‘Deaf and Dumb’ folks need not apply…

Thursday, 5th April 2007 at 9:00 UTC 1 comment

(Update: Sorry, the citation is missing.  BBC News report on issue)

Council election season is upon us, and for Bournemouth Borough Council, its gotten off to a very bad start. As part of its prospective candidates pack it copied and pasted regulations dating to 1766. The piece in question states that deaf and dumb people, along with lunatics and idiots, would be automatically disqualified. Perhaps this states, above all else, the need to address our political system.Of course, back then, it would be unthinkable for all manner of people to stand in elections. Thankfully we’ve dealt with the black and the women in most of the west, and in Britain we’ve had the pleasure (up to a point) of having a blind man sit on the front bench, with the most popular living being in the House of Commons at his feet. But minorities are still highly unrepresented.

My suspicion is that this outdated legislation will get ‘tidied up’ to ensure this doesn’t happen again, creating a highly inoffensive version that reflects the current status quo. Sadly, we need far more than that in the UK. We may have had the odd successful deaf or dumb candidate, but to my knowledge, we’ve never had anyone from those ‘communities’ make the front bench. And now that we recognise more of the value of contributions from those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties, its time to see their voice breaking through into Parliament.

The problem I find with our first-past-the-post system is that it really does seem to benefit white, straight, able-bodied men, rather than allowing the full range of Britain’s citizens to be represented in Parliament. Society is becoming much more diverse, and some also see it as more fractious. If we found a method of electing a set of politicians that brought together people from each side of each split in society, then maybe we’d have a truly representative system.

One of the electoral systems I’m most impressed by (and believe me, that takes some doing) is Single Tranferable Vote. The idea is that each person puts the candidates in order of preference (or at least those they like), and then when the votes are counted, if a candidate receives more than the quota required to elected, the excess is redistributed, meaning that part of each persons vote goes to their second preference (or third if the second has been elected).

The joy of this system when used in trade unions is that it allows a broad range of candidates to be elected from differing backgrounds. The problem with the current method of elections is that it creates the illusion of an actual ‘majority’. While the majority of people may have supported one specific candidate, this tells us nothing. The idea that this is somehow one cohesive mass uniting to make the positive choice towards a candidate is an obvious fallacy in the majority of elections. The ‘majority’ in society simply no longer exists, and so it would be better to offer elections in ‘blocks’, whereby multiple seats are elected in the same election, and where people can choose the people to represent them more closely.

I know thats a bit of a simplification, and that some of these systems get rather hard to understand. At some point, I’ll write about the Aussie system, which happens to be my favourite, whereby the parties stand ‘lists’ of candidates intending people to preference their lists in the order the party has listed them, but where individuals can preference a mix of candidates across parties.

But what I’m getting at is that one person cannot represent half, let alone all, the people in one region. Instead we should use systems that favour getting a more diverse body elected, such as those with disabilities and mental conditions and those from different age, racial and gender groupings. Till then, lets just hope that they’re all allowed to stand.


Entry filed under: democracy, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Participation.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Peter  |  Saturday, 7th April 2007 at 18:07 UTC

    STV relies on people being able to order all the candidates rationally. Even people who are politically astute find this very difficult – never mind those who barely know about the candidates or the issues.

    In Student Union elections, I remember being bewildered and just voting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7… etc. down the list because I didn’t know any of the candidates. This is very common in STV – it favours those at the top of the ballot paper.

    A much more simpler system is to give people one vote in a multi-member seat. It would give almost the same outcome as in STV – but would be much easier for people to understand – and easier to count as well.


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