Monday, May 09, 2022

Gaming democracy

 Can universal-franchise democracy actually work?

In the vlog below, Demirep/Granniopteryx looks at the results of the 5 May UK local elections in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. There the mayoral election of 2014 was declared void and the victor, Lutfur Rahman, banned for five years because of corrupt and illegal practices; Rahman has now stood again under a new political banner - the Aspire Party - and regained his mayoral office.

'Granniopteryx' discusses the potential for gaming the vote by the use of proxy and postal voting in a community where the head of the household can use his traditional authority in the family to influence the casting of votes. She makes the point that this does not happen only with Asians but also, for example, among Greeks. The ability to get together and elect one of your own gives you the chance to go along and ask for favours. (Labour's mayoral candidate was a non-Asian - perhaps a Party blunder, under the circumstances.)

Why are postal votes needed, except for the significantly disabled? It is so easy to vote in person. Voter participation can be affected by the distance to the nearest polling place - 

'The largest impact occurred in lower-salience European elections, with voter drop-off occurring after 500 metres from the polling station; this occurred at 600 metres for local elections. Distance travelled had very little influence on turnout to Parliamentary elections.' (p.8)

- but it is not difficult to get to one in Tower Hamlets. Geographically the borough is smaller than 20 square kilometres yet in 2019 there were 110 polling places - i.e. 5.5 per square kilometre.

Participation in local elections tends to be much lower than for General Elections: in my own constituency - another densely-populated urban one, in Birmingham - the 5 May turnout was only 27%. Yet in this Tower Hamlets it was 42% (and in 2014, almost 48%.) Perhaps the size of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election turnout is because it was not merely for local councillors but for the Big Man running the borough, the Man who can grant your wishes; insinuations of procedural jiggery-pokery may not be necessary to account for it.

By contrast, in the US, I read, some places deliberately make it difficult to vote by setting up polling stations far from population centres and perhaps not even easily reachable by public transport. Those Americans who suspect that the 2020 Presidential election was 'stolen' by late or fake postal votes should, if their concern is that participation should be fair, look at other solutions to accessibility issues.

But even if polls are fairly conducted, what about how those votes are canvassed? The system is set up to make the aspiring politician focus on what voters think (or can be made to think) matters, rather than systemic problems. The tail is wagging the dog; instead of the people calling their leaders to account, political parties have learned how to cultivate the vote. Billions are spent on psephological analysis, focus groups, opinion polling, advertising, lobbying etc - how can good long-term governance arise out of this mess? 

One method currently used to divert the public's attention from domestic policy challenges and cloud their minds with emotion is to wage wars and proxy wars on foreigners. America and Britain are like Lewis Carroll's Walrus and Carpenter, happily prepared to eat Ukrainian Oysters until the last is gone. Such a useful distraction from what Americans need; and so good for the arms industry. Instead of a welfare state, the US has opted for a warfare state.

Yes, the US has a welfare system at the moment, but the GOP is pressing for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.) For their part the Democrats' plan seems to be to encourage the 'undocumented' immigration of relatively poor people, who may look to the Dems for financial benefits of various kinds. There is no plan either from the Republicans or from the Democrats, to help the indigenous lower classes thrive by protecting their work and wages. 

The people are waking up to this, when not mesmerised by other 'woke' issues or military drum-banging. Was it not the slow-dawning realisation that in the US Red v Blue has become a 'uniparty' scam that led to the election of the unprofessional maverick Trump (with all his faults)? But the Establishment did everything it could to hamper him in office, and does everything it can to bury him in lawfare now. The uniparty wants Business As Usual until the machine breaks down.

Similarly, here in the UK, although the Northern 'Red (socialist) Wall' collapsed in 2019, Granniopteryx notes that it still far from being rebuilt, despite the Conservatives' difficulties in the last couple of years. We are in a wider political crisis in which Labour has failed to make itself credible but as Peter Hitchens says, 'You need something better than the Tories, and soon.'

We must hope that there will be replacements for both parties before it is too late; but how can they possibly replace themselves, and alternatively, how could we do it, without a revolt?


Paddington said...

"But the Establishment did everything it could to hamper him (Trump) in office, and does everything it can to bury him in lawfare now. The uniparty wants Business As Usual until the machine breaks down."

Go and see what the Trump administration actually did, mostly by executive orders, since he couldn't pass much through Congress: almost destroyed the Post Office, thought that he was doing good by renting the military to the Saudis, destroyed a lot of environmental protections, cut taxes, but basically only for the wealthy, including a lot of provisions for developers (his family), renegotiated NAFTA to exactly the same end, messed up the TPP, leaving China as the powerhouse, crippled the Foreign Service, and so much more.

The people that he appointed went on a rampage of spending on their own offices, including his multi-millionaire Treasury Secretary Mnuchin trying to use an official US plane for his honeymoon, his HUD Secretary ordering a $31,000 conference table, another Secretary having a 'Get Smart style' booth of silence built in his office, and on and on.

Then, their is the arrogance of having been a loud critic of Obama taking a few golf trips while Trump spent more days golfing at Mar-a-Lago (with the taxpayers filling his pockets thereby) than in the White House. Most of his days in the latter were marked out as 'executive time' during which he watched Fox News and tweeted.

At the very least, he was a bull in a china shop.

Sackerson said...

Yes, I know you hate Trump. But why was he elected? It's a judgment on the uniparty.

Paddington said...

@Sackerson - You have it wrong. I don't hate him. In many ways, I pity the man. I was trying to point out that most of his administrations actions were right along the 'traditional' Republican lines.

As to why people voted for him, it is true that many are disaffected. Then Trump came along, and applied his con man skills. And falling for the con man in the expensive suit is deeply rooted in the Southern and Midwestern culture.

Jim in San Marcos said...

@Paddington The man, Trump, had never run for political office and decides to run for the highest office in the land and wins, on the first try.

His accomplishments were many. He made his money before he got in political office unlike most of the politicians who got rich in office.

Your dismissiveness of Trump reflects your agenda of socialism.

Some people always stand out, Napolean, Churchill, Lord Nelson and maybe Trump, they had that special something and you can't take it away from them.

Paddington said...

@Jim - except that Trump didn't make his money. Investigation has shown that he was given over $400 million by his father, and cash flow issues indicate that he may have less than that now.

Almost every single one of his businesses failed, including three casinos. The latter is why his organization cannot get a gaming license for their property in Las Vegas, whose un-named co-owner 'lent' the Trump organization over $40 million last year alone. Those other failures happened even while he was famous for not paying his suppliers honestly.

Jim in San Marcos said...


You can judge him after you become president or walk a mile in his shoes.

A whinner always has to have the last word, and I am sure you will not disappoint me.