Why you should vote (or spoil your paper) on May 6th

Vote on May 6th. Or spoil your paper if you want to register a protest. But go to the polling station, stand up and be counted.

There are so many reasons to vote, not least that there has never been a famine in a democracy.Think about that for a moment. Politicians will let you starve if they think they can get away with it. Voting is how we hold them to account. It’s how we keep them running scared, and we only get the chance once every four or five years.

If you don’t want to vote in favour of any party or you have issues with the first-past-the-post system then you can

  • Vote against the current government
  • Vote against your sitting MP
  • Vote for a minority party
  • Spoil your paper – the returning officer and the candidates read the spoiled papers

Failing to vote is NOT a criticism of the status quo. Turning up and protesting is just that criticism.

Voting is how we hold politicians to account.

This process of calling them to account is real: do you think the expenses scandal would have had the MPs running scared if we couldn’t hand out P45s come May 6th?  Ask   Edwina Currie, Neil Hamilton, Norman Lamont, David Mellor, Michael Portillo, Malcolm Rifkind and William Waldegrave whether they felt held to account when they lost their seats in 1997.  There’s no clip of Michael Portillo’s defeat on YouTube, so here is Neil Hamilton’s defeat at Tatton:

Democracy is not just good for us, it’s good for the world.

Researching this entry, I came across a second startling observation: Democracies do not fight each other.   This being the case, the health of our democracy matters, and in this light it is deeply worrying that turnout has been falling steadily since WWII.

Turnout in UK General Elections 1945-2005
Turnout in UK General Elections 1945-2005 – statistics from House of Commons Research Paper 04/61

This is a symptom of a lack of engagement with the political process which should worry us all.

Corporate lobbyists and party donors fill the power vacuum left by those who don’t vote.

Voting is the most direct way to undermine that, and lobbying your MP personally is even better. But you are busy, so support campaigning charities and other organisations which lobby for the issues you care about, even if all you do is donate once in a while.  Put briefly, governments make bad laws because we let them get away with it.

Voting is a privilege people are still dying to obtain.

The list is a long one, from Emily Davison, the sufragette who flung herself under the horses at the Derby to Neda Agha-Soltan killed in the post-election riots in Iran, and on to the current violence in Sri Lanka. Look up “Election Violence” in Google News.

How privileged are you to live in a country where you have the right to change the government without fearing violence or retribution? How insultingly complacent is it not to exercise that right?

Don’t let them confuse protest with apathy – state your objections to the current system on your ballot paper.

You may prefer a voting system which offers you a ‘none of the above’ option, or some form of transferrable vote or proportional representation.  If you are sincere, do the grown-up thing and support the Electoral Reform Society. But don’t assume that a passive-aggressive decision not to vote will be read as a protest. Use  your ballot paper to make that protest. The Lib Dems have promoted electoral reform for decades, so you can vote for them or simply spoil your paper by stating your views about electoral reform. Spoiled papers are read by the returning officer and shown to the candidates. Ok, it’s not much of a protest, but spoiling your paper is a true statement of abstention and failing to turn up is not.

If you can’t tell which party best represents you views, take the Political Compass quiz.

Sure, it’s simplistic but it’s also illuminating if you find sound-bite politics confusing. The Political Compass maps parties in terms of the interests of the individual vs the state as well as the familiar left and right axis.

UK Parties 2010 General Election

UK Parties 2010 General Election - click image to go to the Political Compass site

I was fascinated by the chart below which shows why so many Old Labour voters felt entirely disenfranchised by New Labour:

Political Compass: English Parties over Time

English Parties over Time - click image to go to the Political Compass site

So there you have it. Go and vote on May 6th because it is your chance to hold the bleepers to account and because it changes things. Democracy is good for people and good for the world, it is precious.  And finally, the right to vote is not just a significant privilege, it is also a duty.

A swift note on the Wikipedia links: Yes I know that Wikipedia entries are not authoritative enough to support the points I am making. But they’re informative and fairly neutral: I assume you are sufficiently resourceful to do your own digging and  sufficiently intelligent to make up your own mind based on what you find.


22 responses to “Why you should vote (or spoil your paper) on May 6th

  1. I’m staggered there’s no clip of Stephen Twigg’s win in ’97.

    In a poll for the millenium, taken from viewers of Channel 4 and readers of the Observer (so reasonably lefty bias, I suppose), people voted for the greatest moment of TV EVER.

    The top four were as follows:
    At one, predictably, the moon landing.
    At two, heartwarmingly, Nelson Mandela’s release.
    At four, Princess Diana’s funeral.

    Beating Diana’s funeral into fourth place? Portillo’s defeat in ’97. That poll made me believe we wouldn’t have another Tory government for at least ten years.

    We’ll see if it’s any longer…

    • I was stunned too. Presumably it was pulled by the the long arm of the oleaginous one. But the shocking moment in the Enfield clip for me was James Goldsmith (UKIP) grinning like a chimp and slow hand-clapping Portillo.

      If you find the clip, please post the link.


  2. I knew our views on the need to go and vote are very much in harmony but this is a very well argued and read-worthy rally for the cause!

  3. Amen to this, voting is important and writing “none of the above” does more to stick it to the man than staying at home and watching “The Wright Stuff”.

    I also think this kinda fits in with your “good people doing nothing” blog. In that in the Euro Elections two fascist MEPs were elected on a reduced vote because people stayed at home.

    Now that is unlikely in a General Election but it illustrates how important it is to vote IMHO.

    • I hadn’t made the connection with good men doing nothing, Ralph, but you are bang on the button. I’ll add that point in next time I make this particular speech in 2014 or 2015.

      This blog is deliberately agnostic in political terms, but I’ll respond to your comment about the electoral success of the fascist MEPs. The racist parties thrive in areas where the mainstream parties are missing the point, and the BNP’s success in the Pennines and London should be the biggest wake-up call of all to the mainstream parties. Simply bleating about how nasty racism is won’t cut the ice. You have to DO something about the sense of disenfranchisement, the lack of educational and employment chances, and the grinding brutality of daily life in those areas. What you do about them, I don’t know. But the success of the BNP is a symptom, and it won’t go away unless you tackle the cause.

      Gosh, but I’m ranty today. 🙂


  4. Also this site is horribly flawed, and stupidly simplistic but interesting nonetheless.


    • You are right, it is interesting, and in my case it gives a different result than Political Compass.

      And it is horribly flawed, not least because it is policy-based not principle-based. Yes, I think prisons should be less over-crowded, but we can’t afford to build new ones. And a lot of the time I just don’t have the information to know what is the wisest decision – come out of Afghanistan in a year, yes or no? I don’t know enough to say.

      But definitely interesting, and a good balance to Political Compass, which worries me because I can’t see how it’s funded.

      Thanks Ralph.


      • Even within the context of deciding on policies it is flawed as it has no real mechanism for letting you know how important the various ones are.

        I have, of late, come to the conclusion that reform of our voting system if of pretty much fundamental importance if we want to re-invigorate our democracy. However I had no real way of expressing this.

        My kid brother said of it “I may well agree with 70% of what party a say they will do. My problem is I doubt I will agree with 70% of what they will do if they win!”.

        That kind of cynicism is what is bad for democracy and ultimately if not tackled will become quite insidious.

  5. This is not to say that I won’t go out and vote on May the 6th (I most certainly will), but much as I agree with your “people died for the right to vote” sentiments, I can also understand why (frankly) people can’t be bothered.

    There are a whole variety of reasons ranging from living in an area where one party is so dominant that it doesn’t matter what they do a majority of the electorate will never change its mind and will continue to vote for them, to simply feeling that none of the parties represents your view to any significant extent.

    I often used to find myself in the former position, it didn’t matter how much I might turn out to vote ‘yellow’ it was never going to make any difference and disproved the old maxim ‘every vote counts’. Thankfully my current constituency is far more marginal now and I feel my vote could make a difference. Whether it will remains to be seen.

    So yes, voting counts, but only to a certain extent – first post the post means that thousand of votes every election have absolutely no impact on the make-up of parliament at all. And surprise surprise, the only party that has a real inclination to change the system is the one that is least likely to form a government.

    • Good points well made, Neil.

      I used to be hesitant about the idea of electoral reform because the system of constituency representatives gave us the mavericks like Tam Deyell, Dennis Skinner, Cyril Smith, and in different ways Martin Bell and Bobby Sands.

      But these days everyone toes the party line and all the nutty MPs are gone (except Boris, of course), and the argument for first past the post has gone with them.

      Thanks for commenting. Enjoy your vote!


  6. Tried the political compass. Closest matches to me were Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Whoda thunk? Closest party to me would be the Greens, or the 1972 Labour party. Closest party it’s worth actually voting for would, unsurprisingly, be the Lib Dems, which is where I think I’ll be putting my X, pointlessly in my incredibly safe Labour constituency. I’m not convinced by where they put the BNP – I’d have had them far further over the left (economically they’re practically commies) while still banging on the upper line of fascism.

    There are people I’m related to by marriage who will, they tell me, vote BNP. I can understand why. While I can’t stomach actually doing so myself, even as a protest, I do hope they get a million votes. I hope those votes are spread evenly and therefore thinly across each constituency they contest, rather than all being in Dagenham, say, but I do hope they do “well” enough. “Well” enough that the main parties can’t disregard the result as a fluke. “Well” enough, in a general, not European, election, that the main parties, and in particular the winning party, if there is one, has to take a good hard look at why otherwise “nice” people like my relatives would vote for such odious creeps.

    One last thing: in response to Ben’s cheerleading for the need to go out and exercise your right to vote, how about a statistical demonstration of why there’s probably no point?

  7. One more observation, this one from some twitterer after last week’s prime ministerial debate on TV: “Worst Kraftwerk gig ever”.

    • Thank you for this SoRB

      It will be fascinating to see how long it stays there for…

      It is moments like this which make Democracy worth while.

      • It is funny really I remember being soooo happy when this happened. And waking up the next day I genuinely (as a somewhat idealistic 17 year old!) thought the world was going to change for the better…

        Now looking at chosing my vote on a more Zweckrational basis of instrumentally voting to keep out the candidate I would like least I wish I was as optimistic as I was back then.

        Because I was too young to vote in 97 I can honestly say I have *never* voted positively, always against someone rather than for anyone.

        I really dislike FPP as a voting system because I don’t ever really get to vote for what I beleive in because I don’t want to waste my vote… sigh….

      • I’m not convinced by the concept of “the wasted vote”. Surely it is just as much of a waste to vote for the inevitable victors? The appalling disparity between the number of people who vote Lib Dem and the number of seats they get is only apparent because of those who reject the “wasted vote” hypothesis. Without us, the case for (and very distant prospect of) electoral reform would be far weaker.

        Those of us who vote for minority parties achieve a variety of things

        1) we give a focus and an organisational voice to certain minority opinions – be they anti-European sentiment, green-ness or racism. This means that those voices have (a bit) more credibility than they otherwise would have, and conversely, that the majority opinion does not go un-tested.

        2) we undermine the mandate given to our rulers, particularly important when FPtP has given us landslides like Thatcher’s and Blair’s

        3) we mean that there are dissident and un-whipped voices in the media and in the Commons

        4) we provide hope

        I may work this up into a post, if you guys will forgive me, but the concept of the “wasted vote” annoys me.


      • Hello
        I uploaded this to Youtube. I found it hidden within an ITN video of election results.

        I looked for it to show my son the last time there was a genuine seachange in politics.

      • Thank you for uploading it, InLiverpool. You’ve made a cynical voter very happy.

        And now for the next sea-change….


  8. In the words of Jules Winfield, allow me to retort…

    One might begin by questioning the point of voting. This is not rhetorical nihilism, it’s an honest inquiry – why do people who vote, vote?

    The answer, I propose, boils down to just two alternatives:
    (a) to register broad agreement with a particular position and, possibly, to aid that position’s chances of becoming the position of government OR
    (b) to register DISagreement with the currently prevailing position and, possibly, to aid the removal of that position from government.

    In either case, if all you want to do is register your opinion, then FPTP is fine. Your vote is taken, and counted.

    However, if all you want to do is have your opinion noted, you might just as well start a blog, or even simply register with the Daily Mail website and record your opinions in their comment boxes. Merely voicing your opinion is just an ego trip, ultimately. So the only actual point to voting is to effect change. And in the real world, for the past century, the ONLY way to effect change has been to vote for one of two parties – and even then unless you live in one of the tiny minority of marginal constituencies, your vote is truly wasted.

    Taking your points in order:
    I don’t believe the line about giving minority opinions a voice. In this day and age, every minority opinion has a voice anyway, they don’t need a political party to do it. How many of the more than a million who marched against the war in Iraq in 2003 were a member of Galloway’s Respect party?

    Minority voters do precisely nothing to undermine the mandate given to landslide winners. My mother voted Lib Dem in 1997. In Wigan. How wasted a vote was that? (In fact, one of my fondest memories of the summer of 1997 was hearing Tory politicians being asked things on the radio and thinking “Oh do push off, you tit, didn’t you get the memo? What you think DOESN’T MATTER ANY MORE.” For a few halcyon months even the main opposition party seemed like a footling irrelevance. How much more so then were those other lot trailing in third or further back?

    I’m not sure of the value of dissident and unwhipped voices in the commons. What, overall, did Martin Bell actually achieve, beyond removing the odious Hamilton?

    And hope? Lib Dem voters provide hope? To whom?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ll not be voting for either mainstream option. And I shall vote, never fear. BUT if you want your vote to effect change (and if it doesn’t, what’s the point of it?), then you have to do more than just vote.

    The reason this election campaign has been shaken up has nothing whatever to do with voting, and everything to do with the media and public appetite for showdowns. And where did that come from? Not a ballot box…

  9. Good points well made, as always, SoRB. If I have the time, I’ll put up my reactions as a separate post.

    I’m aware that I really WANT voting to matter, but I guess whether or not it does matter all depends on what you mean by “matter”.

  10. Pingback: I’ve got life – Happy 101 Sweet Friends « Thinking about it…

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