Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Marginal Voter Ate Me and Ran Away

Some long pieces of pork.  Copyright 2005 by David Monniaux - released under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License, via Wikimedia Commons. As the UK General Election draws near, the usual arguments are coming out of the woodwork, including the one about whether They're all the same and voting is a waste of time. This is a question which deserves a higher grade of back-and-forth than it gets. One prime example of what it gets instead can be found in the letters column of today's Metro. A gentleman named Max writes, in a missive to which I'm unable to find any electronic link:

"So Ryan thinks there is no democracy because the parties are too similar? The major parties fight over the middle ground because that's where the votes are. Hmmm, political position based on getting votes... sounds like democracy, don't you think?

...as long as most people think things are about right you'll get the same parties..."

Max, Max, Max! There are two big holes in what we all learned in school, or the Dog and Duck, or wherever. Firstly, you're confusing the views of the marginal ('swing') voter, with the consensus among voters in general. Even if you are not a looney like me, and believe the consensus really exists and deserves to rule, the two are very much not the same. Secondly, you're assuming a political free market with low structural entry costs. This is like saying that if the British people really disliked their top bankers so much, they'd have pulled out all their money and plonked it into worthier new institutions. If you also believe that, then have I got some investment opportunities for you!

The difference between the preference of the marginal voter and the general preferences of the population is a little less obvious. Here is a little thought experiment which may clarify it.

By devious means, I've obtained advance copies of both Labour and Tory manifestos for surviving our current national crisis. The Labour Party proposes to eat the rich. The Tory Party protests this Commie inhumanity, and proposes to eat the poor instead. It is virtually certain that one or the other will dominate the next government. Only certain politicians and a few other nutters are really keen to eat other people, and only a few nutters want to be eaten. What happens?

The key is, clearly, for each party to convince the 'middle sorts of people' that neither they nor anybody close to them will get et. That is why, when we look at the details, the proposals actually work out remarkably similar. The Tories will only really slaughter the poor who fail a few simple tests to prove they are deserving - as well, in simple justice, as those of the rich who are properly convicted of being undeserving parasites. The Labour will do the opposite, which in practice turns out exactly the same except in a few edge cases. It is on the mood music and these edge cases that the election will turn.

The overwhelming political consensus is that That Sort Of People ought to be eaten to get us through the lean times. The overwhelming public consensus is nothing of the sort. On the other hand, somebody is plainly going to get et here, so realistically we must both vote and speak to minimize the chance of its being us. Anything else is irresponsible Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. The rich accordingly endorse the Tories, the poor the Labour, and the middle classes are most especially vigilant for any sign that either is more 'extreme' - i.e. liable ever to let any of the victims come from a middle income bracket - than the other.

But this doesn't mean that the public at large really object more to the turning of a dentist on the national spit, than they object to the roasting of a duke or a docker. Nor does the middle classes' strong attachment to the commonsense moderate cannibalistic consensus mean they are more attached to the 'cannibalistic' bit than anybody else. All that any of this means is that people are scared of cannibals, and would rather strangers got et if push came to shove - and that the folks whose decision to aid one cannibal faction rather than the other is most nicely balanced, enjoy a strong strategic privilege. For the love of all tofu-burgers, let us not mistake this for a moral one!

It is not even, in any honest sense of the word, democratic.

The really democratic thing to do would be - not to genuflect to the Spit as the sanctified expression of the General Will - but to express the General Will by rising up in wrath, to warn just what we Will Generally do to the first lousy cannibal we catch sacrificing anybody but himself for it!

The first step to that uprising... is not to let the marginal voter eat our civil identities. She ain't you or me or both of us together; not in any way, shape, or form. Got that, Max?

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