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.
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.
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.
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.