Glossary of Political Terms

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Australian Context

laissez-faire

Fr. for “allow to do”. An economic system with total or near total abstinence of state interference.

Leader of the House

A lower house MP of the ruling party who has been appointed to organise and arrange the various proceedings of that house.

left wing

see ‘right wing / left wing’

Levellers

An early grass roots, neo-libertarian, urban, political group which existed  in the UK during and after the English Civil War. They advocated self ownership, electoral reform, separation of powers, limited use of the death penalty, religious toleration, and removal of government restrictions on trade and land use. Were given the name by the privileged aristocracy and wealthy traders who feared their estates would be levelled.

lèse-majesté

Fr. for ‘injured majesty’.The ancient crime of violating the dignity of the sovereign. Recognized in some contemporary jurisdictions as a law to prevent libel or slander against a ruling or visiting head of state.

liberal democracy

A vague term to reflect democracy controlled by restraints that only allow the seemingly good. Ie. A constitution or entrenched common law that protects such institutions as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, a moderately free market, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, separation of powers, minority rights and the notion of the individual.

liberalism
(small l)

Loosely described as a modern philosophy which favours change for change’s sake, as well as encompassing a compromising and compassionate attitude to personal lifestyle, law and order, foreign affairs and immigration, where policy decisions are often orientated towards those in more straitened circumstances.

liberalism (classic)

A philosophy advocating the rights of the individual as against the state or church as espoused by such eighteenth century English writers as John Locke and J.S. Mill. Causes advocated would be Laissez Faire economics, freedom of speech, the rule of law, extension of the franchise, amelioration in penal practices, and changing views on relations between the sexes and the upbringing of children. In modern times Classic Liberals have become either libertarians or small ‘l’ liberals.

libertarianism

A political philosophy of self reliance, reason and maximum non-interference by the state in matters of both economic and personal affairs. Straddling both left and right, a libertarian would believe in the right to bear arms, access to IVF or hallucinatory drugs for any adult, a free market capitalist economy and the abolition of censorship.

limited government

A right wing concept that espouses the practice that any public service that could reasonably be solely supplied by the market, or harmful action that could be self regulated or otherwise controlled by public censure, should be.

limited war

A war, often not formally declared, fought to obtain specific political / territorial objectives, rather than to obtain the unconditional surrender of the enemy.

list system P.R.

Above and below the line proportional representation voting. Voters do not have to cast preferences but can tick above the line for the candidates/parties of their choice who themselves choose (before the election) the list of preferred other candidates to which their unused votes will go.

lower house

In Australia the House of Representatives or (state wide) the Legislative Assembly. Generally the more populous and influential legislative house. 

lobbyist

Someone who acts professionally to serve as a go-between for people or business with a complaint about specific legislation and the relevant government minister/secretary. It is in the interests for politicians to not only keep attuned of the effect of possibly problematic legislation but also to have that communicated in quick and efficient manner by an experienced and knowledgeable operator. The fact that corruption often occurs in the lobbying process does not deny that lobbying is still mostly a legitimate function. Term derived from hotel lobbies where politicians were originally approached by applicants.

logrolling

A practice in American legislatures where two or more members agree to support each other’s bills.

Luddites

Nineteenth century British tradesman who rebelled against the technology of the industrial revolution making them obsolete, by organising riots to destroy the textile machinery of the day. Named after a mythical King Ludd. Term now used to describe those opposed to technological  progress.

lumpenproletariat

Term for those in society Marx identified as the miscreants, lacking class consciousness and useless to the revolutionary struggle: beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployable.

luvvie

Derogatory term for pretentious artistic or theatrical people claiming and /or receiving special benefits or privileges.

mace

Large, intimidating, medieval, hand held weapon. Appears with the speaker in lower houses and used as a symbol of authority.

Machiavellian

Adjective to describe manipulative and cynical political activity where morals and principles have little account. Somewhat unfairly attributed to Renaissance political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote for an age where government and diplomacy had more life or death consequences.

maiden speech

The first ever speech  given by an MP in Parliament and traditionally granted the courtesy of no interjections.

majority preferential

Preferential voting in single member electorates.

malapportionment

Violating the concept of ‘one person one vote’, the existence of electorates of unequal population sizes yet still having the same number of representatives, whereby a partisan political party advantage can very often develop. The practice is still very common in the United Kingdom.

Thomas Malthus

Clergyman and political economist of the eighteenth century who theorised that the world’s population always grows faster than its food supply, and thus, rather than attempting to alleviate perpetual hunger by misguided compassion, one should allow inevitable famine, disease and war to act as natural retardants to population growth. M. argued from an empiricist point of view against the ideological, theoretical ideas of philosopher William Goldwin and other supporters of the French Revolution who believed in the perfectibility of human kind.

mandate

The alleged command, and thus authority, a winning political party has to institute its pre-election policies because of the fact it had a convincing win.

marginal seat

A S.M.V. electorate where the winning candidate/party only just won the last election and could well lose the next. Similar term in US presidential elections is “swing states”.

means testing

Limiting government benefits, such as a baby bonus or health care, to those below a certain income or accumulated wealth.

mendicant state

‘mendicant’ - Latin for begging. A state/province/territory that has not proved able to pay its own way and perpetually depends upon the generosity of other states for a significant part of its funding.

mercantilism

A broad, command type, economic doctrine, practised from the 16th to the 18th centuries, which predicated state power in international affairs as the predominate goal. Policies utilised would be: export subsidies; maintaining a positive balance of payments; developing colonies; forbidding trade to be carried in foreign ships; restricting colonies’ trade to only the mother country; maintaining a large as possible precious metal reserve; limiting domestic consumption such as with sumptuary laws.

mixed economy

An economic system which embraces some aspects of free enterprise together with elements of socialism.

monetarism

The theory that the economy is controlled by raising or lowering the money supply.

monocracy

Rule by one person (not necessarily anti-democratic).

monopoly

A situation where there is only one seller of a good or service due to either protection by legislation or the impracticality of other parties to enter the market.

monopsony

A single buyer market for goods or services. Opposite to monopoly.

moral relativism

Loosely described as a philosophical concept whereby an act universally identified as immoral in the home country is however excused when observed in another because of the culture or history of that country.

motherhood statement

A ‘feel good’ platitude supporting an uncontroversial cause that few would dare disagree with.

muckraker

A journalist / author whose goal is to only find the negative character traits / history of his subject. Term coined by Teddy Roosevelt in reference to a Pilgram’s Progress character with a muckrake who could only look down.

negative rights / positive rights

The right of self-mastery to do, or refrain from doing an action, or otherwise be free from interference, as compared to the right to gain a specific benefit that would in most cases have a monetary value. The right to speak freely / the right to having legal representation supplied when in court. Term derives from the obligation on society for supplying those rights: a positive obligation to supply the cost of a lawyer while there is no (negative) cost to allow someone freedom of speech.

NGO

A non-profit non-government organisation.

nimby

Not -In -My -Back -Yard. A pejorative term to describe opposition to any public policy decision, which in itself is considered beneficial, but may happen to cause discomfort, for geographical reasons or other, when it is actually put into practice. For example airports, prisons or power plants placed in one’s own vicinity, or austerity measures which may cause budget cuts also to those who thought they might have been excluded.

nomenklatura

The system of patronage for Party members applied during the existence of the USSR. A list of individuals drawn up by the Communist Party from which were selected candidates for vacant senior positions in the state, party, and other important organizations. From the Latin nomenclatura for ‘list of names’.

nomination

A prerequisite to standing as a political candidate. Made only after the writ for an election has been issued. A financial deposit (which will be returned on the candidate receiving a reasonable number of votes) must also be lodged.

OECD

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Founded in 1961 to stimulate world trade and economic progress, a group of 34 first world countries, committed to democracy and the market economy, who organise mutual plans to maintain taxation conventions and fiscal stability, combat corruption and bribery as well as other endeavours such as annual publications on the world economic outlook.

oligarchy

A form of government where rule is by the few and in their own interest.

ombudsman

A concept, originally Swedish, where parliament appoints a person to act as an official watchdog over bureaucracy on behalf of the public. On its own initiative or from public complaints, the Ombudsman will investigate government officials or departments and report its finding to parliament, whereupon action may be taken. The office of the Ombudsman itself has no power to penalise, although in some jurisdictions the Ombudsman can launch criminal prosecutions.

optional preferential voting

Preferential voting where one has the option to choose to mark off only the number of preferences as one wishes.

ordinary vote

As compared with a postal vote, a vote cast at a polling place in the elector's home division on polling day.

the Overton window

Modern concept advanced by political theorist Joseph Overton whereby there is a small window of political acceptable approaches on any given subject at any time and approaches / ideas not within the window would resultantly be considered extreme and politically unsafe for a politician to uphold. Thus most mainstream politicians only choose from policies within the window, or only publicly declare the policies they believe in, if and when the window should move in their direction.

pairing

An informal practice occurring in Parliamentary systems (where voting cannot be by proxy) where a member of one party will agree not to vote on a specific bill if an opposing member would prefer not to be present. The understanding is that the favour may be reciprocated at a later date.

palm tree justice

Expedient justice applied in good faith but absent of the rule of law: paying little or no attention to existing law, precedent or fundamental principles. Reminiscent of primitive societies where justice was received by the wise old man sitting under the palm tree.

parachute in

The central office of a political party appointing the candidate for a certain electorate at the next election, rather than the usual practice of being appointed by the local branch.

parliamentary privilege

The privilege while (physically) in Parliament that allows an MP to say anything without fear of prosecution for slander. Also Parliament itself has the privilege to summon, cross-examine, judge and punish entities that have deemed to offend against it. In Italy P.P. grants an MP immunity from arrest for criminal charges.

parliamentary government

A system of government where ultimate authority is vested in the legislative body. The cabinet, including the chief executive, is from, appointed by and responsible to, the legislature (the Parliament). Alternative to what is known as a presidential system, where both the legislature and executive are independently appointed by the voters.

participation rate

The share of the potential workforce (15-65, not institutionalised), working or seeking work.

party line voting

Despite the fact that MPs in Parliament ‘represent’ the residents of their specific electorates, at voting time they will almost always vote (unless an independent) strictly according to their party’s call, i.e. as directed by their leader rather than according to the wishes of their own constituents.

party list voting

Above the line only proportional representation voting. Voters do not cast preferences but the candidates/parties themselves choose (before the election) the list of preferred other candidates to which their unused votes will go.

patronage

That perquisite attached to winning political office, and thus the power of the executive, where benefits can be dispersed at one’s discretion. Examples would be appointing: ambassadors, heads to existing or made up quangos, heads to created councils for the advocacy of special causes, boards who dispense government “arts” and “community” grants, as well as creating government departments of genuine or dubious merit. In Canada the executive also has the privilege of appointing life members to the legislative upper house, the Senate.

Pax Romana

“The Roman peace”. The two centuries of relative peace and stability enforced by the Roman Empire upon its dominions during the period from approximately 27 BC to 180 AD.

perestroika

Term to denote political, bureaucratic or economic restructuring first coined by Mikhail Gorbachev with regards to the former Soviet Union.

Pericles

Esteemed Athenian leader of ancient Greece who, while advancing the material and cultural aspects of his city state, also did much to enhance democracy.

pettyfogging

Holding up a debate by quibbling or fussing over trivial, irrelevant matters.

photo op

A photo op (opportunity) is a situation where a politician accepts an invitation to, or arranges an event, or pseudo-event, where the setting and circumstances are such that they will attract the media and thus give him/her exposure.

platform

The political agenda of a candidate or party.

plausible deniability

The position a member of the executive or some person in charge of an organisation attempts to maintain, by keeping a distance from the control of certain operations or practices such that, if an operation ‘goes south’ and attracts unfavourable publicity, there is no evidence linking him or her to the chain of command.

plebiscite

A public vote to gauge public opinion on an issue (such as conscription) which does not affect the constitution nor is otherwise legally binding.   

plebeian /  patrician

The two citizen classes of ancient Rome. The allegedly course and crude, ordinary Plebeians and the wealthy, educated and aristocratic ‘born to rule’ Patricians. Both terms used today in a derogatory manner. US President G.H.W. Bush was often described as patrician due to his being born into a wealthy political family, treating political life as a duty rather than as an opportunity for reformist zeal, and allegedly not being in touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.

plutocracy

Government controlled by or greatly influenced by, the wealthy.

poison the well

When made aware of a new topic/program your opponent is about to discuss, to get in early and do your best to publicly criticise or deride the issue so as to ‘poison’ the public against having an open mind to your opponent’s suggestion.

political party status

Candidates with a common cause can register at an election as a party, and thus enjoy certain privileges such as ‘above the line’ placement and public funding if attaining a certain percentage of the vote, as long as they can present to officials the names and address of sufficient numbers of supporters. Certain P.P.S. privileges also apply to winning candidates of a party if their numbers reach a certain threshold.

politico

One interested or engaged in politics.

polity

Form or process of civil government; organized society; the state.

poll

A research survey as well as another word for an election.

polling place/booth

Numerous centres set up in each division to take the votes of the local people.

populace

The common people.

populist democracy

Ultimate democracy not restricted by a constitution or any other reviewing authority to the passage of legislation or executive orders. The alternative to liberal democracy.

populism

Political campaigning orientated towards true democracy (voting for specific benefits, liberties, law and order programs, etc.)  rather than representative democracy where one votes for a team of alleged responsible candidates who will, at a measured pace and after due deliberation, institute a program under some general theme (even if specific legislation is mentioned). Populists will promise their agenda despite whatever institutional obstructions may exist, while  non-populists will take a more conservative approach respecting the judiciary, the constitution, the bureaucracy and the examples of international approaches to the same issues.

populist politician

Cynically speaking, how a losing candidate describes a winning candidate. Otherwise, a politician who offers the people what they want irrespective of how moral, feasible or practical it is for such promises to be carried out.

pork barrell spending

Politicians arranging big spending government contracts in their own electorates so as to enhance their reputation with their constituents. More prevalent in governments with SMV electoral systems.

positivist / naturalist law

Two opposing branches of legal philosophy, either of which judges use to aid decision making. Naturalist law theory is that law is the ageless law of nature, deduced by the reasoning process of the interpreter or the teachings of God, and should be followed even where it may conflict with duly constituted legislation. Positivist law theory is simply following the democratically instituted law of the land no matter how rational and just it may, or may not, appear to be. 

post hoc ergo propter hoc

The logical fallacy that an event that followed another event must therefore be caused by that earlier event.

poujadiste

A member of a conservative reactionary movement allegedly protecting the common man against the elites in big, interventionist governments.  Named after a French one-time shop keeper Pierre Poujade who started off with a tax protest and extended into nationalist and anti-intellectual campaigns in France in the later twentieth century.

poverty line

Technically the minimal income one needs to cover the basic necessities of a healthy life: fuel, food, clothing, shelter and basic household and personal items. However some economists and other commentators tend to use the term to describe a different concept, Relative Poverty, whereby the line is set as a percentage of the country’s median income ( the OECD and the European Union use 60%), immaterial of how much it would fluctuate with the nation’s GDP.

pragmatism

A non-ideological approach to political issues where “the merits of the particular case” may take a higher than normal precedence.

Pravda

State owned and controlled newspaper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1921 and 1991. Russian for ‘truth’.  Derogatory term for media organs such as TV or newspapers which are owned by, or to some degree supported by, government.

preferential voting

Also known as Choice Voting, the Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting. Voters do not simply tick off one candidate/party but vote for a number in order of their preference with the intention that at the least, one choice will be elected. In Australia the term is sometimes curiously used as a synonym for single member voting.

pre-poll votes

Voting prior to election day by post or attending a special AEC office. Permitted when the voter would be absent on election day.

presidential system

As opposed to parliamentary government, a constitutional framework where the executive is directly appointed by and responsible to, the people. eg, France, Sth Korea, Philippines & USA.

primary election

Mostly occurring in America, an election where the successful candidate wins no actual office but merely becomes eligible to contest the upcoming official election representing a particular party.

primary vote

The number of first choice votes that a candidate receives in Preferential voting systems.            See also    Two Party Preferred

Prince

Term to denote not only the son of an hereditary monarch but also that of a non-hereditary ruler in his or her own right. Developed from the Latin “princeps” for chief, or most distinguished ruler. Machiavelli’s seminal treatise on political philosophy and how to acquire and maintain power was titled “The Prince”.

private member’s bill

Proposed legislation introduced not by the government or opposition but by just an individual MP.

progressive / flat /regressive tax

Progressive income tax, as espoused in ‘plank’ 2 of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, is a graduated tax where the rate increases as the income of the tax payer gets higher. Flat tax is where all tax payers pay the same rate of their income to the state, (eg. 15%). Regressive taxation is where the rate decreases as the income of the payer increases. In all three situations high earners pay more actual tax than low earners, but when progressive tax is utilised what manifests is more effort and resources spent on creating (and combating) tax avoidance schemes.

proletariat

Term used in Marxist ideology to describe the working class who don’t own property and whose only value is their labour.

promulgate

To disseminate, proclaim and make known to the public.

property right

The right to use, control, benefit and exclude others from any tangible or intangible object.

proportional representation

A voting system where the whole state is just one electorate and parties win seats in proportion to the total votes they receive in an election. Hybrid systems often exist where the state is divided up into a number of multi-member electorates whereby seats won are approximately proportional to the votes cast.

prorogue

To temporarily bring parliament to an end (such as for a summer break) as compared with a dissolution which occurs before an election.

pro tem

Abbreviation of the Latin pro tempore, meaning “for the time being”. The phrase to describe a person who temporarily takes the role of an absent superior. Eg. “She is mayor pro tem until the elected mayor returns.”

provisional vote

Votes cast at an election in circumstances where a voter's name cannot be found on the roll or has already been marked off the roll. They are not counted until a careful check of enrolment records has been made.

psephology

Greek for voting with pebbles. The statistical and / or predictive study of elections.

public choice theory

The study of politics from an economic perspective. Rather than assuming politicians, civil servants and voters are all motivated by what should be done, the analysis of how all three very often take self-interest into account when making decisions.

pundit

A commentator with knowledge of contemporary politics. Hindi for “learned one”.

putsch

Swiss German for thrust or blow. A sudden, secretly formed attempt to overthrow the government by any means at hand. aka coup d’ėtat.

quadratic voting

A theory created by an economics academic Glen Weyl, and yet to be put into practice, whereby for referenda or plebiscites, those wishing to vote must not only pay the state for the privilege but have the option to pay a higher amount for multiple votes, thus accommodating a greater input for those with a greater stake in the issue at hand. To prevent simple vote buying, the cost of each extra vote is not linear, but quadratic. For example, if the cost of one vote was set at a dollar then two votes would cost the square of two, four dollars; three votes, nine dollars; four votes 16 dollars, etc.  Not so much a counter to the tyranny of the majority but a counter to the tyranny of the indifferent majority.

quango

Quasi Autonomous Non-Government Organisation. A body financed by government but not under its direct control.

Question Time

One of the tenets of Responsible Government whereby, for a set period of time each sitting day in parliament, government ministers must be answerable to any MP’s questions, even though in practice there is nothing to prevent answers from being evasive.  

quota

In proportional representation systems, the percentage or actual number of votes a candidate needs to win one of the seats available. For Australian half-Senate elections it is approximately 14.3%

quota preferential

Preferential voting used in conjunction with proportional representation.

racial profiling

The practice where authorities take race into account in determining whether a person should be questioned or investigated for past or possibly future criminal activities. Legal in Israel and Mexico and allegedly tolerated in Spain, but otherwise illegal and not overtly practiced in most democracies.

rapprochement

The renewal or establishment of friendly relations between states which were previously hostile towards each other.

realpolitik

The politics of realism. Rather than from principle, a self interested approach to politics either from the standpoint of one’s party or, in international affairs, from one’s country.

recall

Electoral procedure practised in Canada and many American states whereby an elected official, including the chief executive, can be recalled from office by the voters if there are sufficient signatures on a petition.

recession

A country’s economic status achieved following two consecutive quarters of a drop in real GNP.

redistribution

In SMV systems the periodical redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure each electorate conforms to the prerequisites of the electoral laws, such as having equal numbers of voters for that State or Territory.

referendum

A public vote with possibly legally binding consequences.

rent seeker

Term created by American economist Anne Krueger. Someone who attempts to make an income by manipulating the social or political or economic environment to his advantage, in the form of political lobbying, rather than actually creating goods or services himself. The “rent” coming to him is usually from government enforced monopoly privileges, or government grants paid for “services” which the free market might not otherwise see as of any value.

repatriation

The sending back of someone to his country of origin such as an illegal immigrant or prisoner of war.

representative democracy

In modern times what is commonly know as a democracy, even though the people do not directly vote on actual issues and laws but surrender that right to their duly elected representatives.

republic

Defined by some sources as simply a democracy, but otherwise loosely described as a form of government where, in word or deed, rule is constrained by institutional frameworks and is not by the selected few. Not an oligarchy but not necessarily a democracy. The Roman Republic was the original precedent for republicanism. Apartheid South Africa, by this definition, was a republic.

responsible government

When government evolved from an independent authoritative monarch in conjunction with a people’s parliament to a subservient monarch together with a prime minister and parliament, it was said that government (the executive in the form of the prime minister and cabinet) became responsible to parliament. Now taken to be synonymous with parliamentary government.

retrospective legislation

a.k.a. ex post facto laws. Laws defining behaviour upon which one can be held criminally liable or responsible in civil court or otherwise liable for payment (such as taxation), even when that behaviour may have happened before the enactment of said laws. While constitutionally denied in the U.S. as it violates the traditional concept of the rule of law, it is prevalent in autocracies, and still known to occasionally happen in some democracies. 

right wing / left wing

‘on the right’ would be loosely described as a political philosophy which favours conservative, pro-market,  attitudes with a preference for (some) individual rights over interventionist government, a strict approach to law and order, and  a strong defence force and a sense of nationalism.
‘on the left’ would be, loosely, opposite to the above together with a so called ‘womb to tomb’ approach to social welfare and an internationalist world view.
Terms originated in the French Estates General in 1789 when the nobility who favoured complacency sat on the King’s right and those who wanted change and amelioration of the peasant’s conditions sat on the left.

RINO / LINO

American acronyms to describe people embracing  faux political positions. Republican In Name Only / Liberal In Name Only.

Robson Rotation

An electoral method practised in places such as Tasmania where multiple printings of ballot papers are made so as to rotate the first spot equally amongst all the candidates. An attempt to eliminate the Donkey Vote.

rotten boroughs

a.k.a.  ‘pocket boroughs’. An accident of circumstances in the UK up until 1832 whereby population movements over time left some electorates with as few as seven voters. A wealthy patron would then often bribe the constituents to elect whomever he would so choose.

Royal Commission

A one-off, open inquiry into a specific issue which has raised public concern, instigated by the executive government but operated independently from it. The commissioner is often a retired judge and his given terms of reference strictly limit the bounds of the investigation.  Despite that, the commissioner has considerably powers, from the summoning of witnesses, the granting of indemnity, allowing evidence not normally allowed in a court of law such as hearsay or government classified documents, to forcing testimony even from officials of the government itself.

roll

The list of voters eligible to vote at an election.

rule of law

 The traditional legal concept, dating back as far as Aristotle, that we live under a set of predetermined rules rather than the arbitrary “wise guidance” of any contemporary judge, King or chief executive. Does not necessarily imply democratic or just rule, but simply stable government where the law is proclaimed, followed, and applied equally to all. Term derived by 19th century British jurist A.C. Dicey.

  • All people are subject equally to the privileges and penalties of the law.
  • The people are ruled by laws and not by individuals. (both the judiciary and the executive are to act only according to law rather than to their own beliefs of what is justice)
  • The law shall be prospective, visible, clear, and relatively stable.
  • Due process must be afforded to all those before the law (following the letter and procedures of the law).

safe seat

Where the electorate is filled with supporters of predominately one party and thus is considered safe by that party at election time.   a.k.a. blue ribbon seat.

scrutiny

The checking and counting of ballot papers to ascertain the result of an election. Political parties are allowed representatives on such occasions.

semantic infiltration

Concept first highlighted by Daniel Patrick Moynihan where political players succeed in  persuading opponents to accept their terms in the discussion of specific subjects, and by extension the policies and beliefs that accompany them. For example: freedom fighters / terrorists; benefits / entitlements; illegal immigrants / asylum seekers.

separation of powers

Term derived by Enlightenment philosopher Charles Montesquieu, a traditional concept of liberalism where, for the sake of limiting abuse of power, the three branches of government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary remain independent. In modern times the best examples are some American states where all branches have tangible power and, because of separate elections, no branch is appointed by nor can be removed by, another branch. Less than perfect examples would be parliamentary systems: the executive directly appointed, and removed, by the legislature, and the judiciary directly appointed by the executive.

shadow cabinet

The ‘would be’ cabinet of the opposition party in Parliament.

single member voting (SMV)

As opposed to proportional representation, the system where only one candidate represents all the citizens of an electorate/ geographical area. Also known as  Majoritarian voting when preferences are allowed on the ballot paper.

single transferable vote (STV)

A proportional representation voting system where there is no “above the line” option to vote for a party, but only for individual candidates in preferred order. Thus a party’s winning candidates may not be in the same order as on the party’s “ticket”, and their voters’ preferences may not necessarily go where the party would have liked. However due to the relative complexity of voting and vote counting, invalid ballot papers would be higher and election results would take longer to ascertain.

SJW

Abbreviation for social justice warrior. A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments supporting the politically correct, ‘social justice’ issues of the day, apparently more for the purpose of personal reputation and acceptance rather than addressing societal ills.

The Social Contract

An 18th century philosophical concept used to attempt to explain the understanding by which  people originally left their solitary, wilderness existence  and came together under the auspices of government. Theorist Thomas Hobbes first claimed that the contract entailed each individual surrendering all his rights, save that of life, in exchange for the protection of the Crown. A half century later philosopher John Locke modified that to state that not only life, but certain other fundamental rights, albeit not necessarily democratic,  were retained by the people and that they were legitimate in overthrowing any state that violated those rights.

socialism

A method of government in which the means of planning and producing goods and services are controlled by a central government which also seeks to collect the wealth of the nation and distribute it evenly amongst its citizens.

social engineering

The practice certain people believe in whereby it is held that it is not enough that governments create for the citizenry an environment where there is an adequate standard of living together with good health care, minimum crime and basic freedoms. Governments, it is claimed, must also engineer that the beliefs, attitudes and practices of the citizenry conform to what is decreed, at the time, to be socially, physiologically and intellectually acceptable.

sortition

An electoral system whereby candidates do not win office by popular choice but by lottery.    Popular in ancient Greece but rarely used today even though occasionally advocated by reformists.

speaker

The adjudicator in lower house debates and divisions (votes). An elected MP who does not vote unless there would otherwise be a tie. Always a government MP unless the government has only a bare majority in which case independents are usually chosen. Upper house equivalent is President.

spin

To tell a news story in a certain way so as to turn the emphasis in a politically favourable direction.

state of nature

The natural condition of humankind living in a primitive environment before governments developed.  Existence was a perpetual struggle for sustenance, shelter and protection from the potential harm of others, and life was, to quote English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

straw man argument

Addressing and refuting an argument your opponents didn’t actually make, even though at first glance it might appear they could make it. A human figure made of straw such as a military target dummy or scarecrow is always easily destroyed or knocked down.

sumptuary laws

Laws that attempt to regulate permitted conspicuous consumption, such as food, clothing or dwellings. Used in the middle ages and later, to regulate the balance of trade as well as to help to identify social rank by discriminating against the growing prosperous merchant class.

sunset clause

A provision or clause inserted in legislation to declare its expiry date. Most legislation does not contain such clauses as the intention is that laws are permanent, at least until subsequent conflicting acts.

supply side economics

The economic theory espousing the concept that when the supply side of the economy (the producers) is taxed less and subject to less regulation it creates more profit and the tax on that increased profit, even at a lower rate, is equivalent to or even surpasses the original tax. Apotheosis of SSE is the flat rate income tax.

surgery

British concept to describe one-on-one meetings MPs may have with their constituents. Usually held somewhere back in the constituency and at weekends or times when parliament is not in session.

swing

How electoral results change between elections. Eg: “There has been a 15% swing towards Labour in this seat since the 2001 election”

swinging voter

Voters who are not loyal to any particular party but swing from one party to another according to the circumstances of the time.

syndicalism

Early twentieth century revolutionary political doctrine whereby the means of production is taken over in a general strike by worker’s unions who then will effectively take over government.

Ta′mmany Hall

19th century headquarters of the American Democratic Party which became notorious for political corruption.

Tea Party

A grass roots American political movement (not a political party) advocating adherence to the Constitution as well as reining in alleged excessive taxing and spending by the government. Term derived by advocates sending tea bags (symbolising the Boston Tea Party) to congresspersons who had a reputation for supporting large spending bills.

theocracy

Government controlled by the church/priesthood or a proclaimed living god. Examples could be ancient Egypt and modern day Iran.

think tank

A non government, non-profit, research institute of scholars / physical scientists generally dedicated to the advocacy of some broad political, economic or social belief.

Tolpuddle Martyrs

Early 19th century British agricultural labourers who were convicted of the then crime of swearing oaths to each other (which happened to refer to a friendly society / union) and sentenced to transportation to Australia. Most eventually released due to public protest.

totalitarian

A government that wishes to subordinate the individual to the state by controlling not only all political and economic matters, but also by seeking to control the attitudes, values, and beliefs of its population.

transfer value

In preferential voting, proportional representation elections a winning candidate’s surplus votes are transferred to the next available candidate. This is achieved by transferring all of the ballot papers (considering it would be unfair to for the preferences to be taken only from the random surplus), but at a fraction of their value.

trial balloon

A novel idea put forward, but not embraced, by a politician in order to gauge its popularity.

tragedy of the commons

The concept espousing the impracticality of communally owned resources such as grazing land or ponds for fishing, etc. Individuals acting independently will maximise their benefits above others thus in time depleting the common resource. Alternatively, where resources are  privately owned there is an incentive to moderate its exploitation so as to preserve for the owner further use.

trojan horse

An organisation with an innocuous or ‘motherhood statement’ type title used to gain public acceptance so as to introduce programs, funding or legislation of a more partisan nature than one is led to believe.

turnout

The percentage of enrolled citizens who actually vote.

turkey farm

A government agency or department of less than priority status staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires.

two-party-preferred

The final tally for the two more popular candidates/parties of all votes (whether 1st 2nd or 3rd choice etc) in single member Preferential Voting systems.

tyranny of the majority

A concept first coined in the nineteenth century by French writer Alexis de Tocqueville and also embraced by John Stuart Mill, who claimed that even democracies had limitations in that minority rights could be forfeited in the pursuit of popular causes. Possible solutions to such tyranny could be a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights, proportional representation, or a democracy divided up into a federation where peoples of different beliefs and values could gravitate to separate geographical areas that maintained their own distinct laws and practices.

upper house

Often known as the Senate, and in federations as the 'States' House'. Traditionally the smaller but more elitist  “house of review” populated by members of the titled, landed, financial or educational aristocracy. With some exceptions (Canada & the UK) candidates ability to join the upper house is now the same as for the lower house and  members’ prestige is only higher because, as there are fewer in total, each member has more of a voting influence than in the lower house. Often elected by proportional representation. In both Australia and the United States each state sends the same number of senators (twelve and two respectively) to the federal house irrespective of that state’s population.

useful idiot

Description for people of influence who support a cause they fail to understand the full ramifications of, and end up being exploited by the leaders of that cause. Originally attributed to Lenin (although research has failed to confirm this) in describing western personalities such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Paul Robeson and journalist Walter Duranty who visited the USSR during times of famine, were allowed to visit only select areas, and then returned home giving glowing reports of the new “workers’ paradise”.

utilitarianism

Consequentialist philosophy originally espoused by 18th century writer Jeremy Bentham whereby the best policy is that which gives the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

vote of no confidence

In parliamentary systems, where the executive can only exist at the behest of the majority of the legislature, a vote of no confidence (generally by the lower house) would be a death knell for the current administration, and would, unless another coalition of parties could form a majority, precipitate an election.

vox pop

Short for vox populi which is Latin for voice of the people. The recorded opinions of ordinary people speaking informally in public places.

watermelon

Derogatory term for a Greens politician or supporter who allegedly is more concerned with pushing socialist policies than his or her concern for the environment: green on the outside but red in the centre.

Westminster

British houses of parliament and name for a system where, amongst other attributes, the executive is divided between an ‘above-politics’ head of state and a chief executive appointed by the legislature, a career rather than politically appointed senior public service, and bicameral parliament.

wets and dries

Terms used in British Conservative Party politics since the Thatcher era to describe the moderates and the hardliners. “Wet” originated from British public school vernacular to describe those perceived as weak as being ‘soppy’.  Canadian equivalent is known as a “Red Tory”.

winner-take-all

Either a non-proportional representation or a non-preferential electoral system as is common in both the UK and the USA.

whip

A party whip is a parliamentary party disciplinary officer who ensures that his/her party members do the right thing such as being in attendance for certain crucial votes. A whip is also the notice sent by the aforesaid to members.

wonk

Someone engrossed in the technicalities of some aspect of public policy.

writ

In electoral terms a writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the polling day and the return of the writ. The issue of a writ triggers the electoral process.

zeitgeist

German for ‘spirit of the time’. The prevalent beliefs and attitudes of a place / country at any particular period.

John Locke
luddites
mace
Niccolo Machiavelli
plutocracy
ombudsman
populism
Pravda
quango
referendum
RINO
lady justitia
social engineering
theocracy
the tragedy of the commons
Westminster

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