As in COP26, we need to cooperate both in conferences and parliaments on climate change, Covid and governing

A letter from Peter Emerson of the de Borda Institute:

By Letters
Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 2:33 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 3:01 pm
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

If it is right for countries to work in consensus, as in COP26, political parties within countries should do the same. Sadly, of the world’s stable democracies, only Switzerland enjoys permanent, all-party power-sharing.

Now on a global scale, the Marshall Islands, a Pacific archipelago of just 60,000 people, are a minority. But no majority of others has the right to ignore their plight; indeed, it is largely through the islanders’ efforts that the world has come to accept the wisdom of a 1.5’C threshold of world temperature rise.

In a word, Climate Change (and Covid) are telling us all to cooperate.

Consensus both in conferences and parliaments could be facilitated by the use of non-binary voting procedures. In 1949, post-war Germany understood how binary voting in the pre-war Weimar Republic had eventually led to the rise of Hitler.

Accordingly, today, Germany uses ‘a constructive vote of no confidence’: if you don’t like Chancellor A then, be positive, propose an alternative, Chancellor B.

A similar approach could be used in decision-making. In the US Senate, for example, if the Republican Party doesn’t like Joe Biden’s environmental package, it could draft a (doubtless very different) ‘plan B’. If Senator Manchin doesn’t like either, he could propose ‘plan C’.

And not all Republicans are tarred by the Trumpian brush, so that could be ‘plan D’. Thus the introduction of preference decision-making could well help to break up the excessively binary nature of US politics.

With rotating Taoisigh, Ireland is half-way there; the second half could involve changing from a binary to a pluralist democracy: on any one controversy, the Dáil of, say, six parties might have (up to) six options ‘on the table’ (and computer screen/dedicated web-page), and TDs could debate and then cast their preferences to see which option has the highest average preference. (This preferential points system of voting was originally proposed by Cardinal Nicholas Cusanus in 1433.)

If the UK were also to accept power-sharing, it could reform its electoral system and then accept the concept of a National Government and power-sharing based on preferential decision-making.

Other changes from the host might help the COP: ban oil exploration and new coal fields, scrap airport expansions, increase air fares, stop sending diesel gunboats to the Crimea, resume 0.7% aid to the poorest, and pursue nuclear disarmament. But Boris Johnson should also share power with Keir Starmer and others in Westminster.

Peter Emerson, Director, the de Borda Institute, Belfast BT14

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