The Tyranny Of Majority

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Dáil_Chamberdan

From top: Dáil; Dan Boyle

The current situation in Leinster House should be seen as the  best opportunity since the inception of the State to bring about a real democratic revolution.

Dan Boyle writes:

The Green Party I joined, with its single town councillor in Killarney, sought to push all the right counter culture buttons. To be a political party trying to bring about a different political culture, everything was done differently often just for its own sake.

The cult of personality was frowned upon. There would be no party leader. The sole leadership position was that of co-ordinator, really an administrator. Even this had to be rotated every six months lest anyone become drunk with power.

Group decisions were made by consensus- agreed unanimity. This led to many long, fruitless discussions on the most banal of subjects. It also led to the development of individual ‘conscience’ of the party events, where one person on a whim could block any decision.

The Greens eventually decided, somehow, that a party leader was necessary, that the general public had the right to expect a consistent representative of the party, emblematic of its values, with whom to interact.

Consensus decision making eventually made way for weighted majority voting. It still requires two thirds of the membership to approve major decisions for the party.

The experiments in democratic decision making have had their uses. Frustrating, and often ridiculous, these experiments may have been, but traditional methods deserve to be challenged. They certainly haven’t delivered better outcomes.

The idea that those who acquire 50% support in a parliament get the right to make 100% of decisions, is itself and always has been perverse.

This is why the current situation in Leinster House should be seen as an opportunity. The best opportunity since the inception of the State to bring about a real democratic revolution.

Minority government could see so many changes being brought about quickly. Accountability becomes a prerequisite. The culturally corrupt elements of government, like jobbery, become impossible to implement.

Backbench TDs would have the ability to change, even initiate, legislation. Something other than fixing the road.

A minority government persistently below the artificial level of 50% support would constantly have to think about what it does and how it justifies what it is doing.

Why couldn’t this be calibrated even further?

The more important the decision the more weighted the majority to secure it should be. This would help give adequate consideration to each decision, as well as help achieve a better sense of ownership of what is eventually decided.

Democracy should be more diffuse. It has to be more diverse. A word of warning though. A broader democracy removes the possibility of being able to blame ‘someone’ else.

The Yes Minister series had a running joke that to bring about changes was ‘brave’, meaning politically naive and stupid. The current situation makes change possible. It also requires some level of courage to move our politics beyond the party political.

Ego and self aggrandisement remain the prime motivators in our politics. We need to get to the we did this instead of I did this type of politics.

At the election count when I was elected to the Dáil I quoted The Smiths “I was looking for a job and then I found a job. And Heaven knows I’m miserable now”.  Today the appropriate Morrissey lyric would be “How soon is now?”.

Dan Boyle is former Green Party TD and campaign manager for the Greens in Wales. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

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25 thoughts on “The Tyranny Of Majority

  1. Harry Molloy

    I would like to see a minority government now, and would love to see everyone in the house act in a mature objective manner for the good of the country

  2. Joe Small

    “Backbench TDs would have the ability to change, even initiate, legislation” Considering one backbench TD didn’t know, after 9 years in the Oireachtas, that there was a parliamentary legal office leads me to believe that they would not be world-class drafters of quality legislation.
    While real positive change would be great, I think its hilarious that people think its likely this time round when the electorate have been dumb enough to elect little Lowrys and Healy-Raes all over the country and then have the stupidity to look surprised when political parties couldn’t stich a government together.

  3. some old queen

    Sorry Dan but politics is a very cynical business and a minority government is a recipe for disaster. It will be inherently unstable and will fall at if not the first hurdle, then soon after. The only reason it is even being floated is because the two main parties do not want to give up their traditionally privileged positions, which means it is on death row before it is even up and running.

    I am at a complete loss as to why people are even accepting this as a viable alternative. You can theorise to the nth degree about what constitutes a best fit democratic system but when politicians are clearly willing to risk the stability of the country for their own short term self interests, there really is no hope of it working for any sustained period.

    1. Harry Molloy

      It’s a viable alternative if politicians can behave in a mature, selfless manner. But that is a big if….

  4. Gorev Mahagut

    Here’s a conversation I’ve had many times, with many different friends:
    Friend: “FG [or FF] are an awful crowd”.
    Me: “So who will you vote for?”
    Friend: “Well, FG [or FF]. I couldn’t vote for the others, sure they’ll never win.”

    It strikes me that most Irish people seem to understand elections by means of an analogy with betting on a horse race. They seem to think that the objective is to pick the winner, as if they would thereby win money. The idea of voting for a candidate whose policies you agree with, as a way of saying “this is what I think”, is alien to them.

    And this vision of politics infects our TDs as well. The aim is to beat the opposition rather than have an honest discussion about how to conduct our collective lives. Hence the Labour TDs voted against Clare Daly’s abortion bill, even though a lot of them agreed with it, simply because you have to be seen to get the better of “that lot over there”.

    The fact is, you don’t need a Taoiseach. The purpose of the Dáil is to enact laws. Let each TD propose a bill; let them all discuss and amend and vote; no whips, no party interests, nothing at stake in each vote except the bill under consideration.

    1. DubLoony

      Labour voted against Clare Daly’s bill because while they supported the repeal of the 8th, it wasn’t part of the agree program for govt with FG.

      1. LW

        That’s a truly excellent reason not to vote with something you agree with. And you’re flat out arguing that the SocDems and others should join in to coalition with FG

        1. Harry Molloy

          maybe I’m wrong, but was it not the case that the bill was unconstitutional so could not have been passed in any case?

    2. Kieran NYC

      “It strikes me that most Irish people seem to understand elections by means of an analogy with betting on a horse race. They seem to think that the objective is to pick the winner, as if they would thereby win money. The idea of voting for a candidate whose policies you agree with, as a way of saying “this is what I think”, is alien to them.”

      I may have to frame this.

  5. bisted

    ‘…The culturally corrupt elements of government, like jobbery…’ does that include appointments to the Seanad?

  6. 15 cents

    we should just hire freelancers to run the government. they only really do a days work a week at best. so instead of paying ridic full time wages, just pay freelancers to work a solid day a week. i bet everything would run and work fine.

    1. 15 cents

      ah wouldnt it be great, if as a nation we could just turn around and say “hey, you lot are makin a dogs dinner out of this so you can all go home. we’re going to hire outside help”

      1. Joe Small

        I’m not sure you have much of a grasp of how government works. Maybe there’s a ladybird book you could get?

  7. Ted Bradley

    Dan, I think the phrase is “mob rule” and of course there are inherent dangers in this type of government.

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