Glossary | Libertarian Society Singapore


ad hominem
Latin for “to the man”. Attacking the presenter of an argument rather than the argument itself. A.k.a.  “playing the man, not the ball”.

Less-than-subtle political propaganda disseminated through the media and performing arts. Term derived from the then department of Agitation and Propaganda of the Soviet Union.

Greek for gathering place or assembly. The town square in ancient Greek city states used for political discussions and decision making as well as other activities such as artistic and spiritual gatherings.

absent vote
A vote cast by voters who are out of their division but still within their State or Territory which may be cast at any polling place in that State or Territory.

absolute majority
(50%+1 vote). A term used to compare the least votes a winning candidate may need in a preferential single member voting system compared with that of first- past-the-post systems of other countries where a “majority” may well be less than 50%.  Also a concept used in some parliamentary votes where a simple majority of all members present is not enough.

A diplomatic agreement that does not have the same binding force as a treaty.

Temporary interruption during a parliamentary session.

administrative law
That segment of public law that is used to challenge the decisions of government officials and / or delegated legislation. Excluding policy decisions made by people’s elected representatives, where it is deemed electoral popular support authorises the office holder to be unrestrained in their decision making as long as it is within the law, all civil / public servants, from the Prime Minister down can be challenged in court (as long as the plaintiff has standing) on the “reasonableness” of their administrative actions or even on their failure to act. Over time the authority of A.L. has been extended to so called public bodies: NGOs, Quangos and other organisations which otherwise would have discretionary power over the rights of their members.

adversarial system
The system of law, as exists in the Anglo-American world, where an issue is argued in court by two opposing sides, the prosecutor or plaintiff, and the defence. Opposite to the Inquisitorial system where a judge or panel of judges call evidence and interrogate witnesses, as exists in many European countries.

affirmative action
Legislative programs which aim to create minority equality in employment, university placements, housing  and other government beneficial situations even though, most of the time, outright discrimination against so called majorities is not ostensibly advocated.

agrarian socialist
Originally applying to non urban, pre-industrial revolution peoples with traditional, conservative attitudes, those who believe in the collective ownership and control of primary industries, and to a lesser extent secondary industries, for the benefit of all, but otherwise not that committed to other socialist beliefs such as progressive/liberal approaches to domestic or international social concerns.

The devotion to the interests of others above that of the self. The opposite of egoism.

Absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

ancien régime
The government and social system that was swept away by the French Revolution. An administration and associated government programs that have been superseded.

A state or society ruled by men where moral authority and control of property may also be exclusively in the hands of males. a.k.a.  andrarchy or phallocracy.

Opposition to the influence of religion in government and legislative affairs.

A member of communist party machine; derogatory term for a political party zealot.

approval voting
‘First Past the Post’ voting but with the added concept that one can tick (approve of) as many candidates’ names as one wishes, but in no order of preference. A variant of preferential voting eliminating the chances of minority candidates winning when too many mainstream candidates run against each other.

A form of government where unlimited power is held by one single individual.

A limited form of independence where, for example, a state or colony can control its own domestic affairs but has no say over its foreign affairs.


A member of Parliament (government or opposition) who is not in a leadership role in their party but merely sits literally on the back bench.

balance of power
The leverage a small party in the legislature possesses, in being able to give, or hold back, voting support to a large, albeit still minority party, to allow it to have a majority on a vote.

A method of secret voting, normally in a written form.

ballot paper
A paper handed to each voter on election day to be marked, showing the names of the candidates (and sometimes the parties) who are standing for election.

bell the cat
An impractical suggestion that highlights the short sightedness of the theorist advocating a problem’s solution which, however, will not in work in practice, or be politically lethal for the party proposing it. Derived from a fable about a group of mice who decide the best way to be warned when the cat is near is for someone to place a bell around its neck, only to find there are no volunteers to perform that task.

A small entity whose characteristics happen to reflect that of the whole state or nation. The American state of Nevada is a bellwether state for presidential elections in that, with only one exception, it has voted the same as the whole country for a century. The Australian electorate of Eden-Monaro has voted in a government MP at every election since 1972. A bellwether is a ram with a bell attached to indicate to the farmer where the flock is when not in sight.

the Beltway
A term to describe the politically and socially insular community of Washington DC. Derived from Interstate Highway 495 which circumnavigates Washington forming a “belt”. One would be, metaphorical speaking, inside or outside the Beltway. The term is sometimes used in other countries although in Britain the equivalent concept is “the Westminster Bubble”.

benign neglect
A type of laissez-faire policy, where, in response to calls for government funding or regulation to address a recently developed problem, a ‘do nothing’ approach is alternatively undertaken in the belief that, over time, it will improve, or at least not hurt, the interests of the "neglected" group.

A person who refuses to discuss, consider or listen to, beliefs or theories contrary to his own. Derived from the Middle Ages French term of abuse for religious Normans who would frequently use the term “By God”.

The name for proposed legislation entered into the house / houses of parliament to be debated upon for approval. If approved at all stages it then becomes an act and thus law.

bill of attainder
No longer practiced ancient writ or act of Parliament to declare someone guilty of a crime and/or subject to punishment without benefit of trial. Attainder, meaning taintedness, also meant that any party guilty of a capital crime lost all civil rights including property, and if not life, then right to reputation. Still exercised in the 20th century in Australian states where a convicted capital felon, Darcy Dugan, was denied the right to sue for defamation and a dangerous inmate, Gregory Kable, was not released after his full prison term was served due to an act of parliament.

bill of rights
aka Charter of Rights or Declaration of Rights. A list of entrenched fundamental human rights as perceived by the declarer. Whereas a nation’s enacted laws are deemed to protect people from the malevolent deeds of their fellow citizens, a B.o.R is deemed to protect the citizenry from the excesses of their rulers. Term derived from the 1689 Bill of Rights enacted by the British Parliament after the Glorious Revolution.

Adjective to describe a situation where the normally opposing political parties come together to agree on an initiative. Technically two parties coming together.

block voting
In multi-member electorates, each voter having the same number of votes as the number of vacant seats (must tick off [say] three names). This has the effect of minimising the chances of minority candidates winning seats.

A wasteful government financed infrastructure developed at a cost much greater than its value, undertaken for local or political gain.

Marxist term now used to describe middle class professionals living a relatively luxurious life style.

Belligerent diplomatic relations where at least one party is prepared to risk all and go to the brink of war/ economic ruin/ or whatever calamitous situation, to get what they want. In modern times the most artful in this practice would be the government of North Korea.

Not a law but a government rule or regulation. see ‘delegated legislation’.

A local election held to fill a suddenly vacated (single member voting) seat due to death, resignation etc.     see also Casual Vacancy

bicameral / unicameral
Government with either two or one house of legislature. France, Sweden, South Korea and New Zealand all have unicameral governments.


The ‘board of directors’ of executive government.  Made up of the President / Prime Minister as chairman and each director as a secretary or minister responsible for the relevant government departments such as defence, environment, trade etc.

A state ruled by a caliph, who is considered to be the chief Islamic civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor in line from Muhammad.

A person who stands for election to Parliament. In Australia candidates can be nominated by political parties or stand as independents.

An economic system based on the recognition of private property rights, where prices are dictated by supply and demand, and where the means of production and distribution of goods and services derive from privately owned resources, or capital, operating within an unregulated market.

caretaker government
A type of governance where those in power refrain from significant actions such as undertaking major legislative programs or senior judicial or public service appointments, but only maintain necessary normal administrative duties. The reason for this is that power would be in transition due to an election being due or being called suddenly due to the success of a vote of no confidence, or some other situation where legitimate democratic government has to be restored.

casus belli
The alleged justification for acts of war.

A closed meeting of members of a political party or faction. Also the term for a group of people within an establishment with a common political leaning. In Australia the term is used to describe the parliamentary members of the ALP.

cause célèbre
Fr. for ‘famous case’. A controversy (often a court case) arousing high public interest because of policy issues at stake. Examples would be the Dreyfus affair, the Scopes Monkey Trial and the American Roe v Wade Supreme Court case.

Popular British 19th century working class movement advocating electoral reform. Named after their Peoples’ Charter of six demands: universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, secret ballot, no qualifications to enter parliament, pay for MPs and annual elections. Despite at one stage having three million signatures on a petition to Parliament, the movement eventually disbanded without witnessing any reforms.

clear and present danger
A concept in American constitutional law to describe a situation where fundamental constitutional principles can be overlooked in exigent circumstances.

client state
A country that is economically or militarily dependent upon another, but not actually controlled politically by the patron state as in the case of a ‘puppet state’.

closed shop
A place of work where the union has arranged that the employer will only employ those who are its members.

citizens initiated referendum
A democratic vehicle for legislative or constitutional enactment which bypasses Parliament. As exists in Switzerland and some states of the USA, if a petition for a certain proposition can raise a certain number of signatures then the legislature is compelled to put it to the people at a referendum and then to enact it in law if passed.

civis Romanus sum (I am a Roman Citizen).
The claim by ancient Romans that wherever so they travel in foreign lands they should be afforded full rights and protection, with the understanding that Roman military might would respond to any violations.  Justification used by UK Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in 1850 when blockading Athens to ensure a British citizen there was compensated for the property damage inflicted by a violent Greek mob.

coattails effect
A popular candidate at an election having the ability to draw votes, not just for himself, but also for his fellow party candidates.

command economy
As compared to the free market, an economy which is mostly under the command of the government.

common law
The law of the land which comes from neither the statute books nor the constitution but from court law reports. Originally that body of law which was common to all parts of England (not customary or local law) and developed over centuries from the English courts to be adopted and further developed in countries using that system. As compared to democratically maintained law, common law is judge maintained and modified law and is valid unless it conflicts with statute law.

The concept of collective, rather than individual, ownership of all the nation’s assets, as well as the duty by those able, to create and / or manage those assets.

comparative advantage
The ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal or opportunity cost than another. If country A can produce both apples and oranges cheaper than country B, with apples significantly cheaper, it is more efficient for it to concentrate on growing and exporting only apples while importing oranges, even though the oranges imported would not be as cheap as those if home grown.

A form of federalism where the individual regions that make up the sovereign state exercise a larger degree of autonomy. Often the right to secede and the sole right to raise taxes, the funding of the central government coming from the regions. The pre-Civil War slave states of America united to form the Confederated States of America to maintain states’ rights.

Often taken as synonymous with right wing with a penchant for censorship and state control to protect against ‘immoral’ personal behaviour, but technically an attitude of belief in the established order and suspicious of change.

A citizen residing in a particular MP’s area or district.

The set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed.

Bill of Rights.  
The ultimate set of laws to which all other laws made by contemporary governments are subservient to. The strength and integrity of a constitution is often reflected by the difficulty it is to be changed.

constitutional referendum
A proposal to alter the Constitution being put to the public vote. In Australia at a referendum the proposed alteration must be approved by a 'double majority': a national majority of voters in the States and Territories; and a majority of voters in a majority of the States.

consumer price index
A measurement of inflation by comparing, at regular intervals, the price (taking weighting into account) of a set of basic consumer goods and services purchased by households.

consumption tax
A tax levied on goods and services such as sales tax, GST, VAT or an excise tax. A tax on the spending of income rather than the earning of it, so as to include people who might otherwise evade income tax such as those in the black economy or successful with tax avoidance schemes.

coup d’ėtat
Sudden and often violent overthrow of a government.

crossing the floor
An MP crossing the floor of Parliament to vote with his/her opposition. An act rarely forgiven in Commonwealth countries but common in the USA.

cumulative voting
A type of block voting but where the voter can choose, from the list of (for example) ten candidates running for four seats, his preferred four, or just two or even one. In such decisions, the selected candidates would get one quarter of a vote each, or half a vote, or where only one candidate received the vote, the whole vote.


damage control
The concerted defensive mode of response a political player sometimes adopts to offset the negative publicity when an embarrassing “situation” develops, such as a controversial comment, evidence of a scandal, egregious hypercritical actions or abuse of public position.

dark horse candidate
An unexpected, somewhat unknown candidate with little public exposure who has potential to win an election against established candidates. Term originated by British politician and author, Benjamin Disraeli.

deficit /national debt
The shortfall in any one year of a nation’s income as compared to its expenditure / the total unpaid accumulated debt of the government over time.

deficit spending
Government intentionally spending more money than it takes in.

delegated legislation
a.k.a. enabling legislation. Rules, regulations, by-laws, ordinances etc made by a government official under the authority of a specific act of parliament which sets out the broad purpose of what is desired, but delegates to that official’s office, the authority to create the minutia, the delegated legislation, necessary.  Whereas all parliamentary legislation is final and cannot be challenged in court (apart from constitutional inconsistencies) delegated legislation can be challenged in court if it is shown to violate the purpose of the original act.

A leader who gains popularity by appealing to prejudice and basic instincts. Considered manipulative and dangerous.

From the Greek ‘demos’ for the ordinary, common people and ‘kratos’ for power or strength.

The concept of moral obligation and binding duty. As compared to consequentialism, where an act is judged by its consequences (the ends justify the means), D. is where goodness or righteousness is judged by the act alone (the means justify the means).

descriptive / normative
Descriptive, aka positive, statements are alleged factual ones describing reality, while normative statements, based upon what is supposed to be the ‘normal’ or correct, are those claiming how things should or ought to be, and which actions are good or bad.

Transfer of powers from the national or central government to state or local government.

direct democracy
Government by the people in fact rather than merely in principle. The citizenry themselves voting on all issues affecting them. Practised in ancient Greece and (to some degree) in some cantons of Switzerland and the New England states of America. Considered by most to be a highly impractical form of government.

Direct government control of a country's economic and social institutions. From the French ‘diriger’ to direct.

Information that is false or misleading deliberately disseminated for strategic gain. a.k.a. black propaganda.

division [Aust]
A vote taken in Parliament. Also another name for an electorate.

donkey vote
The excess votes a candidate at the top of the ballot paper will get because of those voters who don’t bother to consider their decision but simply just tick the first box in sight. Otherwise known as the unthinking vote.

double dissolution
An Australian federal election with two exceptions to the normal general election. Rather than the usual 40 Senate seats being up for election (a so called half-Senate election), the full complement of 76 seats are vacated and thus the (state) quota to win a seat drops from 14.3% to 7.7%, thus making it easier for smaller parties to be successful. Secondly, both houses of Parliament are dissolved at the time of the election, rather than normal situation where the Senate only dissolves at the end of its set term, which can mean that it can be as much as eleven months after a normal election before the new Senators take their seats. The government can only call a DD election in specific situations as laid out by the Constitution.

Using language to distort or even reverse the meaning of unpalatable information that has to be given. Allegedly the amalgam of two George Orwell’s creations from his novel 1984, Doublethink and Newspeak.

‘Dorothy Dixer’
Questionable practice in Australian parliaments where some of the allocated time in ‘Question Time’ is used for back bench MPs to ask their own leaders prearranged softball questions. Dorothy Dix was an American newspaper advice columnist who prefered questions she made up herself.
duchess To court or curry favour for political or other advantage

Duverger’s Law
Theory attributed to French political scientist Maurice Duverger, which asserts a nexus in the number of political parties in a democratic state with the electoral system used. Proportional Representation nurtures a growth in parties catering to most people’s needs while SMV systems over time, restrict parties to only two.

duumvirate / triumvirate / quadrumvirate
Latin terms to describe a group of two / three / four people joined in authority or office.

A sequence of hereditary rulers.

Alternative to Utopia. Nightmare vision of society beyond that of even a failed, dysfunctional state, where the system is actually planned by those in power, creating, most often, a totalitarian society.  Fictional examples are Jack London’s The Iron Heel and George Orwell’s1984.
elector In practice the name often given by governments to voters in normal elections, or to those who have been appointed to a certain level so as to vote their choice to a higher office. Eg. the American Electoral College to choose the President. Technically, a voter who is successful in helping to get his preferred candidate elected. Term possibly used to disguise the fact that approximately half of all voters in SMV systems end up electing nobody.


Geographical areas used as a criterion for political representation. Australia is divided into 150 (federal) voting districts or divisions which are known as electorates. One member is elected from each electorate to the House of Representatives. In Parliament the electorate of Batman will be represented by the Member for Batman who will have the Seat of Batman.

Élysée Palace
Residence of the French President

One who leaves their home country for political reasons.

the Enlightenment
a.k.a. the Age of Reason. 18th century epoch of intellectual advancement where “humanity was brought into the light of reason out of the darkness of tradition and prejudice”. Originating in the UK but developing fully in continental countries such as France with thinkers such as Spinoza, Voltaire and Rousseau.

The pre-requisite to voting. The voters name must be on the electoral roll before he/she can vote. Australian citizens of at least 18 yrs are allowed (and compelled) to enrol. In the USA those who choose to vote must repeatedly enrol for every election.

equity law
An auxiliary part of common law where the courts not only have authority to modify existing common law to adapt to modern times, but in fact have the power to create original law, overriding  existing common law, in circumstances where it is deemed that without it, “unconscionable” conduct would occur.

the Executive
That part of government which executes  the law of the land, as compared to the legislature which creates and maintains the law. The executive comprises public service officials from the Prime Minister/ President down, and is responsible for the daily administration of the state.
exchange rate The relationship of the values of any two country’s currencies. Any one-off reading is informative when taking into account what each country’s unit of currency will buy in its own domestic market. Also relevant is when the rate changes over time indicating one country’s economy is not doing as well as the other.

exhausted vote
In optional preferential voting systems, a vote that was not fully completed and, in being counted, has reached its last candidate, still not made up a quota, and thus becomes worthless.

ex officio
“by virtue of one’s office”. The power to do something or hold an office by virtue of the fact that one holds an earlier office. The American Vice President is, ex officio, the President of the Senate.


Fabian Society
A movement founded in 1884 by intellectuals Sidney and  Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw who believed the only possible way to introduce socialism would be in an incremental way using education and gradual legislative changes. Named after the Roman general Fabius Cunctator (“the delayer”) who possessed the patience to defeat the Carthaginian Hannibal by engaging in a slow war of attrition and harassment.

An authoritarian and nationalist political ideology that embraces strong leadership, singular collective identity and the will to commit violence or wage war to further the interests of the state. Averse to concepts such as individualism, pluralism, multiculturalism or egalitarianism. The name derives from the collective identity, the league connotation of the Italian fascio, or English faggot, for a bound collection of sticks. The symbol originally used by Mussolini was a ‘fascio’ of sticks bound with that connotation of war, an axe.

A system under which governmental powers are divided between the central government and the states or provinces all within the same geographical territory. Opposite to a unitary system as exists in the UK, New Zealand and Japan.

fellow traveller
Mid-twentieth century term to describe someone who sympathised with communism but would not go so far as to declare themselves a communist or join the party.

fence mending
A politician returning to his electorate hoping to restore his reputation with the voters.
fifth columnist In a military or political environment, a person who surreptitiously undermines a group or entity from within. Term derived from a Nationalist General during the Spanish Civil War who boasted he had four columns of troops attacking Madrid, together with a fifth column of sympathises inside the city. The practice of the F.C. is sometimes described as ‘entryism’. The Alec Guinness character in the film Dr Zhivago was a war-time fifth columnist.

A form of legislative obstruction by an MP by continuing a parliamentary speech for the mere sake of preventing a vote. As the clerk of parliament will set an agenda calendar allocating certain bills for certain days, if the business of reading, debating and voting on one bill is not completed on its allotted day it may be a considerable period of time before it again comes before the house.
first-past-the-post Electoral system where the winning candidate needs only the most votes, even if well below a majority.  a.k.a. pluralist voting.

The right to vote.

free vote
a.k.a. a conscience vote. The rare instance where an M.P. is not obliged to vote according to his/her party’s call. Examples have been the 1996 Victorian drug law reform or the 1995 Northern Territory’s euthanasia law.

Friday news dump
a.k.a. ‘take out the trash day’. The practice of governments releasing their unpopular news stories just before the weekend as it is believed few people follow the news on a Saturday. Not only the timing is effective for what the government wants to hide but also the act of lumping together as many stories as possible so as to minimise the effect of each one.

fixed term
Concept to describe the set term of office of representatives (eg US House of Reps is a strict two years) as compared to other democracies like the UK where the House of Commons is a maximum of five years but can be shorter at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

fourth estate
The unofficial political institution and authority comprising the press and other forms of the media. Term comes from the first three estates of the French States-General which were the church, the nobility and the townsmen.

free rider
Someone who unintentionally is able to receive the benefits of government policy without incurring the costs.

from each according to his ability...
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Slogan not created, but made popular by Karl Marx in a 1875 publication, to highlight a fundamental aspect of communism. Allegedly a response to the capitalist concept of private property.


gauche caviar (Left wing caviar eater).
French derogatory term for a socialist in theory who still maintains a luxurious lifestyle. English equivalent: Champagne socialist, Bollinger Bolshevik; American: limousine liberal; Italian: radical chic; Australian: Chardonnay socialist.

general election
Either an election that is not local but is for the state or national governments or an election that is the final arbiter after the preliminary ones have been dispensed with. Can be contrasted to council, primary or by-elections.

Nineteenth century philosophy created by American economist Henry George which advocated that things found in nature, such as land, always remains property of the state.  Government revenue is thus raised by rents on land (at an unimproved rate), minerals and fishing licences etc to the degree that hopefully no other taxes might need to be enforced.

How a significant number of equally sized single member electorates become populated with both party voters but to different degrees, to have a partisan and unfair effect on the total vote.

An excessively “friendly” person, typically a politician, who greets another effusively but insincerely in an attempt to gain popularity.

A policy that commits government to greater accountability and visibility, such as freedom of information laws. Russian for ‘publicness’.

Gross National Product is the total output of goods and services annually produced by a country, whether on or off shore. Gross Domestic Product is the total amount produced on shore, whether by local or foreign entities.

grandfather clause
An exemption to a new law which accommodates already existing entities (metaphoric grandfathers) not having to comply. Eg: existing buildings not needing restructuring to accommodate new building / environmental codes. A law increasing the drinking age from 18 to 21 but exempting those under 21 who were already entitled to consume alcohol. In 2004 Australian PM John Howard, under political pressure, lowered govt. contributions to MPs superannuation from 15% to the standard 9%. However he exempted already serving MPs, allowing them to remain on the higher rate.

grass roots
The ordinary and common people, often agrarian. Term generally refers to movements / political parties created by them rather than by professionals, elitists or established leaders.
grievance debate Short speeches allowed by any MP on any subject but only granted at a specific time per week for a few hours.

An attitude often existing in academia or the media where there is found to be unanimity in approaches to certain issues, either due to laziness in research, or fear of the consequences of going against the prevailing wisdom.

Adjective of Governor.


habeas corpus
Latin for “you have the body”. A writ, issued by a court upon request, for a government authority to present to court a person it is detaining, and give justification as to why he/she should continue to be detained.

Derogatory term for a writer or journalist of very ordinary, unexceptional talents employed to do routine work. Derived from the term for an old saddle horse still performing basic duties.

The official parliamentary record of whatever is said in Parliament.

A S.T.V. electoral system used in Tasmania where Robson Rotation is utilised and candidates are not allowed to hand out how-to-vote cards on polling day.

Dominance or leadership of one state or social group over another.

hoi polloi
The common people, as compared to the wealthy, higher educated or elite.

Huey P. Long
Quintessential populist, corrupt, demagogue of modern times who served as governor of the US state of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, then Senator until 1935. Master of political patronage who became the model for the novel and film titled “All the Kings Men”. Eventually assassinated by a relative of one of his victims.

the hustings
Involved in political campaigning, especially making speeches. The husting was originally a place of assembly at which to speak. US equivalent is “on the stump”, derived from speaking when standing upon a tree stump.

hollow men
Conviction free, consensus driven politicians who live by the polls and whose only goal appears to be to achieve and maintain political power. Found in major parties on both sides of the political divide but generally more prevalent with conservative parties. Term derived from the T.S. Eliot poem of that name in reference to the ‘men of straw’ described.

honeymoon period
The first few months of a new government during which the incumbent/s are granted a non-belligerent grace period by their political opposition and the media.

house of representatives
The largest and most influential house of Parliament. Appoints the cabinet and from which the Prime Minister usually comes. Similar to the British House of Commons and known in Australia as the 'People's House' as compared with the Senate being the ‘State’s House’. Each of the 150 members represents approximately 120,000 people or 80,000 voters.

Cultural movement during the Renaissance emphasising secularism and classical learning from ancient Greece and Rome; the doctrine that emphasises the human capacity for self-fulfilment without religion.


The legislative equivalent of a criminal prosecution, where a high government official is subject, by a house of Parliament or Congress, to an investigation, indictment and subsequent trial.

The current holder of a seat in the legislature or of an office of authority.

identity politics
Political theories or advocacy which, rather than proposing better ways to fight crime, improve the economy or save the environment etc, orientate towards the victimhood, or alleged victimhood, of certain people because of their demographics, ie age, religion, gender, race etc.

informal vote
An invalid vote on the ballot paper. Made intentionally or by accident where the voter misunderstands how he/she has to indicate the choice for the desired candidates.

An interval of normal government, such as between administrations.

invisible hand
The free market theory of 18th century economist Adam Smith that there is an invisible hand to guarantee, that without government, there will always be a supply to placate demand. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest.”

A policy of isolating one’s country from military alliances or other commitments  with all other countries as a best resort to avoiding foreign entanglements. Historically a strong sentiment in the USA. President Woodrow Wilson won a second term in 1916 in promising (falsely) to keep America out of WWI, and the US was conspicuous in not joining the newly formed League of Nations. Prior to WWII aviator Charles Lindberg was prominent in the popular America First Committee which attempted to prevent the US being a participant in that war.


A nineteenth and twentieth century term to describe chauvinistic, bellicose expressions of nationalism, especially in warlike pursuits. The term is often associated with US President Teddy Roosevelt.

jobs for the boys
A type of political nepotism where prestigious government jobs are given to those in the party family- often those voted out of office or otherwise unemployed- rather than those deserving due to merit. Ironically the term once had a legitimate meaning in the previous century when it was used to express public gratitude for demobbed soldiers returning home from war. See also ‘nomenklatura’

judicial activism
A judicial philosophy advocating that courts are allowed to take an active role, not supported by existing law, to remedy alleged wrongs in society.

A clique, faction or cabal, often military, taking power after an overthrow of the government. From the latin ‘juncta’ for join.

jus ad bellum
The alleged justification a country will use to go to war.


Theories of very influential economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes, who advocated government taxing and spending to keep control on the economy. In times of recession he advocated high government spending on public works as well as intervention into the economy wherever it was thought necessary.

kitchen cabinet
An informal name for the chief executive’s closest advisers.

Cynical term used to describe highly corrupt governments where politicians, bureaucrats and their protected friends engage in sales of government licences, perquisites and other rorts.


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’

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.

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.

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.
(small l)

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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


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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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 to do, or refrain from, an action or otherwise be free from interference, as compared to the right to gain a specific benefit that would 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 the right of free association.

A non-profit non-government organisation.

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.

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’.

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.


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.

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

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.


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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

One interested or engaged in politics.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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


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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.


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.

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”.

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

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.

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

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.


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