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A strategic voting proposal in defence of centrism

July 3, 2018 - 19:26 -- Admin

Who is that man in the corner, and why is he watching you?

Well folks, as you know, Club Troppo is the only website east of the whole damn Murray Darling system that has the reputation to attract the kind of high quality debate we’re in for tonight. So everyone, in your best ClupPony clobber, cop this debate. A nice fellow going by the name of Peter Dempster approached me and asked what I thought of his idea. I sent him a few dot points, but then thought that rather than expand, I’d set up a debate or discussion here. So I’m publishing this piece now and after you’ve had your fill of civility, we’ll launch another round when I work up my reaction.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fill in all the surveys that tell you (quite routinely and wrongly as it turns out) that, here at ClubPony we value your opinion. And then you’ll do it all over again.  Anyway, here’s Peter’s post.

Most voters occupy the middle ground of politics; they are centrists.

Statements about politics: Essential Poll, 18 July 2017

I wish both sides of politics would try to ‘meet each other in the middle’ more often

I don’t personally identify with either “left wing” or “right wing” politics

I would consider voting for a new “centrist” political party which takes ideas from both sides of politics

We don’t need a new centrist party. Working with what we have, but voting smarter, centrist voters can force politicians to meet in the middle. To make it happen, however, they need expert advice from political journalists. Sports journalists provide a rough model for what political journalists need to do.

Consider that sports journalists watch a lot of sport, talk to lots of fans, players and coaches, read and write about sport, argue about sport, may have played and coached. Journalists routinely distil that information, for the fans, by nominating a national team and arguing the case for who makes the final cut, who doesn’t. The process is part of the routine elevation – from club teams to national team – of the loyalties and hopes of sports fans.

Political journalists watch a lot of politicking, see how issues play out, talk daily to politicians and their advisors, immerse themselves in polls, read and write about politics, argue about politics, have participated in politics or plan to. They could distil their knowledge by nominating a national political team, but don’t. They should, since it provides voters with critical information that is otherwise impossible to obtain. The sports model can be modified to preserve journalistic independence.

Thus, at election time, the centrist voter may appeal to the journalist …

Of the candidates nominated by the major political parties, nominate the slate of candidates, from both sides, that offers the best prospect of meeting in the middle, of cutting a deal that most voters can live with. We accept the uncertainties; your informed and considered opinion is all we ask.

… responding constructively, the journalist ranks candidates for their ability meet in the middle. Let’s just say that candidates are ranked according to their ‘moderateness’ as revealed by their history of political words and actions, providing the basis for the elevation of voter loyalties and hopes – from parties to nation. To illustrate …

Suppose there are 100 seats and 200 candidates, 100 from each side of politics. The journalist separately ranks each of the two slates, one to 100, according to moderateness. The centrist slate then selects itself; it’s a hybrid slate that takes the top 50 candidates from both sides. A sports journalist has the corresponding task, to rank the players. The sports team then selects itself – the top 11, 13 or 15, however many are required. The difference is that a political journalist provides two lists, separately ranking the candidates from each party. The centrist voter imposes the 50:50 split, taking the top 50 from both sides, and journalistic independence is preserved.

Rankings will vary between journalists; that’s good. Let’s shine a light on moderation; debate how to assess the moderateness of politicians; look closely at the relative merits of candidates at the margin of the cut, either just in or just out. Expect a consensus ranking to emerge, such there is broad agreement about the relative moderateness of candidates.

Journalists may apply complementary filters when ranking candidates – ability, experience, integrity, consistency and transparency. They may give weight to considerations of balance – more women, fewer lawyers, fewer from the finance and property sectors, more new blood and fewer old hands. Such variations are welcome, requiring only that journalists explain their approach.

The centrist agenda can be variously interpreted. It enlists political journalists in a public examination of the work of preselection committees, marking both parties down for candidates who cannot get beyond their factional and party rivalries. It provides centrist voters with the information they need to informally swap votes across party lines, abandoning non-centrist candidates from their party and switching votes to centrist candidates from the opposing party. It upholds democratic principles: accepting ‘the will of the people’ regardless of one’s own views; electing representatives for their ability to investigate, discern and accomplish the will of the people. It applies selective pressure to processes of political recruitment, such that, longer term, qualities of ruthlessness, manipulation and aggression become less important to political success; more agreeable natures aspire to political careers.

Democracy comes more easily to centrists; it’s their will that should prevail. Intentionally or not, however, the centrist gift to the non-centrist is precisely that democracy prevails – including of course, that opposing non-centrists will not prevail. Non-centrists, if also democrats, can cease representative hostilities with opposing non-centrists. Centrism is thus a political device that elevates all democrats, centrist and non-centrist alike, from party to nation.

Plausibly, political behaviour will improve immediately that rankings and centrist slates begin to take shape, since many seats are threatened if five or ten percent of voters apply pressure where it matters. Many more would welcome the result. Many of us try to send a message via the minor parties but it’s a desperate and unconvincing tactic. Angry threats to ‘wreck the joint’ are also risky; the joint might get wrecked.

The organisational requirements need thought; the centrist cause would need a media strategy and commensurate resources. The objective is clear, however, that voters understand the centrist option and are somehow handed a centrist how-to-vote card on election day.

But first things first; will political journalists respond to the call, enabling centrists to distil their knowledge into how-to-vote cards? Somebody needs to ask.

A more detailed version of this proposition is here (pdf).