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The voters speak

September 10th, 2008

The outcome of the Western Australian election remains undecided. Labor could hold on to power either by winning enough seats to govern with the support of independents or by making a deal with the Nationals. Conversely, the Libs need to win the seats in which they are currently ahead, and then cut a deal with the Nationals.

Apart from being a reminder of the folly of snap elections designed to capitalize on transitory political circumstances, this close result reminds me of something I’ve observed over time. Whichever of these two even-money chances is realised, we’ll come to think of it as inevitable. Consider for example Bush’s win in 2000, Howard’s in 1998 or Hawke’s in 1990. In each case, the vagaries of the electoral system turned a loss (admittedly narrow) on the votes into a winning outcome.

Yet with the possible exception of Bush, this fact is forgotten when we come to assess the electoral appeal of the winners and even more of the losers. Peacock, Beazley and Gore could all have reached the top if a few electoral dice had fallen differently. But they go down in history as failures while Bush’s two terms and Howard and Hawke’s four mark them as winners, at least until their luck ran out.

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  1. Jill Rush
    September 10th, 2008 at 23:39 | #1

    Steve Fielding is another who was only just elected and yet he like all of the others has gained power as a result of the win.

    It is a bit like footy or netball or any other sport. The difference between a win and a loss can be one goal or even a point – but that is enough to get the team’s name inscribed on the trophy.

    For the Western Australians the ability to horse trade appears to be the difference between government or opposition – and from an electorate point of view it is similar to a market where the politicians are far more focussed when they have to work to get their proposals through.

  2. September 11th, 2008 at 09:36 | #2

    John

    I feel this is true of Carpenter to some extent. He may well fail to form government by less than 100 votes. We didn’t see the best of him when he was bogged down with the ALP’s past. How many times do we have to get rid of Brian Burke? My take, ‘How the West was lost’, is in the OLO National forum and New Matilda.

  3. Tony G
    September 11th, 2008 at 10:44 | #3

    Off-topic snark deleted. I’m getting sick of wasting time on you, Tony. Take a week off commenting to think about life for a bit.

  4. Superannuated Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    September 11th, 2008 at 11:02 | #4

    Add Bob Carr (1995) and Mike Rann (2002) as perceived political heroes won despite most people voting for the other side.

    The 1998 Beazley vote win was actually larger than Hawke’s in 1987 (and 1990 of course), and also larger than Howard’s alleged ‘landslide’ in 2001.

  5. Tim M
    September 11th, 2008 at 11:29 | #5

    Burke seems to be friendly with everyone in the Labour Party

    Not to mention the Liberals…

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/liberal-mp-hired-burke-as-lobbyist/2007/03/05/1172943358188.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/campbell-quits-over-meeting/2007/03/03/1172868803543.html

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,21263097-1245,00.html?from=public_rss

    …etc.

    I’m leaving this response to Tony G’s just-deleted snark up, but can I remind everyone not to feed the trolls. JQ

  6. Tim M
    September 11th, 2008 at 12:11 | #6

    Sorry, Prof. Noted.

  7. may
    September 11th, 2008 at 12:48 | #7

    maybe this will bring home the fact that the liberal party without the country component is a minority party and always has been a minority party.

    a coalition of labor/country interests? hmm.
    could be not too bad.

  8. Hal9000
    September 11th, 2008 at 13:46 | #8

    It all only goes to show that our system privileges geographically-based minorities (the Nationals) over dispersed minorities. Thus the Nats get fewer votes than the Greens, but must be courted (translation: paid the demanded ransom) by those wishing to gain office. This kind of system made perfect sense in the days before instant mass communication, but is made ridiculous now the major parties parachute the likes of Greg Combet into safe seats they may never previously have visited in their lives.

    John Stuart Mill’s arguments for proportional representation in On Liberty are still potent. Mind you, Mill also thought that the educated should get additional voting power because they were in a better position to pass judgement on issues and warned against the tyranny of the majority.

  9. September 11th, 2008 at 15:42 | #9

    the tyranny of the majority?

    let’s take a chance. the tyranny of the minority is responsible for our problems, a minority of a few hundred having run oz since federation.

    the tyranny of the majority?

    switzerland is such an outstanding example of tyranny? california is notable for it’s conformity?

    slaves congratulating themselves on their fortunate servitude would not be more deluded than ozzians basking in ‘subjection’.

  10. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 11th, 2008 at 17:42 | #10

    And if in 2007 the wind had blown a bit faster and a bit more towards the south I could be a senator today. I suppose Andrew Bartlett feels the same way. Isn’t life interesting?

    http://ldpblog.wordpress.com/2007/11/06/senator-terje-peterson/

  11. jquiggin
    September 11th, 2008 at 19:33 | #11

    Equally, AL, having spent time in both California and Switzerland, I can’t say I noticed the kind of transformation suggested by your heated rhetoric. Indeed, Switzerland’s long disenfranchisement of women and continuing restrictive treatment of migrants make it one of Europe’s more imperfect democracies in my view.

    As far as I can see, initiative and referendum are modest tweaks to representative democracy, arguably beneficial, but certainly not of fundamental importance.

    When I offered an open thread for you to make the positive case for these measures, you declined the opportunity as I recall.

  12. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 12th, 2008 at 00:49 | #12

    Oh to be in Athens again! I was quite partial to all that: election by lot, pervasive citizen-initiative and archons all over the shop. There’s daylight between that and the parliament-slavery we have now of course.

    BBB

  13. Not JRH
    September 12th, 2008 at 02:29 | #13

    Maybe the socialists and the agrarian socialists really are made for each other!

  14. Not JRH
    September 12th, 2008 at 02:40 | #14

    I also have a semi-serious, semi-joke electoral system that I would like to see trialled – randomocracy.

    Here’s how it works:
    * The name of every person over the age of 18 gets put in a barrel for their electorate.
    * A name is drawn every month.
    * That person becomes the representative for the area for that month.
    * Their name is removed from the barrel for 12 months.
    * They go off to Canberra as the member of parliament for that electorate.

    This system has several advantages. I don’t think anyone who seeks high office should be given it, for starters. This eliminates that.

    It eliminates political parties (although a member may be aligned one way or the other, but because he/she serves for only a month and it is unlikely that they will be elected for another 6,000-odd years, there’s no pull from the party machine).

    It is a true representative democracy system. There’ no pledge, there’s only votes on the merits of the proposal.

    The parliament would be weak and there would be no Prime Minister, or really cabinet. Now this might mean government either grinds to a halt, or it is run so much better because the public service can always run the place better than the politicians anyway!

    OK, sorry I think I’ve gone way off topic, and I look forward to the flames for both that and the idea!

  15. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 12th, 2008 at 08:29 | #15

    Indeed, Switzerland’s long disenfranchisement of women and continuing restrictive treatment of migrants make it one of Europe’s more imperfect democracies in my view.

    If you are refering to the fact that you need to be a resident in Switzerland for 12 years before they allow you to become a citizen then I think it makes them better than the rest of Europe. Political rights and civil rights are not the same thing and their should be no hurry to give immigrants the former. Of course the latter should be given immediately to all residents.

    I wrote about this in more detail a few months ago.

    http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/waiting-for-citizenship/

  16. Father Mercy
    September 12th, 2008 at 09:13 | #16

    This is a great result for the voters of WA. It matters not if the ALP or the Libs fall over the line. What matters is the narrow margin either party will have. This might cause them to act in the interests of the people rather than the party. Large majorities only make the winning side more arrogant. Take NSW for example. The ALP won with a large majority and we’ve seen the results. The desal plant may have been torpedoed if Iemma and his camorra only just fell over the line.

    A pox on all political parties.

  17. Tim M
    September 12th, 2008 at 10:19 | #17

    In some respects it is a good result, Father Mercy – it has certainly given the system a shake-up. But whether it results in the parties “acting in the interests of the people” as such, remains to be seen. They will certainly act in the interests of the National Party’s constituents. It will be interesting to see if that precipitates a backlash among city voters at the next election against whichever party forms government with the Nats.

    BTW – what have you easterners got against desal plants? Ours works fine.

  18. Father Mercy
    September 12th, 2008 at 10:40 | #18

    Tim, I think I’d rather see the water piped from X to Y. The only problem with our desal plant is that the ALP are overseeing its construction. That says it all.

  19. jquiggin
    September 13th, 2008 at 07:53 | #19

    #14 This system was practised in some ancient Greek cities I think, and of course it’s the basis for the jury system.

    That example raises one big problem – most people would try to get out of serving.

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