Why I’m not voting in 2015

When I vote it’s for one of two reasons – because a party I like can win or because one I dislike needs help beating one I hate. When you think like an anarchist, all voting’s tactical: I’d vote Labour in Sheffield Hallam, Lib Dem in Oxford West, Green in Brighton Pavilion, SNP in a heartbeat in Scotland. I’d stay home in a Tory/Ukip marginal or a safe seat. I’m staying home this year.

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Last time round I voted Labour in Oxford East, then a swing sweat with a Labour majority of 963. Copeland, where I’m now registered, has had four MPs, all Labour, in the last eighty years, who’ve always done better locally than their party nationwide. Labour is sure to increase its vote share this year, so I’m convinced incumbent Jamie Reed will too. Ukip may be a problem – it’s their sort of seat – but my sense is they’ll take at least as many votes off the Conservatives, his real competitors. Factoring in the Lib Dem collapse, I don’t think Reed will need every last vote, so I’m not giving him mine.

Like many on the left, I want Labour to scrape a miserable win, limping bloodied and bruised to minority government – my hope and no doubt theirs in private is for a deal with the SNP. I want them wiped out in Scotland, feeble in the Commons with scant majorities in what they seats they win, but I want them in power – or rather (which is the problem), want Cameron out. Given the choice, I won’t vote for a party that attacks the vulnerable – slicing welfare, hounding migrants, abolishing welfare for migrants – and for ten years or more, Labour’s sole appeal to the left has been that there exists no other choice, keeping its yellowing grassroots in line with threats of Tory rule in an electoral protection racket.

Nowhere is complacency costing Labour more than in Scotland, where it campaigned alongside the Tories to retain parliamentary seats it now looks sure to lose. Claiming SNP votes meant Tory victory may have worked back when the Scots Nats couldn’t actually win, but has no purchase now. As well as contempt for Scotland’s public, it shows Labour can’t handle a real electoral challenge from the left: stripped of their monopoly on keeping the Tories out, forced to make and win arguments, its suits have no idea what to do, scolding Scots for behaving like they have a choice. The truth is it’s Labour that’s used them as a shield against the right, taking their votes for granted while offering nothing in return. While the party’s arrogance lasts, it will continue strangling its support.

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Haggling with the SNP can only serve Labour’s interests – with any luck it’ll help them reconnect with their roots. Meantime, I won’t cast one vote more for them than I need to. Who and what does that leave? Out of Reed’s challengers only the Greens feel palatable, but having finished last five years ago – two spots behind the BNP, who came in fourth – getting back their deposit would be a breakthrough. I might as well spoil the ballot, in which case why take part at all?

We’re told it’s still our duty to turn up if we can’t stand to vote, voiding the form to send our leaders a scrawled note that like chartists and suffragettes who died so we could fall in line, we believe in democracy, just not in them. Except I don’t believe. I don’t buy there being something noble about a few voters in swing seats mattering two days a decade, forced to choose between parties who differ marginally and whose pledges are nonbinding; about one vote in five meaning one seat in eleven, getting most votes not guaranteeing a win and a third of MPs having attended private schools, or ministers who find gay people’s right to wed impregnable but not their right to eat. By the time people’s existence is subject to a vote, what’s become of the democracy generations past really fought for – the idea of all people holding an equal stake? Chartists and suffragettes deemed voting a means to an end, not the end of history. The real insult is gesturalising it – if I can’t change an election result, I won’t enter the box.

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There’s an argument politicians might at least take more notice of spoilt votes. Aside from just being wrong – when did you last read about ballots being void rather than turnout being low? – it raises the question: if you’ve managed to mobilise nonvoters well enough to dent topline figures, something the left can only dream of doing, why not throw their weight behind someone who deserves to win? No-shows do more to disturb politics than ruined forms – a vote for none of the above still involves taking part, standing in line as if you respect the winner’s right to do what they like. A government brought to office on record turnout due to spoilt votes could still claim public faith in the system; a strong plurality on meager turnout, meanwhile, makes the whole setup look discredited. (In 2010, barely a fifth of Brits voted Conservative.)

Saying you plan to stay in on polling day attracts a storm of votesplaining. There are folk who take it upon themselves to challenge what they guess are my motives, insisting not all politicians are the same and that I should stop listening to Russell Brand. Others tell me I won’t have a voice, but there are people – donors, newspaper owners, lobbyists, direction action groups, public bodies – with far more influence on politicians than voters, and more and better ways to be heard politically. (You’re reading this.) As a millennial, I’m swamped with patronising web campaigns and YouTube clips. Most gratingly, I’m told I’ll have no right to complain should the Tories manage to hold on. Apart from my instinct all mistreated people have the right to complain, I accept there’s a chance of that – and should it come down to one seat, and if Jamie Reed loses by one vote, I’ll take as much responsibility as everyone else in Copeland who doesn’t vote for him.

I’m not against voting, nor am I under any illusions. This year I’m not doing it. This is why.

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Why I’m not voting in 2015

11 thoughts on “Why I’m not voting in 2015

  1. 1

    I’m in Crawley, one of the most marginal seats in the country (in 2005 Labour held the seat by just 37 votes, before losing to the Tories in 2010).

    I’ll be voting Green though, despite the fact that they’ve no hope of victory and that by doing so I might contribute to a Tory victory, precisely because they and the SNP and Plaid Cymru are occupying the Left-wing position that Labour has moved away from.

    By voting Green, not only will I be following my conscience on party policies, but on a national scale I’ll be representing a Left-wing voter-bloc that Labour will have to court if they ever want to form a majority government again.

    A non-voting Leftie is indistinguishable from a non-voting right-wing lunatic. As I see it, voting UKIP or Green is a way of telling the two main parties which way to move if they want your vote.

    1. 1.1

      Agree about Plaid, the Greens and the SNP and the need to drag Labour left again. Crawley is one place I’d most definitely vote for them, but it sounds like you’ve thought about it.

  2. 2

    The quinquennial cycle is a guarantee of betrayal, as is its insipid sybling the quadrennial cycle. Compulsory annual elections are the only way to discipline the politicians sufficiently to get them to act in the voters’ interest. If the debate has come down to the level of pointlessness that we’re arguing whether we should spoil our ballot papers or stay at home then the disengagement is complete and the system needs a radical overhaul.

  3. 3

    I agree with chainborne on voting to signal the presence of available votes. I’m in a fairly safe lib dem seat in the west country; I’ll be voting Green.

    The problem of tactical voting is that it turns out to be bad strategy: you get the problem where everybody likes party A but votes for party B because nobody believes that party A will get votes. The long-term solution is to vote for what you actually support.

    The problem with annual elections (@3) is that then we’re in a permanent campaign, and long-term policy making becomes an even lower priority. Possibly a better solution is to have reasonably long terms (4-5 years?) but for a certain proportion of the seats to be contested every year; that way instead of the once every N years national election, the makeup of the legislature changes gradually, with the composition of the latest intake indicating which way the wind is blowing.

    Most of these things would become simpler if we weren’t stuck in first past the post, one person one vote territory. I favour approval voting (one person one ballot), where you go down the ballot sheet and can vote for any and all candidates you would support. It avoids the bloc-splitting problem of standard first past the post, and doesn’t require run-offs.

  4. 4

    @4

    The problem with annual elections (@3) is that then we’re in a permanent campaign,

    a) What’s wrong with that? Seems like a good way to run a democracy to me. More scrutiny, more self-justification, more embarrassments. Excellent politics.
    b) How do you know that would happen anyway? If the dynamics of the electoral cycle change, why don’t you think the dynamics of campaigns wouldn’t change too?

    and long-term policy making becomes an even lower priority.

    @4 Democracy is government by the people. If the people want long-termism they would be free to vote for the same party year after year. If they don’t vote that way, they don’t want long-termism. If in response to them voting this way you propose to force them to accept long-termism by preventing them from voting until the 4th year, then you don’t believe in democracy.

    And long-termism isn’t a self-evident good anyway. A long-term war against a Middle Eastern country needs to be put to the people regularly or all kinds of long-term abuses take place.

    Possibly a better solution is to have reasonably long terms (4-5 years?) but for a certain proportion of the seats to be contested every year; that way instead of the once every N years national election, the makeup of the legislature changes gradually, with the composition of the latest intake indicating which way the wind is blowing.

    Totally disagree. Look, when you vote, you hand over power. Is ANYBODY good enough to have power handed to them on a plate for 4 years? No. Not by me. Not by anybody.

    Most of the arguments against annual elections are based on “we’ve always done it this way” and then projecting the problems of the present dreary cycle onto a theoretical annual cycle. People need to free their minds from this brainwashing. We don’t do anything else on 4 yearly cycles. We don’t fill in our tax forms 4-yearly, or renew our benefits 4-yearly, companies don’t elect their boards for 4 years, they have an AGM. That’s normal. Why aren’t we doing it? We’ve let the politicians indoctrinate us into assuming they are in charge. They aren’t. We are.

  5. 5

    Sadly in the US there is usually zero choice but the lesser of two evils, and making real change happen has to come from activism rather than expecting more than the bare minimum out of elected officials. The rethuglican party is that horribad, you have to vote against them (when you even have the option) or you’re fucking up.

  6. 6

    Possibly a better solution is to have reasonably long terms (4-5 years?) but for a certain proportion of the seats to be contested every year; that way instead of the once every N years national election, the makeup of the legislature changes gradually, with the composition of the latest intake indicating which way the wind is blowing.

    As with local councils, many of which have a third of the seats elected every year (although with no election one year in four so that councillors serve a four year term, which is a bit odd). In Southampton all the council wards have three members, so everyone in the city gets a vote in every local election.

    However, if this was done on a national level it would have much the same effect as electing everyone every year – the party leadership would spend most of their time capaigning for the next election as even though only a third of seats would be up for election that would be enough to affect who was in government.

  7. 7

    @7 So does that happen in Southampton? The Council doesn’t function because the politicians are always campaigning? No. Then why assume that’s what would happen at national level under annual elections?

    People really need to think this through a bit better.

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