If you live in the United Kingdom you must know by now that we are about to have a general election. I say this for the benefit of my overseas readers, because in the U.K., newspapers and television are full of election coverage. Yet the election comes at a time when interest in politics is at an all-time low. Recent scandals have tarred all politicians with the same brush. Most of the parties are fighting for the middle ground, and people feel that there is not much to choose between them. So why should I bother to vote?
Do I vote for an person or for a party?
In theory we vote for an individual prospective member of parliament. But for government to work, it needs the support of a majority, and so the concept of a political party was formed. Members of parliament must work together with like-minded people for a party to be viable.
Very few of us have the advantage of knowing any of the candidates we can vote for. A friend of mine is standing as a candidate in a neighbouring constituency. If I could, I would vote for him as an individual, but geography makes that impossible. I can read the literature the candidates distribute, but the leaflets are full of official party policies and give very little insight into the personal views, character and integrity of the person. So in practice I will have to choose a party.
Do I vote for the party leaders?
In the United Kingdom we do not have a president and we cannot vote directly to choose a prime minister. When all the votes are counted, and M.P.s are elected, the Prime Minister will in practice be the party leader who can rely on the support of a majority in the House of Commons. That majority will either be from his own party, or perhaps from a combination of parties working formally or informally together.
But in the press and television all the focus is upon the party leaders. We, the electorate, have no say in who the parties choose as a leader. Indeed, we may find that some unsuccessful leaders are replaced by other eager candidates after the election. We should not really base our vote on the eloquence of the party leader, but we cannot help being influenced by the leaders personality (or lack of it).
The race for the middle ground.
Most voters in the United Kingdom are not believers in extreme right-wing or left-wing politics. We are not choosing between Fascism or Communism. Most parties are struggling for the middle ground. They all try to say that they stand up for ordinary people – and it is ordinary people who will decide the result of this election!
Merging of policies
All the parties say that they are uniquely different from other parties, and yet most people cannot see big differences between them. They claim that their policies would produce a stronger economy, that the deficit and national debt will be cut, that our borders will be controlled, and that our National Health Service will be protected. The parties try to outdo each other in promising how many billions will be spent on health, education and defence and how they will save money without effecting basic services!
I am not trying to say that there are not real differences of attitude and underlying motivation, but that at election times they all try to present their policies to attract the middle ground. In this article, I am trying very hard to not let my very strong feelings on political matters show, and people who know me personally, and Facebook ‘friends’, will be aware of my political leanings. There are parties I could not possibly vote for, not because of election promises, but because I do not trust their perspective and their commitment to look after the powerless and vulnerable as well as being interested in ordinary people. But enough said!
The long fight for freedom
We, in the United Kingdom, need to be aware of the long fight for freedom and democracy. It is a reason why every citizen should vote. Democracy, as a system, is not perfect, but is probably the best available. People have given their lives for us to have the chance to choose our government. Woman have chained themselves to the railings of parliament and suffered imprisonment to give women an equal right to choose who governs them.
In the world today, many people either cannot vote or have any real choice in who to vote for. Corruption can distort the way the elected accurately reflect the public vote. But in Britain, election corruption is negligible so I would say to everyone, “Get out and vote”.
What is one vote worth?
If I live in an area which always votes one way, I may think that it is a waste of time voting. My vote is only one of millions and statistically insignificant. Because I feel so strongly, I would like to think that my views are worth more than other people’s, but that is pride. I can influence others, but I only have one vote. But if no one voted, the way would be open to anarchy or dictatorship. One thing we can say is the only wasted vote is by the non-voter.
None of the above
There has been some discussion about having another option on the ballot paper enabling people to put their “X” against an en entry, “None of the above”. If you really cannot make up your mind, it would be good to state that, and still be counted. This seems to be much better than being lumped in with the apathetic or lazy, who don’t bother to vote. If enough people voted, “none of the above”, the politicians should take notice.
Even though there is no such option as “none of the above”, you can still make known your feelings by writing “none of the above” on the ballot paper. As such it will be counted as a spoilt ballot paper, scrutinised by the candidates or their agents, and included in an announced total at the count. But I do not recommend this unless you feel that there is nothing to choose between candidates – in which case it seems a perfectly adequate way of expressing your preference.
Vote with your heart
We are sometimes tempted to vote tactically but we cannot always calculate the result. I remember once when we, as a family, voted to decide the name of our new dog. One of my sons, tried to vote tactically, but it back-fired on him, leaving his favourite name being not chosen. Beware of tactical voting; it may not have the result you really wanted! If I was Spock from Star Trek, I would vote logically using my head, but I intend to vote with my heart…
So I would encourage everyone to vote, with your head or your heart if you care where we as a country are going. Remember the only way to waste a vote is not to vote at all.