Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 17 June 2010

One person - seven votes

'I doubt if history can show, in any country at any time, a more greedy form of government than democracy as practised in Great Britain in the last fifty years. The common man has held the voting power, and the common man has voted consistently to increase his own standard of living, regardless of the long-term interests of his children, regardless of the wider interests of his country.

No despot, no autocratic monarch in his pride and greed has injured England so much as the common man. Every penny that could be wrung out of the nation has been devoted to raising the standard of living of the least competent elements in the country, who have held the voting power.'

Not my words, but those of a character in Nevil Shute’s speculative 1953 novel ‘In the Wet’. Like Orwell five years earlier, Shute sets his narrative in a dystopian vision of the 1980's to make political comment. He presents a radical solution; in his book, other commonwealth countries have adopted a system of multiple votes*.

An Australian explains the system to English friends: “I’m a three-vote man – basic, education and foreign travel” Everyone, he says, has a basic vote, university graduates get a second one and the third is for working abroad for at least two years.

Another vote is for raising two children to the age of fourteen – though only for couples who stay married. There’s an extra vote for significant business achievement and another for holding a paid position in the church. And finally there’s the Royal Charter – an extra vote to reward exceptional military service.

Shute’s novel has fallen into disfavour – hardly surprising, when the mixed race hero is known to his friends as ‘Nigger'; the book contains enough casual racism and sexism to keep the EHRC frothing at the mouth for weeks – but it would be interesting to hear his ideas debated at large.

After all, there’s something horribly prescient in some of the opinions he wrote nearly sixty years ago.

*As have certain British inner city areas today - unofficially.


  1. "Shute’s novel has fallen into disfavour..."

    'On The Beach' is still as good as any modern 'horrors of war' novel...

  2. JuliaM - I agree! I'd have mentioned it, but the post was getting too long.