Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Your Vote Matters (Well, To A Certain Extent, I Suppose)

OK, sorry for yet another politics post, particularly after such a long gap, but we're almost at the election! The day after tomorrow, the polls will open and Britain will flock to cast their vote for whoever they want to lead us for the next however many years it is.

Well, some of them will, anyway. One of the major problems with our first-past-the-post electoral system is that it's entirely too easy to find yourself stuck in a constituency where your preferred candidate has not the faintest chance of being elected, even if they're from one of the major parties. And in those circumstances, it's completely understandable that a lot of people will simply not bother, or vote for someone who's kind of close to their preference, but isn't quite what they were after. I think that's a shame.

So, I'm going to use this space to give you three good reasons why you should vote, and moreover why you should vote for the person you actually want to get in rather than the person who might make it. I may as well note before I start that the cornerstone of democracy is that everyone is free to cast their vote for whoever they want, for whatever reason they want, or indeed not to vote at all. If you want to vote for the BNP to "send a message" to the "political elite", for instance, that's your democratic right. (That said, we have a great tradition of free speech in this country, so it's also my right to call you a complete idiot if you do.) Essentially, I'm fully aware that if you don't want to vote for anyone, or if you want to vote tactically, that's absolutely your right, so don't let me guilt you into it. But if you'd care to read on, here's why there might be a better option.

First, parties become competitive by people voting for them when they are not competitive. That's been the Liberal Democrat pattern for ages — they very rarely take a seat out of nowhere, but rather do it over two or more electoral cycles, slowly gaining enough support to be seen as potential challengers to the incumbent, at which point enough people take them seriously to get them the rest of the way. Another example is the Greens, who haven't had a decent shot at a Parliamentary constituency since their formation, but who stand a reasonable chance of taking Brighton Pavilion this time around. So even if the vote you cast for a non-competitive party this time around doesn't get them into office, people will look at the vote total next time. Not just the voters, but also the parties themselves — the more people vote for them in a given constituency, the higher the chances that they'll pour some more cash into campaigning there in the future.

Secondly, people look at the popular vote. Even in our voting system, where the popular vote is technically irrelevant, it gets a lot of attention from the parties when they're campaigning or when they're trying to argue that their opinion should be taken more seriously. And in this election, where there's a reasonable chance of the Liberal Democrats coming second in the popular vote but a distant third in seats (and of Labour coming first in seats despite coming second or even third in the popular vote), the popular vote is likely to be a powerful argument in favour of voting reform. When we're talking about popular votes, every vote is as important as every other.

Thirdly — and perhaps most importantly — this is the least predictable election for a generation. The Lib Dem surge caught everyone unawares (watching the Conservatives scrabble madly to regain the initiative after the first debate was a particular highlight for me, I have to admit), and with this coming on top of the expenses scandal (which has resulted in around a hundred MPs not seeking re-election), a lot of constituencies are suddenly way more open than they have been for years. In short, unless we get some kind of voting reform before the next election, this may well be the public's best chance for decades to upset the normal order of things and bring a bit of variety to politics. Don't blow it now!

Campaigning is in its final stretch, and if you haven't decided who to vote for yet, you're almost out of time. Whatever the outcome, this is the most exciting election the UK's seen for ages and the possibilities are fantastic. I don't know about you, but I for one am looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Whilst I'm not so dumb as to not understand your real meaning, the image of the Green party taking over Brighton Pavillion is precious, especially since it belongs to Brighton precisely because Queen Victoria thought it was too embarrasing to own.