Last night I popped over to see my brother and his family to discuss a family issue and the conversation swung to the forthcoming UK General Election, specifically last week’s ‘Seven Leaders’ TV debate.
The topic of the importance of voting – and the rights and wrongs of the UK political scene – came up. Someone mentioned Churchill’s dictum that democracy was ‘the least worst form of human government’ and, for good measure, I raised what a schoolmaster had told my sixth form class in the late 1960s – around the time of Barbara Castle’s In Place Of Strife green paper [as part of the then Labour Government’s controversial attempt to regulate union power] – i.e. his personal view that, in one sense, having Labour in power at the time was a plus, simply because, whilst the working class would never accept such an affront to its right to strike coming from the Tory Party toffs, they might just do so if ‘their own kind’ was the instigator.
From there it was but a short step to addressing the principle of ‘one man (or woman), one vote’.
One of my own generation asserted the absolute importance of the citizen’s responsibility to vote. She actually added the phrase “… and vote Conservative”, which may just have betrayed her political leanings.
I responded by stating one of the few things I’d retained from my studies of sociology – a ‘subject’ that was necessary part of my degree but to me and my pals seemed to consist of stating a series of homilies consisting of nothing more than ‘the bleedin’ obvious’.
It was the fact that, in Britain, if everyone who by background and leaning was a Tory voted Tory … and everyone who by similar tests was a natural Labour supporter then voted Labour … the Tories would never win a General Election (simply in terms of numbers).
At most Elections, as night follows day, the Tories ‘got out’ most of their natural supporters in any event. However, they only ever gained power when, for whatever reason (the weather, the football being on the telly, general apathy – to name but three) a sufficient proportion of those who were natural Labour supporters didn’t bother to vote.
My eldest nephew, who graduated last summer with a 2.1 in economics, then brought up a concept that he had come across in his studies known as ‘the intensity of passion’ [at least I think that was what it was called] in the context of democratic voting.
Apparently – the theory ran – a better way of operating democracy than our current one would be to introduce an ‘intensity of passion’ element. In other words, if say even 60% of those who voted put their mark against Party ‘A’ were not that bothered either way who won the Election … but, on the other hand, the remaining 40% were really passionate about voting for Party ‘B’, there ought to be a skewing of the result in favour of the latter.
The implications of this theory (or proposal) were, of course, enormous and far-reaching.
I’m not saying that my nephew necessarily espoused this electoral theory of ‘intensity of passion’ himself – he had simply mentioned its existence and was trying to defend its reasonableness against the volume of incoming fire coming at him from across the table, not least from my direction.
The discussion developed into one of the most lively and fascinating conversations I’ve taken part in for a decade.
This ‘intensity of passion’ theory seemed to go right against the grain of what ‘one man, one vote’ democracy was all about.
For, leaving aside the vexed issue as to how it could, or might, be measured – if ‘passion’ was to be included as a factor in deciding elections, you were moving inexorably towards different ‘classes’ of voter. And anyway, in case anyone might have missed the point, there’s little doubt that (for example) the bulk of hard-core Labour supporters would be as passionate about the Tories not getting into government as any Tory supporter would be about ensuring Labour didn’t.
The bottom line seemed to be that the ‘intensity of passion’ theory was getting mighty close to an equivalent theory – that it was logically absurd for the average working man on the Clapham omnibus, who might for example understand very little of economic matters, to have the same numbers of electoral votes (i.e. one) as a senior professor of economics at Cambridge University who, one presumes, ought to know plenty about his subject.
Thereafter it was not long before ‘one man, one vote’ democracy itself came under challenge as a system for governing ourselves. No doubt a lot depended upon where in British society the speaker hailed from. Some of those who came from a privileged, fee-paying school, comfortable middle class background could not understand why hordes of ‘lobby fodder’ types who did not come from that background should have an equal right to choose who governs us. Or rather (should I say?) they found it very frustrating.
But – I chipped in mischievously – what about the hordes of said ‘lobby fodder’ who presumably found the proposition that privileged chinless wonders who had been born with, or earned (by whatever means), a silver spoon in their mouths should any greater right to choose the government equally frustrating?
What did the privileged understand of ordinary people’s lives, concerns and perceived lack of opportunities?
After an hour and a half I departed to return home. Nothing had been solved or agreed last night, but a great deal of fun, amusement and bonding was had.
Best of all, I felt a wave of strange life-enhancement come over me as my head sank into its pillow …