Why Vote: It Encourages Them

I’m seeing a lot of people at the moment saying that they’re not planning on voting this year, because their vote will make little difference. And I can certainly see the point they’re making.

We have a crappy electoral system, one which leads inevitably to governments either solely formed by, or completely dominated by, two huge parties whose views are almost identical to each other and who are pursuing an agenda that is frankly vile.

In those circumstances, it’s easier to not bother to vote, and to channel one’s political energies into non-Parliamentary campaigning.

And, indeed, non-Parliamentary campaigning is vital, and *is* probably more important than the electoral system in actually getting things changed, given the current sorry state of Parliamentary politics. And this is why I give time or money to Amnesty, the Open Rights Group, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and other such campaigning organisations. Those groups are all pushing at the Overton Window, and that can only be a good thing.

But at the same time, if you want to change something about the way the world works, yes, you should push the Overton window in your direction as much as possible, but at the same time, once your issue becomes within the realms of political possibility, there will be a party standing in your area who will find it easier to modify their positions towards the ones you want. If your big issue is, for example, lowering the tax rate on rich people to 20%, the Tories would be more likely to go for that than the other parties. If you want to ban cars because they’re too polluting, the Greens will be most likely to go for it. Re-nationalise the energy providers? Labour. Land Value Tax? Lib Dems. Deport all immigrants? UKIP. And so on.

So in your constituency, there is undoubtedly a party standing which, while you don’t agree with them, will be more likely to take on the positions you want as soon as it becomes political expedient than any of the other parties will. So while voting will not make much of a difference, *as part of a broader range of activities* ranging from signing petitions to giving money to campaigning groups to joining parties and influencing them from the inside it may make a difference.

Now, I’m very fortunate in that where I live I don’t have to compromise my vote. Our local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Dave Page, is someone with whom I agree on about 90% of the issues we’ve discussed, who’s as active and effective a campaigner as you can imagine, and who I trust enough that he has a spare key to my house. I’m not quite as sure about this Andrew Hickey bloke the Lib Dems are standing for council in my ward, mind, but even if he’s useless he can’t actually be *worse* than the current lot…

So I don’t have to compromise at all — I can go into the polling station and know that I’ll be voting for people who will do the right thing as I see it — and so it’s easy for me to go on about how everyone should vote. I won’t be standing in judgment over anyone who doesn’t — as I’ve said above, I can understand people’s reasons. But I do think that given the opportunity to give politics a tiny nudge in the right direction, whichever direction you think that is (and I hope it’s a liberal and democratic one), you might as well take it.

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6 Responses to Why Vote: It Encourages Them

  1. andy nunn says:

    It makes a hell of a difference. I suffer from serious depression. And I intend to commit suicide if the Tories get back in. I’ve had enough.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Well, I hope the Tories don’t get in *anyway*, but I also hope that even if they do, you don’t kill yourself. As someone who has depression myself, I know how difficult it can be, and won’t patronise you with the usual platitudes, but I *do* think that suicide is never a good idea, and I fervently hope that your depression gets better enough that it doesn’t seem like an option any more.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    I attended the Forest of Dean constituency hustings last week. At one point, the LibDem candidate urged everyone present, “Please do use your vote, or at least go to the polling station and spoil your ballot.” What is the advantage of deliberately spoiling a ballot over simply not voting?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      If you deliberately spoil a ballot, you’re registering an active protest rather than just being apathetic and not caring. There’s no real difference other than that, but if you want to send a message to the candidates, they have to all see every spoiled ballot and agree it’s been spoiled, so they’d all see your message.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Ah! That I did not know. So I could use the opportunity to write an actual message on the ballot. Thanks for the tip. (Though in fact I will cast an actual vote.)

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Yep, any vote that there could be any confusion about is shown to the candidates and their agents (if present, which they aren’t always — sometimes if someone knows for certain they’ve not win, they’ll head home, as it’s a long day). That’s usually votes where, for example, there’s a cross in one box but a bit of a mark in another, but I’ve seen ballot papers at counts with “none of them, there all theiving scum” written on, or with write-in votes for the National Front, that sort of thing. They’re put to one side and checked over.
          (The voting process is actually pretty good at dealing with that sort of thing — another of the many reasons I prefer it to electronic voting. Every effort is made to determine if a legitimate preference has been expressed, so for example the ballot in the Scottish Parliament elections a couple of years ago which had “wanker” written by every name except one, which had “good bloke” written by it, was taken as a vote for the “good bloke”.)

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