Europe needs a plan.

Wrote this last year…

And it is as much about where Europe is not heading as where it is.

If you ever want to increase your general euroscepticism, spend a few days hanging around EU institutions. The sheer complexity of getting anything done, in a union of 27 countries with competing political systems, national prejudices and hangups is nothing as compared to a certain type of EU official you meet for whom the answer to ever problem is…go on, guess.

More Europe.

Let me be very clear: I’m a European federalist. I believe in a United States of Europe. But that does not mean that I think that every solution involves Brussels. Indeed, I could even be convinced that maybe some existing powers should be returned to the member states.

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What if…King Charles III sought a democratic mandate?

The British prime minister brushed her sweeping blonde hair back from her eyes, giving herself a moment to consider what the new king had just asked her. It had to be said: Charles had taken on the mantle of sovereign before her eyes, with surprising ease.

Yes, he had spent his whole life waiting for this moment, as had the country, but the transformation from gangly awkward youth to a more well-filled figure had made him look, quite simply, more like a king.

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What will actually happen if Marine Le Pen wins?

Let’s cut to the proverbial chase: what will Marine Le Pen do if she reaches the Elysee? The truth is that we don’t know, and neither, probably, does she. As we witnessed with Brexiteers and Trump: often the populists don’t have a plan beyond winning.

She’s given clues, of course. She’s said she will withdraw France once again (as de Gaulle did) from NATO’s military command (but not seemingly NATO itself) and it’s not unreasonable to think that she will stop French support for Ukraine. She has suggested that she does not feel France is bound by NATO’s article 5 guarantee to defend any NATO member that is attacked. If true, that is huge, because France is physically vital to NATO’s defence of Europe. A Europe without French access will struggle to be supplied by the US. It would, in short, be an act of treason against Europe.

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The High Risk Voter.

Whatever happens in the French presidential election, there is a reality that will need to be confronted. It’s a phenomenon we have seen in the last two US presidential elections, in the Brexit referendum, and will no doubt be a feature in future elections.
It is the huge danger caused by reckless voters.
Now, let me be clear: this is not your standard Metropolitan Globalist Liberal (of which I am all three) complaining about how disappointed I am about people who don’t share my views, or their level of intelligence or prejudice. I accept that there are many decent people who voted for Trump, Brexit and yes, even Marine Le Pen. People who in many cases did not share the more extreme views of those candidates.
I even accept that there are people, particularly non-urban, low-income and low-educational achievers who vote for candidates I would regard as extremist because they simply feel they are being ignored by the mainstream parties. I get that too., and it may surprise you that I don’t blame them.
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What if…Ireland changed its voting system?

There are perennials of Irish political debate, and none more perennial than “We need to get rid of multi-seat constituencies” as the solution to all our political woes. If only we got rid of the “parish pump” competition at local level, we’d get a better standard of TD.

There’s also a growing body in the country who have latched on to the “nobody voted for this coalition government” argument, and are yearning for a British-style election result, where one party (usually) clearly wins regardless of how the actual people of that country actually vote. Nobody may have voted for this government, but they didn’t vote for any other one either.

It’ll never happen, of course. The Irish people have been asked twice before to change the voting system, and have refused for clear reason. PR-STV isn’t going anywhere: in fact, I suspect it would be next to impossible to even get the referendum bill past the Oireachtas, never mind win a referendum. The most a government might get away with is reducing the constituency seats to three seaters, which would hurt small parties and give larger parties a seat bonus.

But even that’s risky: FG/Lab tried the infamous “Tullymander” in the 1977 general election, and it rebounded on them spectacularly giving FF the biggest majority in Irish history.

But if it were to happen, what would be the outcome? It depends on the alternative system. The most popular system on the continent, a list system, where people vote for a party and it fills seats based on the share of the vote it gets from a list of candidates, is unlikely to be accepted here. Most Irish voters wants to vote for an individual.

As a result, the most likely options are First Past The Post (FPTP) or STV in single seat constituencies (also known as the Alternative Vote). Either would be a radical change, but both would have side effects which I suspect would not please advocates of change.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system on Earth, a point its British advocates make a lot of noise about. Indeed, during the AV referendum in 2011, one of the main arguments used against the Irish electoral system was that it was too complicated for British voters. FPTP involves making a mark against a single candidate, and the most marks win. It allows a party to win a majority of the seats with a minority of the vote and is most likely to deliver a clear single party government even if a majority of the voters didn’t vote for it.  In 2005 it got Tony Blair a 60 seat majority despite 65% of voters not voting for him. Justin Trudeau got the most seats in the last two Canadian elections despite coming second to the Tories in votes. If you like your voting system to just vomit out results with occasionally a tangential link to how actual voters vote, FPTP is the one for you. It’s used in the UK, India, Canada, parts of the US and within some PR systems.

The Alternative Vote is used in Australia and is basically the same system we use in Ireland in presidential elections and  by-elections. It tends to create a de facto two-party system, as small parties rarely win seats, although their preferences do often decide the outcome, unlike FPTP.

Either system would be far less proportional than PRSTV, but it’s worth bearing in mind the role political culture would play hand in hand with either system. In the 1990s, hoping create a new more decisive political culture, Italy introduced FPTP for 75% of the seats in the lower house, with a 25% party list top-up. Whilst it did lead to some consolidation of parties, it also led to parties doing deals to stand down against each other in specific constituencies.

If Ireland switched to a single-seat system under either FPTP or AV, the number of constituencies would jump from 43 large ones currently to 168 much smaller ones (many the size of council wards), most with a nominal sitting deputy. But it would also open up a huge swathe of constituencies for parties that have no seat in them. For Sinn Fein and (probably) Fine Gael this would suit them, assuming they’d lead in many constituencies and would hope for transfers to get to the very high 50%+1 quota (under AV) or just the most votes under FPTP. For smaller parties, and I’m assuming FF in this (rightly or wrongly) there’d be a choice, be also-rans under FPTP or transfer fodder under AV. But there’d be alternatives too.

Under FPTP, FF, Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats, all with sitting TDs, could form a pact and run a single “Alliance” candidate in each constituency, giving them a chance at least. It wouldn’t be easy: all four parties would have members with problems, but FPTP is unforgiving. Get your shit together or see your votes just be ignored, especially as SF and FG would both be telling those parties voters that they were wasting their votes or helping the other big party by voting for the alliance.

AV would offer a similar challenge, although without the vote wastage of FPTP. Given the need to reach 50% of the vote, it’s not impossible that the two big parties might be willing to do a deal with smaller parties, even standing down in some constituencies or promising Seanad seats in return for transfer endorsements. Both would actively need transfers unlike under FPTP. One issue with AV would be the challenge for SF to get transfers even if it has an impressive first preference lead nationally. It’s not impossible that, as happened to FF in the 2011 election, preferences keeping going against SF to the extent (and angry frustration of SF supporters) that SF loses seats narrowly to other parties despite having, in their eyes, clearly “won” the election in terms of having come first in votes.

Interestingly, both systems could seriously hurt the Alphabet Left who would struggle to reach the vote levels requires to come first or meet the quota.

Either system would make a single party government more likely, although AV would require much greater voter consent. Having said that, the backroom dealing that permeates Irish politics could still result in a tiny number of TDs holding even more power than they do now. After all, even if Kerry or Tipp were transformed into multiple single-seat constituencies, would you absolutely rule out Michael Lowry or the Healy-Raes taking some of them?

The Great Low Tax Shoutdown

It’s funny the way a phrase enters the political lexicon. From Garrett Fitzgerald’s “flawed pedigree” to Albert Reynolds’ “that’s women for you”, there’s no guarantee that the meaning of the phrase will remain attached to the original intention of the speaker. The response to Leo Varadkar’s remark about “people who get up early in the morning” was fascinating. People on the Consensus Left commentariat immediately described it as an attack on anyone not working for whatever reason, and Fine Gael basically backed away and if not exactly disowned the remark certainly didn’t nail it to the proverbial political mast.

The funny thing is that, in my experience, there were large sections of the country who agreed with it, and not just the wealthy or professional classes either. They saw it not as an attack on welfare (there’s hardly any anti-welfare vote in any class in this country) but an endorsement of the ordinary workers who pay the taxes that fund everything.

Yet they were basically shouted off the stage by the Consensus Left who are to current political debate what the Catholic lay fanatics were to the state in its first fifty years of existence. I mention the Catholic lay fanatics because I was reminded this week of the disruption of Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars” by Catholic fundamentalists because there was reference to prostitution in the play, and its significance. The shouting down of social reality in a play not because it is a social issue but because the playwright dared to raise it in contravention of the then Catholic consensus.

We are, as a country, incredibly susceptible to groupthink, and the latest concept to be hoisted up before the people as a golden calf to be worshipped is the idea that “nobody wants tax cuts”. Wait and see when I post this on Twitter: I’ll be inundated with people telling me that I’m a Thatcherite neo-liberal (I’m actually more left wing than most of those who attack me. I support property taxes, for one) but more importantly, those attacking will trip over themselves to try to suggest that those advocating tax reduction are a tiny and unrepresentative minority out of step with the majority.

It’s bollocks. Don’t get me wrong: there is a very significant section of the country who will always support increased public spending over tax reduction, and many of them do not benefit from it directly, aside from the No Tax Cuts people who curiously insist upon talking in Take Home Pay terms. But talk to non-political people about politics, and time after time two issues do light up the eyes. The first is that sentences for violent crimes seem to be very light, and the second is that taxes are higher than is fair.

At this point in the debate, I normally get the “I would happily pay higher taxes for better services” people come galloping down the hill. And why not? It’s a very noble position, and perfectly reasonable. I’m not an ideological big government/small government person. Sometimes big government is needed: it wasn’t a sub-contracted private security firm that fought its way up Omaha beach. But the Happily Pay gang are very specific about what they’re against: “You can stick your €5 tax cut!”. But ask them what specifically giving the HSE the extra €100m extra instead of a €5 tax cut will get, in detail, in terms of specific service improvement, and suddenly the charging horde does a Holy Grail and runs away. They don’t like talking value for public spending.

It’s the strangest thing: once the concept of more money is agreed, they lose interest, with little interest in how its spent.

What’s more noticeable is how the centre-right in Ireland have bought the logic, almost apologizing for the idea that Irish workers might keep a little more of their own money. It’s simply wrong. There’s little reason to believe that visible tax reduction is an unpopular concept. After all, its chief opponents are people who will never not vote left anyway.

Having said that, let me bang on once again for the argument that FG should be advocating tax rebates rather than tax cuts. A bit of showmanship here is worth the effort: let the tax payers hold the lump sum cheque in their hands as a tangible example of tax reduction. Indeed, as the next general election approaches, it can be postdated for after the election, so that a new government would have the right to cancel the cheques. Let that be something worth debating in the next party leaders debate.

 

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The EU can’t create an army. But it can buy fighters.

There’s a lot of talk in the current climate about that great Continental mirage, a European Army. It’ll never happen, not unless there’s a radical change in the European situation. Even a Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to shake up the complacency of Europeans on defence issues.
However, with a bit of imagination Europe could help itself make a leap towards better self defence. One of the problems facing European defence is that the countries that are serious about defence (normally as a result of proximity to the Russian border) lack the financial resources to buy the high-cost tanks, fighters, drones and command and control systems and training needed to operate them. Poland and the Baltic States take their defence seriously, and with that the defence of Europe, but lack the cash of the less enthused.
So here’s a thought: what if the EU invested in the fighters and other equipment needed, buying them directly, and leased them to the frontline states? It would allow the frontline states to spend their limited resources on training and maintaining their service numbers. It would also allow the EU to ensure compatibility, and invest in military technology as the vast majority of the equipment would be bought and manufactured in Europe.                    I suspect it might be one defence issue where European consensus might be possible: European governments have traditionally been quite enthusiastic about selling weapons. 
Of course, there’d have to be safeguards to prevent countries using it as an excuse to cut their own defence budgets. But that’s the beauty of it: put in a minimum NATO style minimum defence spend and it’ll only be the enthusiastic countries that will be able to access it anyway.
And Ireland? Would we benefit from it? Not without increasing our defence spending. But it might allow us to spend more on paying our soldiers, sailors and airmen to actually stay in the Defence Forces. As for drawing down funds for capital defence big spends, one or two submarines wouldn’t go amiss for keeping an eye on our vital undersea cables, nor an A400M Airbus military transport for getting our citizens out of hotspots like Afghanistan. We could even share fighter pilot training costs with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and acquire that other novelty: sovereign Irish airspace. 

Do voters expectations now exceed what a democratic government can reasonably deliver?

Previously published in The Irish Independent:

Congratulations. You’ve just been whizzed back to Leinster House accompanied by speeding Garda outriders. You were just in Arás an Uachtaran where the wealthiest communist sympathiser in the country gave you your seal of office as the new minister for finance. Within hours you’ll be sitting at your desk in the Department of Finance, looking at a list.
Go on, try it. 
Put the following groups in order of who is most deserving of more resources (what we used to call taxpayer cash), with you saying that the ones near the top are more deserving, and the ones further down less deserving. 

Nurses.

Other HSE staff.

The rest of the public service.

Mental health services.

Cancer support services.

Capital expenditure.

University funding.

Childcare.

Jobseekers benefits.

Pandemic payments.

Children’s Allowance.

Care home services.

Social housing.

Homeless services.

Reform of Direct Provision.

Defence Forces pay.

Garda numbers.

Flood relief.

Water services.

Pandemic preparation.

Overseas Aid.

Arts funding.

RTE funding.

Irish language funding.

EU budget contribution (CAP).

Rainy day fund.

United Ireland fund.

SME support.

Regional and rural development support.

IDA grants.

Old Age pensions.

Servicing the national debt.

Public service pensions.

It’s some list, and I’m sure I’ve missed lots of worthy causes and sectors. 

But imagine being the minister looking at that list with a finite amount of money and every single vested interest behind each one of those areas not just demanding existing funds but looking for more. 
Not just demanding more but not giving the slightest toss about all the other competing groups. Their message is that they want less than the total budget as a whole and you don’t want to give it to them because you are one of history’s most uncaring monsters. And the next one will say the exact same. And the next one. 
That’s not even counting the people (often from the exact same groups demanding more cash) demanding that income tax, VAT, property tax or commercial rates be reduced, each one reducing your revenue and ability to meet the above demands.  
What would you do? The sensible thing to do is to prioritise on some, but even that is full of dangers. Favour business in the hope of generating more tax revenue from economic growth and you’ll be told you’re favouring the rich. Favour welfare and you will never ever hear its lobby group say “Actually, that’s enough, thanks very much.” 
Every one you favour will result in howls of anguish from every other group that they The Vulnerable are being neglected and you just don’t care. A good section of the country will say you’re hurting them deliberately. 
You’ll probably end up doing what every Irish finance minister does: try and spread the money as thinly as possible in a nearly always failed attempt to pacify as many as possible and instead unite a huge chunk of the country against you. Each group pretends that it is operating in a vacuum. No problem ever gets enough resources to close the file, if that is even possible. 
What you almost certainly won’t do is start an honest debate about the nature of public spending in Ireland. That we now live in a society where a majority of the population expect far more from their government than it can actually hope to deliver, and resent having to pay taxes for what they are currently getting. 
That our political culture is permeated by politicians who make vague promises that cannot even be measured, never mind delivered, and voters who essentially ask to be lied to. 
Even Irish governments that do quite well, which is most of them by international standards, become rapidly loathed by their voters because they can’t meet the overhyped expectations that got them elected in the first place. 
We’re currently reduced to the spectacle of Willie O’Dea and Mary Lou McDonald furiously competing to see who can ram more free money down the throats of voters with little regard for the long-time financing of our public finances. Compassion, wellness, solidarity and social justice are deemed valued assets in public finance debates, although not when actual public spending is being decided. Tell an NGO they’re getting a 10% increase in solidarity and they’ll tell you to shove it, hands grabbing for the greasy till just like the rest of us. 
Politicians promising the moon on a stick is not surprising. It’s been going on since Willicus Odeaicus Publicus Spendicus promised more free bread and bloodier Circus Maximuses (“You’ve seen humans eaten by lions! Well, I promise lions trampled by elephants!”). The complete unwillingness of politicians to even attempt to educate the public as to the rod they’ve made for their own backs is surreal. They literally keep secret the huge and undeliverable pressure they put themselves under from the public for no good reason I can muster, instead letting nonsense about how the rich or business pay no taxes ferment and help their populist opponents promise yet more and bigger elephants.
Here’s a thought: if it’s impossible for Irish centrist politicians to educate their voters, is it time someone else do it? Is it time for ISME, IBEC and the SFA to take on the task of running a public campaign to confront voters not with a campaign to convince but the simple realities about public spending and taxation. Given our reluctance to cut the €5 billion a year that goes to NGOs and charities in Ireland to lobby government, would it be the worst thing in the world to set up an NGO to put simple economic facts in front of voters? 

In fairness, there’s probably a grant available.     

Can only a Stalin save the world?

StalinPreviously posted in 2014…

There’s a common theme in many science fiction stories of humanity making great sacrifices to ensure the survival of the species. One of the most prevalent features of such stories is the creation of a vessel or bunker to ensure that a group of highly skilled humans survive whatever the imminent catastrophe is. As stories go they’re wonderful tales of Man at his most noble, sacrificing himself so that the great idea of humanity itself can survive.

It’s all, of course, absolute bollocks. The reality is that humanity would be incapable of dealing with such a situation. Supposing, say, the US Government announced that it had detected a massive unstoppable asteroid heading towards Earth. The right would deny the science and announce that it was just a socialist plot to raise taxes to build a space ark. The left would say it was a conspiracy by the military-industrial complex to divert money from social spending. Iran would blame the Jews. Someone would blame the gays, and so on.

Even if both sides did finally agree that the destruction of Earth was imminent, picture the blazing rows of how we’d choose who was to go in the space ark. The fights over sex, religion, colour, gender, transgender and that’s before Russia and China’s best and brightest nominees just happen to be from the most powerful families in their respective lands. In the west we’d have endless debates. Why should those fancy scientists get all the seats, the vox pops will say? Why are we sending a load of nerds into space and not J-Lo? Why not a TV show where the public and minor celebrities can compete for seats? I’m A Celeb Get Me Off This Doomed Rock? Picture the reaction of Americans and Europeans when they see a crew that resembles humanity, made up mostly of Asians and Africans.

Space ark? We’d have annihilated ourselves in the war over places on board way before the asteroid ever reached us.

Today, in the US, large numbers of conservatives believe they’re entitled to a version of science which matches their political prejudices. In Europe large numbers of left-wing voters believe they can vote themselves early retirement and better pensions and a welfare state without confronting the ugly right-wing reality of how to pay for it. In Ireland, some voters are getting indignant at the idea of paying for water. This is the age where feeling strongly about something is, for many, as legitimate as the rational facts.

Consider climate change: even amongst those people who do accept the science, there’s a reluctance to actually support measures that could prevent further change but would involve anything but the most minor changes to our consumerist lifestyles. We’re not talking about separating paper from plastic here, and we’re doing ourselves no favours pretending it is that easy. If we are genuinely serious about the changes needed to prevent further environmental damage to the planet, we are talking about massive restriction on private car ownership and air travel along with huge reductions in food and consumer product to save the planet for PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN BORN YET. This from a society that bitches when petrol prices increase? From a society that objects to mandatory pensions for people who will actually need those pensions in their own lifetime?

Forget it. It isn’t going to happen. Mankind has crossed over the tipping point where emotion and consumer desire triumphs rational analysis. You reading this will probably not see the end of life on this planet. But your grandchildren might.

But that’s not even the scary bit. The scary bit is what I call the Stalin factor. It’s that awkward bit of history we don’t talk about. The fact that in order to destroy Nazism we needed a monster like Stalin  willing to brutally command and sacrifice millions of Russians. If Stalin had been a nice liberal democrat Russia would have been defeated by Hitler. Awkward, I know, but probably true.

When humanity faces a life ending event, it won’t be the consensus building Obamas or Merkels or Camerons that will seize power and do what needs to be done, but some monster who will sacrifice millions to save the rest of us. Who’ll bomb the countries that refuse to reduce their CO2 emissions. Who’ll use directed, possibly forced labour and penal taxation to build the vast sea walls to protect us from the rising waters. Who’ll jail the protestors who oppose new nuclear plants and gas pipes and wind farms and vast solar arrays blighting our landscape or try to defend their right to own a family car. Who’ll put on trial the people who secretly try to keep cattle or pigs or even private farmland. Who’ll occupy Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran and Kuwait to secure control of the deadly substance destroying humanity. Who’ll nationalise oil and energy companies and force them to develop new technologies and execute the board members and stockholders who try to protect their wealth.

The reality, the awful grim reality, is that when the chips are down it’ll be up to some absolute bastard to save humanity.

How to use your ballot most effectively.

One of the great mysteries of the age is that we have exported Aonghus McAnally’s “The Lyrics Board” (remember that?) to more countries than we have our electoral system, the Single Transferable Vote. 

It’s a funny one, because STV is probably the most empowering voting system on the planet. It’s fair in that it is reasonably proportional, it lets geographic areas have a clear representative, and it allows voters to personally choose their representatives. 

It also allows voters to vote the way human beings actually vote, as opposed to the weird “My party is perfect, your party should be executed for crimes against decency” approach many party hacks seem to sign up to. 

STV lets voters really like those guys, hate those other guys and meh the rest.

It also has a built-in feature that almost no other voting system has. It permits you to vote for your favorite candidate and stick the electoral knife Agatha Christie deep into the back of that one candidate you really really want to keep out.     

It is by far the best voting system in the world to watch as a spectator support. Indeed, I’m surprised RTE don’t release an election count highlight DVD after every election. 

The first count result is not always the absolute decider of all the winners, and transfers allow for last minute Millenium Falcon On Its Side Speeding Through Closing Blast Doors drama comebacks. If the CNN were covering our elections, we’d have theme music for everything from the first count to transfers to the final seat, and a Wolf Blitzer (Politics nerds will get this reference) hologram live from the count centre in Laois-Offaly. 

If you’re a sadist, it’s the political system designed to taunt and dangle false hope in front of politicians who thought their seat was safe/lost and are now mocked often down to the last count. If you asked Schrodinger to design a voting system, he’d come up with this.  

It’s a voting system Dante would have loved, save for the fact that Lucifer would probably look at Irish politics and thinks “Eh, no thanks lads, even I have to look at myself in the mirror occasionally. Also: is that RHI scheme thing still open? Actually, how did those DUP canvassers even find our front door?”    

I bring it up because every time there is an election I get a flurry of messages, online and personally, from friends, relatives and readers asking how to vote. 

Most political cronies I know are the same. 

It’s an indictment, by the way, as to how badly civics was taught (or not) in our schools, and also the failure of FG and Labour to deliver the much-promised electoral commission tasked with running and educating all things election. I never saw a copy of the constitution until I found one by accident in a local newsagent, and bought it, which is also an indictment of my sadly un-misspent youth.  

People do know how to vote, but it’s the subtleties of the Single Transferable Vote that give rise to all sorts of myths and questions. Here’s a few of them. 

  1. Cast your first preference for the person you really want. This sounds so obvious, but it’s true. Don’t try to second guess other voters. Yes, parties try to get people to vote tactically, and if your party winning an extra seat is your primary goal then vote tactically. But remember, in the great majority of constituencies the people who come first to fifth, depending on how many seats are in the constituency, tend to fill the seats in the end. First preferences matter the most, because they are the only vote that will definitely be counted.
  2. You decide where your vote goes, not the parties. A clear preference must be visible to the returning officer before he transfers a vote. Your ballot paper is written permission from you to the returning officer who to transfer to and who not to.  
  3. Your preferences cannot affect your later preferences. This is another perennial that seems to have emerged from the mists of psephology. When a lower preference has been reached (2,3,4 etc) it means that the candidate beforehand has been either elected or eliminated for having the least votes available, and so is out of competition for preferences. 
  4. Do not write anything other than numbers on your ballot paper, as anything else may be taken as a sign of political intimidation: that you have been bullied into voting for a certain candidate and have put a mark on the ballot to prove to count observers that you have done what you promised.  
  5. If you want to really try to stop an individual getting elected, give a preference to every other candidate. This means that your vote is available to help any candidate fighting your most hated candidate. The more preferences you leave blank means the less help your vote can potentially be to other candidates. If there is a group of candidates you hate equally, leave them all blank. It means that none of them can help stop any other of them.
  6. No, spoiled or blank ballots do not “automatically go to the government”. I hear this every year, and I have no idea where it comes from.    

We, the people of Malta, and Australia are the only people lucky enough to use STV in national elections. It has its flaws: it makes TDs get a version of the bends if they’re out of their constituency longer than 12 hours, and obsess about the effect of fairies on municipal road planning, but as voter choice goes, it’s hard to beat.