To really understand the difficulties attending this UK election, you have to consider this. Australia is not a democracy. We haven’t been much of a democracy for quite a while, at least in the lower house, where government is formed.

Instead we have a two-party state, the major institutions buttressed by compulsory voting, compulsory preferential flows, and public funding of parties. When the loophole whereby the two major parties could be put equal last was discovered, the very act of advising people they could do so was criminalised — until that skerrick of democracy too was abolished.

So the cycle is complete — the state frog marches you to the polling booth, makes you vote for one of two parties (OK, a party and a coalition), then counts up the votes and gives each party millions of dollars of your taxes.

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If it was happening in an old eastern bloc state — two parties preaching virtually the same programme, in a pseudo-tussle — or in some banana republic, the con would stand out like a potoroo’s proverbials. But because each part of the scam has a justification (compulsory voting equals voting as social obligation, preferentiality prevents minority wins, matched funding blah blah), and because the idea of Australia as a beacon of democracy is now beaten into everyone as part of the new “progressive patriotism” ideology.

The ultimate result of the two party state is that there is little dissent within the parliament, because the machine can simply replace any troublesome back benchers.

Crucial to the two-party scam is that there be no more than two forces contending (one reason why the Lib-Nat coalition has remained so solid, despite widening class and cultural differences between their constituencies). You can see why this should be once you add a third force, and the situation goes haywire.

Mathematicians call it the three-body problem. The addition of one new body rapidly renders a series of computable calculations too complex to render (the game of billiards is based on this principle). And that is why this election in the UK has got everybody flummoxed. And why the Lib-Dems are running around like headless chooks, going every which way but power.

The Lib-Dems had their spring conference this weekend, preceded by the usual scandalettes, a process for the Lib-Dems that is now as fixed and ritual as black rod. This time one of their candidates turned out to be an ex-art school student turned producer of upmarket porn, with an inner -city theme (Shoreditch Sl-ts etc). She, the producer, was a woman, which gave it a very Lib-Dem spin.

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What was more scandalous to many Lib-Dem supporters was leader Nick Clegg’s public support for another dominatrix-type, Margaret Thatcher “for taking on the unions”, and committing to holding either party to more stringent spending cuts than either major party has been willing to commit to.

The pitch by Clegg — from the party’s classical liberal wing — was so naked a plea for Tory votes that he may as well have gone round Surrey mowing lawns and singing Land of Hope and Glory.

It is a bloody risky venture because even those Lib-Dems who like to crack the odd Hayek do not have warm thoughts for Maggie. Quite aside from her statist social conservatism, she never really tackled either the NHS, comprehensive schools or the BBC as core public institutions. And for the party’s social liberal wing, she is anathema.

But to a degree, Clegg is relying on the idea that Lib-Dem voters are more clued up as a whole, than any other party — and that his left-liberal contingent will know that the smaller classical liberal wing are held in check by the larger social liberal base.

The full mess is made clear in today’s poll in The Guardian, which shows tow entirely different overlaid voting patterns. On the one hand 40% of people say they’ll vote for the Tories, with 31% for Labour and 22% for the Mustard Yellow Lib Dems (even their colour choices are naff). Yet on the other hand only 29% of people want to see a Tory government outright. The largest single preference is for a hung parliament.

That is effectively a vote against the system as it stands — in particular the winner-take-all aspect of a voluntary voting first past the post system. At a time when the two major parties are closer together than ever. It is also apparently a vote against Gordon Brown, my surmise that he was sounding increasingly prime ministerial last week not borne out by surveys. On the other hand, it’s clear that no-one thinks Cameron is, either.

The upshot is that voting considerations for those in seats with a strong Lib-Dem presence face a series of repeatedly revised decisions about who best to vote for to get the result they want, a process more akin to an investment on the political market than a decisive arggghhh preference for one party or programme.

That’s not democracy.

But nor is our system.

The British people want change.

They want a multi-member proportional list system, which would reflect some degree of the public’s genuine will.

They will get our system.

All sing, land of hope and glory….

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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