Needed: a Big Stick

The CENTRE must become more than a symbol, more than pleading with politicians to behave better. It is also needs to pose a credible threat to significant political careers. It needs a ‘big stick’, following the advice of Teddy Roosevelt, 26th US President.

… speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.

Here are some early thoughts. One … get a really big stick; the bigger the stick the less likely it will ever be used.

Two … keep in mind that relatively few CENTRE votes are needed to end careers on both sides of politics, since many seats are threatened if five or ten percent of voters apply pressure where it matters. Thus, the CENTRE should have enough warriors; enough voters prepared to flip their vote, sacking the politicians from both sides who refuse to compromise.

Three … let’s raise the stakes. Suppose three years have elapsed and we are about to go to the 2022 election. The political brawling has been as bad as ever; there is a move among CENTRE voters to sack both Morrison and Shorten. How might it work?

  • Some brave souls would need to get the ball rolling. Brave LIBERAL voters in Cook (Morrison’s electorate) cast an early vote against Morrison, inviting matching votes from LABOR voters in Maribyrnong (Shorten’s electorate) . Brave LABOR voters in Maribyrnong cast an early vote against Shorten, inviting matching votes from LIBERAL voters in Cook.
  • Both sides post their ballots to a digital tally room, where they are verified and added to the count; the count is published in real time. Not sure who would run the tally room, maybe a sandstone university.
  • If one side falls behind, not keeping their side of the bargain, the other side can back off. This works best with pre-poll and postal votes but is also feasible on polling day. It would get quite exciting as the day runs down.
  • Importantly, neither side is tempted to conceal their voting intentions, hoping to deceive voters from the opposing side. For example, a LABOR voter in Cook is not motivated to pretend to be a LIBERAL voter who has turned against Morrison, inviting a LABOR voter in Maribyrnong to turn against Shorten.

Four … for inspiration, consider how a kidney exchange works. Kidney patients often secure donors with incompatible kidneys, such that donors need to be swapped before the operations proceed. Similarly, voters might strongly prefer candidates that their party has pre-selected for other electorates, such that, to elect preferred candidates, voters need some means of swapping votes across electorates.

For movie buffs, recall Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The idea is that the strangers swap murders; each does the other’s perfect murder. Maybe each side of the CENTRE can draw up a hit list of politicians that they hope to unseat with the help of voters from the other side.

Five … another option is simply to act ‘on the voices’, perhaps with the aid of targeted polling. Thus, given a groundswell that ‘something needs to be done’, CENTRE voters could simply trust each other to do their part. That’s the value of the CENTRE’s non-partisan voting strategy; people can again talk to each other about how they vote, having something in common and knowing their differences are modest even if they vote for different parties.

Six … would it be fair to sack both Morrison and Shorten? It is not necessarily fair, since one or other might have made a genuine attempt to compromise. But that is not our problem; politicians need to find ways to show that their attempts at compromise are genuine and have the full support of their parties. They must devise the non-partisan processes and institutions that are needed to break deadlocks; that’s their problem.

Seven … is it OK for voters to collaborate in this way? There is no ethical problem. Political parties are essentially platforms for voter collaboration. Politics would be unworkable without deals of the kind … you vote for my proposals and I will vote for your proposals, let’s agree on a slate. Such agreements are also the stuff of everyday work and family life; they encompass everything from the evening meal to global war. The lack of collaboration between ordinary voters is the anomaly – plausibly, the root cause of the inefficiency, instability, unfairness and acrimony of politics-as-usual.