Monday, 24 March 2008

Demanding Legitimacy

The issue of electoral reform has reared its head once again, and alongside the introduction of an alternative voting system (similar to that in use for the London Mayoral election), the suggestion of making voting compulsory has once again been raised (Guardian).

Geoff Hoon, serial advocate of compulsory voting, is quoted as calling for compulsory voting as a way of addressing the problem of low election turnouts. This would not be the first time that Hoon has made such a suggestion. In 2005, Hoon talked of fines for not casting a ballot, or financial incentives for doing so, as being ways of "bring[ing] those who feel alienated into the political process" and "enhanc[ing] civic participation".

Well, no. Compulsory voting will certainly produce a higher turnout. It might produce a greater percentage of the population voting for the winning party. But that doesn't translate into greater legitimacy for the Government, if the reason they are voting is that they have been forced to and, absent a 'none of the above' option, basically voted for what they considered to be the least worst of the selections on offer.

Compulsory voting provides a smoke-screen for the real reasons for antipathy towards the electoral process, reasons I have gone over many times before - specifically, that the political class is rightfully seen by so many as self-serving, corrupt and contemptuous of the people who elected them.

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