If you’re in the UK, you have six days left to get your arse in gear and register to vote in the General Election. You should. Even if you are totally disengaged from politics, even if you think they’re all the bloody same, even if you think it’ll make no difference, you should, and here’s why. Whatever your principles and viewpoint may be, you gain absolutely nothing from not voting.
The electoral system in the UK does not, to the best of my knowledge, distinguish between refusing to vote because you won’t endorse our archaic shambles of a democracy, refusing to vote because none of the candidates represent you or your positions, and refusing to vote because you can’t be bothered. So you might as well vote, because as far as the systems of society are concerned, your refusal to do so lumps you in with the apaths and means you’re officially safe to ignore. (Quite a few of your friends probably think the same thing. I know most of mine do.)
Likewise, the said electoral system does not, to the best of my knowledge, distinguish between the ballot which is spoiled as a deliberate act of protest and the ballot which is spoiled because you have not mastered the art of putting ONE cross in ONE box. So you might as well vote, because as far as the systems of society are concerned, your refusal to do so lumps you in with the morons and means you’re officially safe to ignore. (It would be nice to have a ‘no confidence’ option, but the system doesn’t endorse that and even protects itself from gaming with rules on what you’re allowed to call your party or platform, you might as well play the hand you’re dealt.)
This is before we move on to the specific issue of British politics, namely that forty or sixty per cent (depending on who you ask) of the electorate don’t vote. If you’ve ever complained that the government doesn’t represent you, and you haven’t voted – of course it bloody well doesn’t, you didn’t ask it to, so unless you have your MP on speed dial and are constantly badgering them into doing the job they were nominated to do, it won’t. If you’ve ever complained that the government doesn’t represent you and you have voted, albeit for someone who didn’t get in – well, that’s a legitimate gripe. Here are a few things you can do about that.
- Keep voting. First past the post is an archaic, unrepresentative and inherently unfair system of election. And yes, the Alternative Vote referendum was a total botch-up, a political device to put an end to the question for a generation. But: you are absolutely not going to achieve any change in the system of government by refusing to engage with it at all. You are more likely to achieve a change in the system of government if you have allies both inside and outside the system who are working to change it. So you might as well vote for someone who’s committed to changing the system.
- Hold your MPs accountable. You might have read #1 and thought “but Jon, a politican’s promise isn’t worth a used fart on the lino!” – and you’re right, promises generally aren’t. Deeds, not words, are what count in politics. So make them do their job. Even if you didn’t vote for your MP, they still have a job to do: representing their constituency in Parliament. I didn’t vote for Harriet Harman but I still like to send her a nickety little note now and then, asking if she’s doing her job properly and where she was when such and such a piece of legislation went through.
- Build alternatives through local politics. It’s not easy to become an MP. You need time, contacts, more time, disposable income or financial backing to the tune of at least £500, and a thicker skin than Leviathan itself. If you’re starting from scratch, without the backing of a major party, you have an even bigger job to do. Force of habit is the strongest force in society, for one thing, and I’ve lived in seats where most folks’d vote for a pig if you stuck the right coloured rosette on it. You can’t chill up six months before the election and stand and expect to ride on on a wave of discontentment.Credible MPs from alternative parties or independent backgrounds build themselves up through a track record of engaging with and supporting their constituents at local level, and from a base of proven success in local government. Even if you wouldn’t endorse a TUSC or a Green or a UKIP candidate for Parliament, consider voting for them in council elections and giving them a chance to prove themselves worthy – and if they fail, hold #2 over them like the Sword of Damocles. You voted them in to do a job. If they don’t do it, vote them out – and make their jobs unbearable while they still have them.
- Vote tactically – but make sure you understand what that means. In General Elections, the national polls showing so and so at such and such percent of the popular vote don’t mean jack. For one – the polls only poll the sort of people who respond to polls, and I bet at least some of you have told a pollster to bugger off in your time. For two – what actually decides who governs the country is the results in actual constituencies. (In theory, at least; there’s almost certainly going to be a second stage this time around, as there was in 2010, but more on this later). A party may be polling at 8% nationally but they may be sitting on a thousand voter majority in your constituency and your vote should be informed by that. Knowledge is power.I reject the poisonous narrative that a vote for the Greens means a seat for the Tories or a vote for UKIP means a seat for Labour or whatever as a generality, but in your particular seat it may be true. The truth is in the numbers, my sweet summer children, and in the track record of your constituency MP. I’d vote for a Tory if they were a solid constituency worker and regularly refused to obey their party whip and actually turned up to debate and vote on the hot-button issue du jour. All right, that’s not strictly true. Say rather: I wouldn’t vote for anyone if I didn’t think they weren’t a solid constituency worker etc. etc.
As with so many things in life, the real questions here are “what do you have to lose?” and “what do you stand to gain?” Think about those for a minute. Then, if you have any sense at all – register to vote.