Patrick Tabone asked me whether I would be willing to publish a reply to recent positions taken by myself and David on a number of issue. I am publishing his article in full and am very pleased to give his point of view this space. It goes without saying that opinions in this article are Patrick’s and my publishing them does not mean that I am in any way in agreement. I will reply to some points today (later… too much work till 1600) and some in my last two articles in the J’Accuse Votes series. Here therefore is Patrick’s baptism of fire in the blogging world as a guest blogger.
Towards a Decent Society?
by Patrick Tabone
In the last couple of days David and Jacques have made two related arguments that deserve to be analysed.
They put the quest for ‘the decent society’ as the primary objective of the political process, and seem to conclude that a vote for either of the two major parties is not compatible with that objective. Jacques reaches this conclusion because he feels the two parties have blocked a move towards a fairer proportional representation system, and David because he feels that the whole establishment is so permeated by sleaze, favours and ‘hatred of the other’ that any vote for MLPN would simply serve to prop up a sick system that deserves to die. Jacques is therefore leaning towards an AD vote, even though he ‘doesn’t care much about’ them. David doesn’t yet say what he will do come March 8, but I guess it’s got to be one of the smaller parties or a no vote.
There’s something that feels strangely satisfying about this line of reasoning. Of course ‘the decent society’ should be our goal. And of course we clearly don’t have a decent society yet. Who can argue that our form of democracy doesn’t have it’s flaws, a too-high de facto threshold chief among them? And the ills that David describes are real, as is the need to address them. Surely the election gives us an opportunity to do so?
It’s worth analysing carefully; I think we all agree that a feeling alone isn’t enough to base something as important as a vote on.
Let’s take Jacques’ thesis first. The two parties have blocked a move towards proportional representation, meaning that, as Jacques put it, a vote for AD ‘has been rendered practically useless’, a ‘wasted vote’. Since it’s MLPN that has created this fact, MLPN should not profit from it. So vote for AD, wasted vote or not. Sounds good, but does it stand up to rational examination?
If it were rational it would need to lead to an improved situation, or at the very least to no deterioration in the status quo. In what way can a vote for AD improve the chance of electoral reform? As Jacques has seen clearly (see para above), the vote does not help AD get anyone elected – the experience of the last few elections, and the info coming from every survey is consistent. AD cannot and will not get anyone elected as things stand – that’s precisely why Jacques is pissed off at the system. Because it’s not fair to AD.
OK, it might not help AD elect anyone, but it would send a signal right? Well, let’s assume for argument’s sake a massive explosion in AD voters, because enough people take this advice; let’s assume that AD get 5% of the vote. This would be a big result for Alternattiva – they have never managed 2% in a general election, and only 0.7% in 2003; it’s also higher than any poll suggests is possible (though, tellingly, still nowhere remotely close to getting anyone elected). Since Labour’s 2003 vote can be expected to hold strong (as the Malta Today Surveys clearly shows), even a smaller switch than this would be enough to bring Labour to power. For a couple of weeks people might point to a higher than expected vote for AD – some would interpret it as a vote for green issues, some for rent law reform, some for electoral reform, some as a protest vote. But at the end of the day it’s a tiny percentage of the electorate and people would move on to the new reality – a Labour government, one that is certainly no friend of electoral reform in the sense that Jacques wants it.
So, the idea of withdrawing support for MLPN because it blocked electoral reform has in fact had the following consequences: it has helped elect the MLP (part of MLPN), has not helped AD elect anyone, and has not brought electoral reform any closer. If you prefer a Labour government to a PN one, that’s fine. However Jacques, for example, doesn’t; he feels that “no matter how much PN policy and strategy is in the shit, MLP policy is even for the worse”.
If anyone who feels the same way votes for AD for the purpose of achieving electoral reform, they do not get any closer to their objective, but they help deliver a government that they feel is second best of the two alternatives on offer.
With David’s argument it’s not electoral reform as such; it’s the entire establishment that is sick. So don’t vote for MLPN, the bedrock of that establishment. Whether you choose not to vote, or to vote for one of the small parties, the consequences will be the same as in the paragraphs above. If you voted to secure EU membership in 2003, then your attempt to abandon MLPN in facts helps create the small swing that is needed to elect the MLP – part of the very establishment you are trying not to support.
In the end, in both cases you don’t really get any closer to your goal (electoral reform or a message to the establishment); but you do help deliver a Labour Government.
Again, whether that is good or bad depends on your comparative analysis of the two big parties. Since it’s a big decision, one that so much, for so many, depends upon, it is important not to just make a sweeping statement that the two parties are just the same. Everyone needs to make their own judgement, trying to stand aside from our prejudices that David describes so well. As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, my opinion after my own careful analysis of the campaigns, the electoral manifestos, the leaders, and especially the track records, makes me conclude that there is a clear difference between the two. It is possible to say that, David and Jacques, without demonising anyone, without scaring anyone, without bullying anyone.
I’m not going to try and make the arguments for one or the other here; I’ve made them elsewhere in the blog. I’m not even going to appeal to you to accept my analysis. But I am going to say that making that comparison for yourself is not a cop-out to the establishment; it’s the most important thing you will do all year. Your vote on Saturday helps create a new reality, and you should act so that it is the reality you are most happy with of the alternatives on offer.
SO. Am I saying that there is no way out of the MLPN stranglehold? No. But I am saying there’s no easy way out. We can’t wake up a few weeks before the election and say that the election must suddenly provide us with the answer after 44 years of independence. If David’s and Jacques’ objectives are important enough – and I believe they are – than they deserved to be pursued in a reasoned, determined and patient way. The readership of this blog, generally people with enquiring and independent minds, might be a good place to start. It’ll take ball-breaking, thankless, non-party-political work over many years until you can force the establishment to take notice and begin to change. You cannot wave a magic wand and expect it to happen in a few weeks; though in a few weeks you can light a spark as Jacques and David may have done through these pages.
In the meantime there’s a country to be managed, and who manages it matters very much to us all. Our vote on Saturday will elect one of two alternate governments, and if we have a preference between the two we should express it.
This rationalisation may be distasteful to many who feel that democracy should be more lofty and less calculating. But if you’ll forgive me using the much quoted line by Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Whether it’s the widespread tactical voting in the UK, US Presidents like Dubya who gain power after losing the popular vote, sterile deadlocks in Belgium or chronic government instability in Italy, democracy is a very messy business.
But it’s very precious.