Thursday, 7 May 2015

A Massive Election

Have you been to vote yet? Today is that day. The day that comes along only once every five years when you have the opportunity to have your say on who is running the country. I haven’t been yet but I will. After all, my local polling station is near to the chippy so what more incentive to get out and exercise my democratic right do I need?

In the unlikely event that you haven’t noticed or in the even more unlikely event that you haven’t noticed and actually want to know, I’m voting Labour. I’m in the fortunate position of having a party which more or less represents my political views so it’s what is now irritatingly referred to as a no brainer for me. Not only that, but my constituency of St.Helens South and Whiston has had a Labour MP since the last Ice Age. In the last General Election in 2010 they held a majority of 14,122. Even with Tory defector Shaun Woodward standing as their candidate, Labour were unmovable in the seat. You could stick a red rosette on Gary Glitter in St.Helens South and Whiston and he would still enjoy a sizeable majority.

All of which leaves some of us feeling that we maybe have a little less influence on the overall outcome of the General Election than others. If you live in a marginal constituency then your vote really, really matters. It could be the difference between five more years of Cameron and austerity, or packing the posh knob back off to his country club to guffaw about his personal fortune with all the other pheasant-shooters. When the financial crisis hit Cameron told us that we were all in it together, that it was going to be painful for us all but that together we would get through it. What he meant was that it was going to be painful for you if you were poor or unemployed, but a bit of a hoot if you happened to be already among the country’s top earners. All I need tell you about Cameron’s Britain is that despite more money being lost to this country by non-payment of tax by…say……snivelling Tory pop stars than by any amount of benefit fraudsters making bogus claims the fawning, right wing media spotlight remains on the latter. By ensuring it stays there Cameron can focus the minds of the undecided on that problem, divide the working classes, turn them on each other and conquer them. I’d give him credit for the brilliance of it if it were not an ancient Tory strategy.

Not everyone has been vocal about who they are voting for and why, turning their attentions instead to trying to convince everyone that they must vote, whoever that might benefit. The argument goes that the right to vote was fought over for years and that if you do not take up that right then you are being ungrateful in the first instance and that secondly you are forfeiting any right to bang on about how shite things are after the next government makes everything even worse than it already is. It’s an argument that troubles me. Surely the fight was for the right to take part in the democratic process, which you should be able to do just as well by not endorsing any of the current rabble. If you are not as fortunate as I and you find that none of the parties represent your personal political beliefs then what do you do? Vote for a party you do not support in the hope that it will damage the one that you hate the most? Possibly. Tactical voting will play a part in today’s election. But what if instead of that we had an option to abstain on the ballot paper? If the returning officers announced the number of abstentions registered in each constituency it is likely that many winning MP’s would nevertheless have secured a tally of votes which would be dwarfed by the number of abstentions. At that point perhaps the politicians, many of whom have become murky, arrogant shysters in the comfort of their huge majorities, might realise quite how unpopular they are and lift their game. If the low quality of the choices on offer is the reason for low turn-out rather than a lack of interest from the individual, then that individual has every right to moan for the next five years.

Until we have an option to abstain on the ballot paper I can’t see how compulsory voting is fair or sensible. I have seen and heard lots of people professing to know nothing about politics and have no interest in learning anything about it. One woman who was interviewed on the television recently did not know what a manifesto is, while another could not quite put her finger on who Ed Milliband is. Do we really want people with this level of ignorance to influence something as important as the decision on who forms the next government? Wouldn’t that be like asking me who should coach the England rugby union team, only with much graver consequences? It strikes me as particularly absurd to wait until the day of the election to encourage the politically disinterested to vote. The damage has already been done. Surely the way forward would be to try to find ways to engage these people in politics long before the General Election so that when it comes around they can make an informed choice? Quite how we do that is one of life’s imponderables. Russell Brand’s Park Life blathering doesn’t help, nor does the primary school jeering of MP’s every week at Prime Minister’s Question Time. But in the end the onus is on individuals to turn away from Joey Essex and Embarrassing Bodies and towards political engagement. I’m not hopeful.

As for the result itself, despite the declaration by every single news source that this is the most unpredictable election in years, most experts firmly believe that nobody will win outright by securing a majority. It’s like a cricket test match which has had four days of rain. Everyone tries to force a result on the fifth day but very often they give up early and go home. A party needs 326 of the 650 seats in the House Of Commons to secure a majority. That did not happen in 2010 which is the reason we have had a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government since then. This time around the permutations for possible coalitions are dizzying with Con-Dem, Lab-Dem, Lab-SNP coalitions and indeed everything except for a Lab-Con coalition within the realms of possibility. If none of these parties can work it out between them then the Conservatives or the Labour Party could attempt to form a minority government alone if they acquire more seats than any one of the other parties but less than the others combined.

Complicating matters further is the recent rise to prominence of far-right, Thatcherite foreigner-hating UKIP under Nigel Farage. Shockingly, UKIP have managed to seize the support of Little England. The kind of people who want to stop anyone who isn’t white and 100000% British from living in this country except for when they or their child needs that life-saving operation or that top quality education. I can speak from personal experience about receiving high quality health care from extremely clever individuals who are undeniably none-whites. The truth is that ideologically, and to paraphrase Will Self, UKIP and the BNP are an anorexic cigarette paper apart. If support for UKIP is a protest vote against the current government, against Labour, or against the current immigration situation which I think we all would agree needs further examination, it is a very dangerous one.

Whatever the outcome I am personally very excited about voting. There’s a chip barm involved.

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