Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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McCoughlin's Law
Patrick McCoughlin's defence of the Tory proposal to require that 40% of eligible voters support strike ballots (in addition to requiring at least a 50% turnout) was widely challenged yesterday, as one might expect. But two answers he gave in a Radio 4 Today interview were particularly revealing. The first was his reluctance to consider allowing votes to be cast online. In other words, he's not actually interested in finding out the will of union members, just in thwarting action.

The second was more interesting. When Frances O'Grady pointed out that many MPs (including Patrick McCoughlin) failed to clear that 40% threshold at the last election, McCoughlin was ready with a response. That was different, he said, because when he was elected everyone who was going to be affected by the result had a vote, whereas with public sector transport strikes, for example, many of the affected people (such as commuters) don't have a vote, so the bar should be higher.

In brief, his argument was that the threshold for a vote should be higher, the more people are going to be affected beyond those who have a vote. Let's call this McCoughlin's Law, or ML for short.

In fact, of course, many of Mr McCoughlin's constituents do not have a vote - namely all those under the age of 18, plus various lords, criminals, etc. They are certainly going to be affected by McCoughlin's actions in such areas as education, health, transport, etc., so by ML we ought to raise the bar a bit already. Plus, McCoughlin often acts on matters that affect people in other constituencies, who also didn't have a say in his election. So, we should raise the bar again.

Obviously, according to ML the leader of any country with international influence, and thus power over people who don't get a vote in their election - the US President, for example - will need a far larger mandate than leaders of less powerful states.

Under ML, the threshold for the Scottish referendum - the result of which would certainly have affected people in other parts of the UK who had no vote in the matter - ought to have had a threshold requirement. As it happened, turnout then was very high, so the point is moot; but if a Tory government is returned in May, as well as enacting this union legislation they are are committed to holding a referendum on EU membership. If ML applies in the first, will it also be applied in the second? After all, the rest of the EU would be affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU every bit as much as commuters would be affected by the railworkers' withdrawal of their labour.

Interestingly, I was just reading Jimmy Carter's book on his election to the Georgia state Senate in 1962. Prior to the electoral reforms of that year (forced by a US Supreme Court decision on electoral inequality), senators from rural Georgia were elected from three-county districts, and each county, no matter how small, had a turn to choose the senator, while the other two had to sit it out. On top of which these elections drew little interest, and, of course, blacks couldn't vote.

So Carter, running in a post-reform seven-county district, faced one opponent who had just been elected under the old system from the smallest of three counties in an old district, on a tiny plurality on a small vote. And yet who ran ads claiming that he thereby had the moral authority to sit for the entire new district. When Carter pointed out how inequitable the old system was, the opponent replied that everybody knew it worked that way, so there was no cause for complaint.

Applying ML, Australia would still be apart of GB, for it would have failed a minimum-threshold vote of independence by a significant margin. Now I want an anthology about our current world if Australia and NZ were not sovereign countries. We'd have the vote by now, of course, and would change the balance of power somewhat. it might annoy the current British establishment.

Annoying the British establishment is always a worthwhile cause.


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