Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reinventing the State Chapter 8: Using Community Politics to Build a Liberal Society

We now move into the "individuals, communities and the state" section of the book, with Mark Pack's spirited advocacy of community politics. He makes some similar arguments to this excellent piece by James Graham - that we need to be willing to go beyond that which generates casework, to cut ourselves out of the loop where people have the chance to engage more directly with local government.

A few interesting points...
Certainly, I can take good care of my pet goldfish but in the overall cause of animal welfare, the question of whether or not I can influence my local council's meat purchasing policies is far more important. A lifetime of responsible goldfish tending will not begin to equal the influence of the local council. Altering my behaviour may be morally correct, virtuous and even help set a good example to others (which in turn may affect others, which in turn...) but it has major limitations.
I agree. What is interesting is how little this seems to have impacted on environmental politics. We don't seem to recognise somehow the near irrelevance of whether a single person flies, drives a tank, holds weekly bonfires or whatever it is. Instead there is a tendency to condemn someone who advocates the right policies if they don't meet a certain checklist of largely symbolic personal sacrifices.
the petitions on the 10 Downing Street website are - currently - an unfortunately good example of drive-by democracy ... the system essentially allows only just this very brief and superficial engagement with the issue.
Not to mention that the petitions themselves are mostly banal, bonkers or both. I sign a few myself from time to time, although I am not sure why. Pack contrasts this with the suggestion that councils might operate web forums to achieve better consultation and to make it easier for like minded people to find each other and form community groups. While I can only begin to imagine the pitfalls that might thwart such an initiative, the principle is breathtaking, exploding the quantity of public conversation, and the near invisibility of local politics.

While I don't appreciate everything Pack says; his dismissal of the importance of discussing the relative merits of the Meek and ERS forms of STV is particularly hurtful, I can only endorse this chapter of the book.


Mark Pack said...

OK, just for you I'll talk about Meek :-) Do you want to go first?

Joe Otten said...

Well the real scandal of course is the use of Weighted Inclusive Gregory in Scottish local elections. Either Meek or ERS would have been miles better.

Where ERS tends to use votes up on higher preferences, and Meek tends to try to pass on as much value as possible to lower preferences, WIG mixes these tendencies in quite arbitrary ways.

Joe Otten said...

Ahem anyway, I kinda expected on joining the Lib Dems to be able to have this conversation with about 1 member in 3. I was gutted, I tell you, with all the blank looks I got.


Mark Pack said...

Ah, here's your chance... I've never really understood what's rong with Weighted Inclusive Gregory.

Instinctively it sounds the most sensible to me (you look at all the ballot papers, and you transfer them based on their current weightings).

Although you get shown mathmatical examples of problems with it, I can't quite see what the plain English explanation is of the problem (other than 'look at this example, it doesn't work right').

Joe Otten said...

In a sense all these arguments boil down to "look at this example, it doesn't work right".

WIG is prone to more such examples existing.

If you want to look at all the papers, consistency demands transferring to already elected candidates, and ending up with something like Meek.

So the superiority of Meek over WIG is clear. To compare WIG to ERS, it is perhaps necessary to look at the reasons that ERS is held by some to be better than Meek (for more than practical reasons). That is, as I understand it, by looking only at the last parcel during surpluses, and by not transferring to already elected candidates, it mixes disparate votes less, and so is better at representing minorities.

If you buy this argument then ERS is better than WIG and Meek. If you don't then Meek is the best. If you are undecided, the arbitrariness of WIG should still put you off.