even if we can show a given coalition has a greater vote share, various members of that coalition will have greater sway on the outcomes due to the mathematics of the legislature. Negotiating with an independent who can provide a majority vote to either party may produce legislation/policy/governance that is voted for by legislators whom have been elected by a greater number of voters than either party alone, but it doesn’t add legitimacy to the pet policies that independent insisted on. Probably the opposite, and thus the authority of the coalition is lessened.

  8. Guy says:

    And we can’t make policy proportional. Under one government, there can be, at any given time, only one basket of policy. We can’t have an ETS that runs only for Labor voters and a restriction on immigration only for Liberal voters, a legalisation of drugs and guns for LDP voters, gay marriage and forests for Greens voters and massive cash payments for clearing paddocks for Nationals voters.

    I think under our system of government in particular, there is an argument that our multiple houses of parliament have the capacity to make policy proportional, at least in a sense. Otherwise, this proportionality can also emerge as a result of pressure applied by the Opposition of the day. Take the current situation with asylum seekers policy. The Rudd Government has just introduced a delay to the processing of asylum applications lodged by Afghans and Sri Lankans. I think its reasonable to make the argument that the government did this because of the pressure and influence being exerted by the Opposition.

    In a sense, the circumstances (e.g. push factors) and the threat implied by the Abbott Opposition in an election year have encouraged the government to take a stand that arguably, a reasonable cross-section of the population is a bit happier with (myself not included). Perhaps this edges us closer to “proportionality of policy”.

  9. BUNSEN says:

    Ummmmm!
    Richard, dear chap.
    Gummo wasn’t being vitriolic at all, at all.
    But hey! I’m just taking a side without having the slightest clue as to what he meant.

    This must be about the tiny fragment of soul within ourselves being back-projected back upon ourselves whenever we read e-communications too fast.
    Or maybe we just read whatever we want to believe and disregard what is actually said.

    Perhaps the ‘causus belli’ here is both your propensities to use words of multiple syllables when they’re not really required?
    Gee. I understand that these days even legislation has a sort of standard where it actually has to make sense – even in Queensland.

    Why not adopt that principle here in order to afford some base line of comprehension for dolts like me?
    Your brother in free speech –
    Bunsen

  10. BUNSEN says:

    “It’s just that I don’t think the best outcome of voting is getting a personal ideological champion’s words inscribed in the hansard. It’s about getting a policy mix acceptable to the electorate collectively, if not as a mass of individuals.”

    Oh. Okay.

    When I parse the above it means that Richard is hardwired towards believing that the majority have hegemony after the election.

    It means that the elect essentially need not accept any advice or input from the electors until the next election.

    That means the elected representative must exist in some advice vacuum until the next campaign.

    That sounds like the Queensland approach towards consolidating and maintaining utter corruption and in my view suggests he’s a bit of a tool of those so entrenched.

    Well, Rick; now I know why you use such big words.

    Next thing you’ll be talking about – Ha !!! – small government – without, of course, even squeaking about something infinitely more important – decency in governance.

  11. ennui says:

    why is my post “awaiting moderation”

  12. ennui says:

    # ennui said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    An electoral system usually refers to the total architecture involving all the structures and operations necessary to run an election eg voter and candidate qualifications,electoral boundaries, method of voting etc What we seem to be discussing here is the consequences of particular voting methods

    A useful set of criteria for evaluating electoral systems was proposed by the ANC when South Africa was establishing a new government system:-

    * Does it deepen democracy and reflect the democratically expressed will of the people?
    * Will it contribute to nation-building and maintain political stability and peace?
    * Will voters feel effectively represented by the elected parliamentarians?
    * Simplicity in terms of voter understanding and
    * Practicality in terms of implementation

    There is obviously no universal ‘best’ system – one’s view is dependent on the weighting given to the various criteria.

    Gummo takes the view that the only significant factor is the first mentioned above – “the legitimisation of democratically elected governments by the electoral process …”
    Underlying this view is the belief that the elected government should not merely reflect the electorate’s wishes it must be representative of all the voices.This may provide warm feelings but it is a narrow view and diminishes the importance of other significant criteria.

    The ‘full’ preferential system applicable in the H of R does provide electoral results which reflect the way in which people have voted. As Alexander Hamilton suggested in the Federalist Papers – “the sense of the majority should prevail”
    Such a system – unlike, for example, Hare-Clark – generally satisfies the various criteria listed above.

    Notwithstanding various parliamentary enquiries, there has been little call for major changes to the electoral system. It would seem that Australia has managed to find arrangements that satisfies the needs of the general electorate.
    Posted on 14-Apr-10 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

  13. Richard makes some very interesting assertions here.
    We don’t have elections to have politician representatives who fly our ideological colours and spend their time “giving viewpoints in parliament and arguing”
    Instead we have elections to appoint politicians to regularly create policy.

    Technically parliament actually is for, amongst other things, giving viewpoints and arguing. The word parliament comes from the French word ‘parlez’ : to speak.
    But Richard seems to be making the bizarre argument that as long as it is policy then any policy will do. Or to be exact, the least unpopular policy will do.
    If it was a parliament comprised of a number of large and small parties elected by proportional representation (as exists in Israel and Germany) and certain legislation put up by the largest minority party failed, then where is the problem?
    If Labour put up an ETS policy but the majority of the voters representatives thought it was a bad idea and knocked it back then isn’t that what democracy is all about? Ditto LDP and guns and drugs, Liberals and closed borders, Greens and gay marriages in forests, etc.
    The major parties will always vote for the motherhood and apple pie legislation or else they will find themselves losing a serious number of supporters at the next election.
    Is it Richard’s assertion that because we spent so much money on the new Parliament House in Canberra with all the special landscaping and expensive flag pole etcetera then it defeats the purpose if we don’t have at one “basket of policy” passed every year?

  14. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Wow! It’s going to take some serious alchemy to extract the points from all the vitriol that’s turned up in this thread since Richard’s last comment.

  15. ennui says:

    Gummo
    I wouldn’t be too concerned about ‘alchemy extraction’ – I suspect Richard feels terrorized and abandoned the thread!!

  16. munroe says:

    People with extreme views – or at least views that are outside of the mainstream – like proportional representation because it means they get someone representing them in the corridors of power. They don’t like the blandness of centrist politics that you see in winner-takes-all as you call it because of the very fact that it tends to be centrist, with extreme views on either side sidelined. Therefore, people who have left-wing views, such as greens supporters, like it because you get more green politicians.
    Like em or loathe em, green politicians are not centrist. They’re ideological warriors unencumbered by the desire to find the political centre. However, if proportional representation works as intended, then you’ll have a circus of competing interest groups and minority opinions from all sides of politics, all clamoring to be heard in every policy debate. Christianists, Islamists, federalists, separatists, racists, industrialists, unionists, capitalists, anti-capitalists….
    There’d be a median in there somewhere I guess.

  17. BUNSEN says:

    Oh Dear Munroe,
    Bless you.
    I believe you’ve managed to identify why our elect do so eschew actual democracy.
    Get a handle on the fact that they’d have, not only to work hard, but to reach compromise with others.
    Its the same as in our courts.
    As it does in politics the adversarial system smothers truth equally as it does just outcomes.
    I suppose by its tone ‘adversarial suggests some sort of ding dong battle whereby the protagonists strive for one side gaining ultimate victory.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    And in such a choreographed system the truth will never out, nor will justice, nor merit.
    The adversarial system is nothing but a carefully contrived dance – the steps well rehearsed long before the public appearance.

  18. munroe says:

    Bunsen, okay, firstly, it’s impossible for politicians to “eschew actual democracy” unless they break the law. If they get voted in, and then vote on legislation, that’s representative democracy. That’s how it works. Democracy is the system – the structure itself – not the people in it. Such people come and go but the machinery of democracy is constant.

    Secondly, compromise is already ubiquitous in politics. But compromise isn’t always the best outcome… sometimes it is better if one side makes a decisive policy decision and the public get to find out if they like it.

    Third, your belief that political debate is choreographed is nothing but a conspiracy theory with no evidence.

  19. BUNSEN says:

    Hello Gummo, #10 was it?
    Bit like ordering meatloaf at the deli, isn’t it?
    Forgive me for saying to you that one man’s ‘vitriol’ might well be another bloke’s free speech with a fair amount of his time spent putting words together.
    I’ve had a bit of time lately to put my ideas together and please be assured that they are not intended to wound any reader.

    I’d also suggest there might be people out there who would gladly offer their view if they had some confidence that their input wasn’t turned into a circus.
    I’ve checked out and contributed to a few of these alleged forums lately.
    None are much chop in reality.

    I see too much verbosity without much creativity or imagination – hardly any humour at all.
    So Gummo, like ordering meatloaf at the deli: consuming it and sleeping on the result might have me reflecting upon my mistake the next day.
    But I’ll eat my meatloaf and send this along and decide which bad decision made me crook tomorrow.

    I chose “Bunsen” for a pen-name this time ’round. The term just came to mind a few days ago from god knows where.
    It struck me Tuesday this week – Bunsen burner – a flamer – a bit of lab equipment that provides heat for the proper conduct of experiments.
    I realise after consideration that I chose that name after being accused of being a ‘flamer’ or some such.

    Yet as I read these pages, and others, I notice that those applying the actual flame to the wick seem to get away with their activity.
    I write this by way of wondering and asking why might this be so?

  20. BUNSEN says:

    Dear Munroe,
    Either you work for them or you’ve never been in a position to work within the complex scope of governance.
    I have, to my misfortune, had to work within their ‘field effect’.
    I can therefore say that generally, politicians have little understanding of the groundrules with which they need to follow.
    Meanwhile those who know the odds tend to take risks anyway.
    I’m a Queenslander so I’ll mention Queensland.
    Tell me that no Queensland politicians have been locked away in the last few years.
    I submit that politics and governance in my part of the world is, by the old term – FUBAR.

    Then you say – “Third, your belief that political debate is choreographed is nothing but a conspiracy theory with no evidence.”

    Forgive me but Fitzgerald A gave me some confidence to have my say.
    His efforts deposed one past premier and his last sojourn into fact had the incumbent taking notice.
    Forgive me but there is a mountain of evidence and the safety valves are screaming with the overpressure for change.

  21. “People with extreme views…– like proportional representation because it means they get someone representing them in the corridors of power.”

    Geez Munro, how dare they! The temerity of them to want political representation proportional to their numbers.
    Don’t they know democracy is only for us middle of the roaders.
    They should sit down, shut up, and be grateful for the wise decision making in the benevolent rule of the solid, conservative, bland, middle ground.

    Who knows what civil liberties they’ll dare to ask for next.

  22. BUNSEN says:

    Edward C said –
    “Who knows what civil liberties they’ll dare to ask for next.”
    Hear, Hear and well said Ned.

  23. BUNSEN says:

    Oh –
    except Ned, you should have said –
    They should sit down, shut up, and be grateful for the wise decision making in the benevolent rule of the solid, conservative, bland – cutthroat – middle ground.

  24. ennui, moderation queuing is done automatically by WordPress. It places anyone in moderation that has never commented before (at this, the new server). It also selects for moderation those comments which Akismet has inscrutably decided are not-quite-spam.

  25. Tel says:

    I vaguely remember us going over this before… never mind.

    If two groups of people have a major and irreconcilable difference of opinion they could fight to the death over the issue. The winner would indeed take all. As a rough rule of thumb, we can presume that the side with the most people fighting would be that winner on the basis that numerical advantage is probably the best advantage you can have, when going into battle, and by far the easiest to reckon.

    Any individual who knew that such a difference of opinion would indeed lead to a fight to the death would do well to consider which was likely to be the winning side. Having made such consideration those individuals wanting to live would logically join the winning side, because who would want to be a loser in such a situation?

    Running an election instead of a fight to the death gives the winners what they would have had anyhow, and leaves the losers considerably better off than any foreseeable alternative. What’s not to like?

    However, if proportional representation works as intended, then you’ll have a circus of competing interest groups and minority opinions from all sides of politics, all clamoring to be heard in every policy debate. Christianists, Islamists, federalists, separatists, racists, industrialists, unionists, capitalists, anti-capitalists…

    Given that I myself support such extreme views as honesty in government, human rights,liberty amongst citizens and a predictable, well understood and functioning legal system, of course I support proportional representation — the longer this circus argues and fails to deliver any new legislation the better.

    Vote [1] out.

  26. ennui says:

    Jacques
    Having posted comments on Club Troppo for quite some time I can only assume that ‘Akismet’ viewed the comment as “not quite spam” . Without being overly sensitive I suggest some re-tuning would be in order.

  27. Mike Pepperday says:

    PR gives representation to interests, not places. In a single-member system such as the Australian lower houses (except Tas) each electorate is represented by one member. Usually that MP will be Labor or Liberal. The member is expected to represent all her constituents – all the people, no matter who they voted for, who reside in her electoral district. By contrast, under PR, with multiple members per district, there may be a Greens or independents elected alongside major party MPs. Thus are interests, not geographical areas, represented in the legislature.

    Single-member systems are, as commenters say, winner-take-all. One of the two major parties gets a majority and forms the executive government and rules. In the house it can ignore the minority party and it does. In our lower houses (except now Tas) debate is theatre and the house makes no amendments to legislation. The lower house does as the governing party says. It is the upper house (if no party has a majority as is nowadays commonly the situation) which can consider and amend proposed law. It often does and the lower house then obediently ratifies the upper house changes.

    Thus, sittings of the lower houses are superfluous. Sittings could be replaced by giving the Clerk a rubber stamp saying PASSED. Single-member elections yield a majority for one party to form the executive but this executive will be an elected dictatorship unless there is another house which is not under its orders with which the executive must negotiate. To function, this upper house must represent interests, not places, and in Australia it does so. Once upon a time the upper house represented the interests of the wealthy or the aristocracy; now it represents ideological interests under PR. Ultimately, the House of Lords will have to go to PR too.

    We can imagine that a system where there is no upper house, ie where there is only a single chamber consisting of MPS from single-member electorates, would not be satisfactory. Indeed, I know of none that are viable at a national level. In the early 1950s Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand abolished their upper houses. Sweden and Denmark were fine; they have PR houses. But NZ was not and in the end they discarded the whole Westminster single-member idea and in 1996 installed the West German PR system. NZ seems now to be working. There are 10 or 11 modern countries with a single chamber parliament elected under PR rules.

    NZ got off lightly; in Northern Island it was a tragedy. (As commenters above have remarked, the single-member system is more stable; NI had 50 years of stability until 1970 – probably a record in a modern country.) NI would have been far worse but was saved by being, like Queensland, sub-national. Single-member-single-chamber has failed in New Guinea, failed in Vanuatu and failed the Solomons. Some African states also tried it to their cost. I think most of them have now gone to PR. We probably need their sort of trauma in the Pacific in order to learn the lesson.

  28. tikno says:

    “What are elections for?”

    At least, I think to prevent the royal pattern.

  29. tikno says:

    An intriguing question !

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