Latham’s blank piece of paper

Mark Latham, one time leader of the Labor Party, has caused a storm by advising voters to not mark their ballot papers at this Saturdays Federal Election. Given his political history his motives for this sage advice are unclear and not particularly important. What is important is the nature of his advice and the sharp reaction this has drawn from the commentariat.

This election has been widely, amost universally derided as appallingly drab with both the ALP and the Coalition offering very little difference in either policies or style. Indeed I cannot recall an election where even the commentariat have been so distainful of the defacto non choice being offered to voters or so open about it. And they have a point; the quality of  “the debate”, of mainstream politics, even by bourgeois standards, is soporific and dreadful. If it could be distilled and bottled no one need ever suffer from insomnia again.

This is the arena in which Latham dropped his advice and where the same commentariat suddenly proclaimed the importance and the value of voting in the current environment and berated Latham for advocating to people to vote informally in protest.

This response is interesting. The objection is not to voting informally as such (journos and commentators can tut tut about this but it’s not that important). But to encourage protest, to stir things up with the implicit threat that this may become organised is a different matter entirely.

Ruling classes love stability and who can blame them – they’re in control, things are predictable and on this basis life is sweet. In Australia this has taken the interesting and suffocating electoral form of compulsory preferential voting – you vote for who you want to and then, in decending order of preference vote for all of the other candidates even if you loathe them. For example if  I don’t want to vote for one of the major two parties (and between 20-25% don’t) and vote for an Independent or a minor party of the left or right my vote will end up going to either the ALP or the Coalition anyway (there are only two Independents in the House of Reps at the time of writing). This is a cute system which forces people’s votes to end up with one of the major parties even if they don’t want them to. Indeed, especially if they don’t want them to.

No wonder the major parties are complacent and the electorate cynical and dismissive. In fact I think these feelings of disconnection with the mainstream politics highlights an intersting phenomena. On the one hand it is exactly what the ruling classes and their representatives want as they have always feared the ‘unwashed’ and sought to keep them as uninvolved and distant from the political process as possible. On the other it promotes increasing levels of mistrust, disdain and hostility amoung those otherwise supposed to be docile and satisfied with the political muck dished up to them. It is these feelings of mistrust, disdain and hostility and the nervousness this generates amongst our betters that finds expression in commenteriats swift dumping on Latham. They have every reason to be nervous.

Come Saturday I will not be taking Latham’s advice (although I’ll take some satisfaction that he has finally caught on albeit for dubious motives). Bourgeois democracy is a very limited form of democracy – except where property is concerned – but I value my limited right enough to insist that my vote not go to those that I regard as my class enemy. As I have done for too many elections past I’ll be voting informal

10 Responses to “Latham’s blank piece of paper”

  1. 1 tom

    I think there are actually three independents in the Reps rather than two but I take the point that with preferential voting being compulsory the system is geared to ensure that no matter who you vote for the wrong lizard always gets in.

  2. 2 Arthur

    Actually its the use of single member electorates instead of Proportional Representation (which requires multi-member electorates) that enforces 2 party system with very few third party or independents.

    The bizarre unique Australian feature of requiring preferences in support of candidates you would rather vote against ensures a 100% vote for the LibLab party and helps encourage its two wings to focus exclusively on winning over the middle without having to worry about losing their flanks. It makes the two party system even more “one party” than in US or Britain etc, but does not create it.

    In US and Britain the two parties still represent the same class but present a more sharply hostile image to encourage their supporters to actually care enough to vote for them. (Non-compulsory voting further intensifies this).

    What still has me perplexed is the very small informal vote despite compulsory voting and bizarre enforced non-preferences. The overwhelming majority do seem to be willing to kid themselves that one or other of the two parties is so awful that they should back the other, either directly or via preferences.

    I haven’t noticed any commentary on it, but it seems there has been some increase in the informal vote this time, though still far too small.

  3. 3 youngmarxist

    With about 80% of the vote counted so far, informal votes have risen from about 510 000 in 2007 to about 620 000 in 2010



    I’ve picked a few arguments on Twitter about this, it’s quite common to see people cursing those who voted informally. Terms like “throwing away your vote that people died for”, or “I hope you’re happy with the hung parliament” are some of the things people are saying.

    I’m sure that not all of the people saying things like that are just self-interested hacks; a lot of it is a sincere belief that you have a civic duty to cast a *valid* vote.

  4. 4 Arthur

    Hmm, that looks like a 20% increase in informal vote!

    “I hope your happy with the hung parliament” does sound like a self-interested hack. If the informals had voted it could just as easily resulted in a more “hung” parliament. There is simply no logical connection!

    Browsing through some of the media commentary. The usual pretence that “Australians” (or particular regions or demographics) have voted this way or that because of this or that seems even sillier than usual.

    As usual, people were all over the place, for all sorts of different reasons. But I do suspect many voted with a greater sense of ennui than usual. (Only partly expressed by the increases in both Greens and informal and other non LibLab candidates).

  5. 5 Dalec

    You promised the Iraqis “democracy” yet you sneer mightily at people who actually vote.
    What did the blood of all those Iraqi people buy?
    and a purple finger.

  6. 6 youngmarxist

    Dalec is full of lies again.

    No sneering here at people who genuinely choose to support one of the two major parties. People have a perfect right to do so, although we do of course wish we could change their minds.

    The problem is that those people who REJECT both major parties, who refuse to express a preference between them, are FORCED to express such a preference if they want their vote to be valid.

    So it’s impossible to cast a valid, honest vote if you reject both major parties.

    Daelc can’t see that bothering to attend the polling booth (which should be compulsory, IMO) and casting an informal vote IS voting, even if the vote isn’t counted.

    The reason attending the polling booth should be compulsory is that it means people can’t be intimidated out of their right to vote. For instance, Dalec’s allies in Iraq did everything they could to suppress the vote, including using threats of violence. Fortunately, they failed.

  7. 7 Dalec

    “Hmm, that looks like a 20% increase in informal vote!”

    Actually it was 1.69%


  8. 8 youngmarxist


    “Hmm, that looks like a 20% increase in informal vote!”
    Actually it was 1.69%”

    Actually, 20% of 500,000 is 100,000. The informal vote went up from over 500,000 to over 600,000, an increase of over 20%.

  9. 9 Dalec

    May I suggest that you take a course in statistics ?

  10. 10 Dalec

    The informal vote rose from 4% in 2007 to 5.6% in 2010.
    This is a 1.6% increase not 20%.

    To give you an idea of how nonsensical your numbers are, imagine that one person voted informal in some year , the next year 2 people vote informal, this is an increase of 100% by the rekoning of yourself an Arthur. In terms of the total electorate it is not statistically significant in any way at all.

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