June 10, 2010
As a Dutchman, few things are more tiresome than to have to explain the workings of our political system to outsiders used to less democratic systems with three or just two parties. It is understandable enough that a proliferation of viewpoints, embodied in different parties, can be confusing: as many as ten parties at any time may hold seats in our parliament. Nonetheless, the very fact shows the clear and substantial benefits of proportional representation, which this election once again underlines. No voting threshold means that smaller parties on the basis of strong ideas, but with less overall popularity, have a small representation which allows them to exercise ideological pressure on the larger parties – as exemplified by the PvdD, the only ‘deep green’ party in any country’s parliament in the world. Since animals and the environment have no vote, this party can represent something of an interest that in the larger scheme of things would not be heard. Similarly, since there is no district system, there is no gerrymandering, there are no ‘strategic votes’ (unless one considers the Prime Ministerial position to be the most important issue, which few do), and most importantly, every vote actually counts. In the elections for Westminster in the United Kingdom as many as 70% of all votes are routinely wasted because of the first past the post system, and turnout in countries with such systems is therefore also notably lower (except for Australia, which has compulsory voting). The diffusion of the vote is sometimes seen as a problem, because it demands much of the difficult process of coalition-making. Yet at the same time the greater precision in preferences enabled by this system allows many different coalitions to express more precisely different combinations and nuances of political ideas and ideologies that would otherwise be swamped under major polarisations of ‘left’ versus ‘right’ or ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’. Finally, the argument of instability of government is not much of an argument either: having elections held more often in fact increases the influence of popular opinion on the course of government, which is why the US House of Representatives is voted every two years, for example. In an age in which all modern countries are by necessity ruled by bureaucracies from day to day, the supposed ‘instability’ therefore is imaginary. Belgium was for half a year ruled by no federal government at all, and yet not a single Belgian noticed any particular collapse in the functioning of social relations or governmental daily life. The only ‘instability’ is that of the possibility of different ideologies to work together, and it is fitting that if a clash of that kind occurs, the voters have a say in which course is the right one. Read the rest of this entry »
October 25, 2009
Recent times have seen a strong increase again in the number of industrial actions in the public or semi-public sectors, probably under the influence of the current crisis. Recently the court in Amsterdam enjoined the unions from striking in the public transport of the three largest cities in the Netherlands. This strike had been intended as a means of exerting public pressure against the plans of the Dutch government to increase the retirement age to 67.(1) In the meantime the United Kingdom is now witness to a large-scale action by the union CWU against the plans by Royal Mail to implement severe cuts in the services and pensions.(2) The latter of these however threatens to have a counterproductive effect, since Royal Mail is already under significant pressure under the name of privatization. If the mail services were to fully compete, the result would be that the private competitors would be able to obtain all the lucrative mail services by offering worse labor conditions, whereas the Royal Mail, because of its obligation to service, would be stuck with the ‘unprofitable’ mail (as is being seen to some extent already).
A different problem however with industrial action in the public services is the severe pressure they put on public opinion. Read the rest of this entry »