Stop voting for lizards; start voting for people.

In So Long and Thank for All The Fish, the elegiac fourth book of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, Douglas Adams gives us this conversation between Arthur, a very ordinary Earth-man, and Ford, his best friend who he thought was from Guildford but turned out to be from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse:

Ford explained, “On [that] world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.

And this, of course, is exactly how democracy works in Britain.  Everyone who supports a candidate other than one of the lizards of a constituency — the two candidates who are ahead in the polls — throws away their chance to vote on the person they actually want to win, and instead votes for the lesser of two lizards.

Today, for the first and only time in a generation, we have a chance to change that.

If you are British, and sick of spending your vote on the least bad lizard rather than on the actual person you want to win, then please leave your computer right now and go and vote in the AV referendum.  Vote YES TO AV, and in all future elections you will be able to rank the candidates: “I like the person best, but the green lizard is my second choice if the person doesn’t get a majority”.

And by the way, that’s all AV is: “the green lizard is my second choice if the person doesn’t get a majority”.  Anyone who’s told you AV is too complicated to understand is either (A) very stupid indeed, or more likely (B) lying.  because no-one is that stupid.

Seriously, fellow Brits.  FIfteen hundred miles away, Libyans are literally laying their lives down for the right to say who they want to represent them.  All that’s required of us is to walk down to the local polling station and tick a YES box.  Please: if you’ve ever complained about how our politicians don’t represent us and the people who do represent us can’t get elected; if you’re sick of having to choose between two lizards; if you care about democracy at all — then get out and vote YES TO AV.  You have until 10 pm tonight.

Addendum: if you agree that this is important and want to help get the word out, please consider upvoting this article on Reddit or on Hacker News — experience shows that these sites can easily generate an order of magnitude more traffic than the usual mechanisms.  Long-time readers will know I have never asked for upvotes before, and I won’t again.  But this is both urgent and important for how my country is run.

23 responses to “Stop voting for lizards; start voting for people.

  1. Daniel Binau

    So where do you stand on the whole AV issue by the way? :-)

  2. (Daniel: sorry to have thrashed this one so much in the last few days. You’ll appreciate that it’s the kind of topic that has to be discussed now or never — in less than ten hours, the referendum will be over, and whatever I might say after that will have no effect on the outcome. I thank all non-UK readers for bearing with me during this important moment.)

  3. Daniel Binau

    No worries – I’m politically active myself and I actually think it’s a very interesting subject.
    Just couldn’t help poking fun at you after the third post on the subject – especially since you started the sequence by stating you would never write about politics again :-)

  4. > And this, of course, is exactly how democracy works in Britain.

    Not only in Britain, it works the same way in Poland. Here J. Kaczyński and PiS are the “Wrong Lizards” :)
    Democracy is just full of crap based on fear :)

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  6. Don’t vote. Democracy sucks. Well, if you are in Belgium or at some place where non voting gives trouble, obviously don’t be stupid…

    [Mike says: this was held for moderation and I wasn’t sure whether to let it through, since it seems to completely lack substance, but I generally allow anything except spam so here it is.]

  7. Gareth Jones

    Democracy does indeed suck. But all the other systems suck much much more. (Sorry, can’t remember the original quote.)

  8. Remember – the sole legitimate purpose of government is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals. We don’t have elections so that everyone can feel as if he’s had his say, we have elections because they serve to limit the ability of the government to descend into tyranny.

    Democracy is not the goal. Freedom is the goal, democracy is simply one of the means.

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  10. I’m becoming sufficiently disillusioned to believe that the lizard theory of elections holds for all de facto democracies, but it still is better than everything else we’ve tried.

    @gareth winston churchill said it; I think he must be responsible for half the quotes in the english lexicon.

    @jeff dege yes, but this way you would have fewer extremely unhappy (and possibly unfree — because the “tyranny of the majority” is lessened) voters. Additionally: if you get a second choice more people might take the long shot and vote the green party or libertarian? (I don’t know all the parties sorry. I find my own country’s system sordidly complicated enough to keep track of.)

    good luck to you guys anyway.

  11. Paul Winkler

    Is it the same as “instant runoff”?

  12. Yes, AV is another name (and IMHO a less descriptive one) for the process also known as Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV.

  13. Paul Brown

    Sadly it appears that it was all for naught; according to the news the “No” vote has already won before the counting has even ended.

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  15. I like Jeff’s vision. It does not work (many dictators were elected, think about the most famous of them) but that’s a funny cynical view on the thing.
    What do you all think about registered voters who don’t even bother any more? Are they stupid? If so, why democracy in the first place? So they are not stupid. So what? Huh? What? They are not represented so they don’t move their body to put the paper in the box. Period. Democracy does not work.
    You are all very naïve (I dare the french spelling).
    Anyway, what do I care… (I promise it’s my last comment, I won’t annoy any longer.) (Not constructive, but no one cares, right?) (We all have our illusions…)

  16. hi Mike,

    Really looking forward to your next doctor who rev!

  17. I just now ran across your post while doing a search and I have to say that while your election may now be two years past, your remarks in the above article are totally relevant and will likely remain an accurate description of the human condition until the end of the age. We in third party politics here in America wrestle with the exact same mentality. Though I’ve seen some of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV shows, I hadn’t read the books and was unaware of the “wrong lizard” description of our political state of affairs until a friend referred to it on a podcast recently. I might have to share your post with some political friends here in the U.S. in an attempt to popularize you “lesser of two lizards” line – I love it!

    While those in my political circle have generally supported the concept of your “AV Referendum” (which we call “ranked choice voting” or “instant runoff voting” – IRV), I don’t expect things will actually change until people find the courage of their professed convictions. Down through history, it is those with courage who stand up and change things while those unwilling to make a sacrifice or pay a price settle for living in quiet desperation, destined to be ruled by lizards.

  18. Thanks for these kinds words, Robert. I’m afraid the passage of time has not dimmed my sadness or fury at having lost this vote. As I watch our unelected representatives make one appalling, short-sighted, mean-spirited decision after another, it stings ever more painfully that tactics prevented us all from voting for who we actually wanted.

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