We have all been given a vote which we can use today. Everyone has one, single vote – irrespective of age, income, height, wisdom, IQ or dress-sense. Nobody has a casting vote, a special vote, the power of veto. Every vote is absolutely identical. We cannot buy more votes, nor can we give our vote away to a friend. It is ours and only ours.
We are all equal in the great democratic game. One identical vote each.
Today we have the most precious vote of all – a General Election vote. A once-every-five years’ opportunity to say who we want to govern our country. All we have to do is walk to a polling station and put a cross on a piece of paper. Our vote cannot be used for anything else. We cannot get cashback if we don’t spend it.
Our vote is precious and invaluable. So how should we spend it?
Do vote !
We all must make sure we use this precious vote today. It is both our privilege and our responsibility. Over the years people have fought hard and even died to give everyone of relatively sound mind the right to vote. Over the years voting rights have been denied for non-property owners, former slaves, the illiterate and those of certain religious groups. In 1819, 15 people were killed at Peterloo in a mass protest in favour of “universal male suffrage”. In 1932, for the first time, the right to vote was extended from male property owners (1 in 7 of men) to the male middle-classes (1 in 5 of men). Thirty years later the skilled working classes were allowed to vote – extending the privilege to just a third of all males over 21. In 1884 this increased to two-thirds with the extension to more of the male working classes. It was not until 1918 when all men over 21, and – amazingly – women (thanks to Emmeline Pankhurst and the woman’s suffragette movement) over 30 were allowed to vote, and a further 10 years before women between the ages of 21 and 30 were included. In 1970, the voting age was lowered to 18.
So the right to vote was outrageously withheld from the masses for many years by wealthy, privileged males. The fact we can all vote on Thursday is a right, and a privilege which has been procured for us by those who believe that – whilst imperfect and flawed in so many ways – democracy is the best way to select and elect our leaders. And in a democracy, everyone should have a say.
Would it not be ungrateful, lazy and even irresponsible if us not to spend our precious vote in the best way possible?
These are my thoughts on how I will use my vote. I will not be saying who I will vote for, and would not presume – on principle – do advise others. It is – above everything – a personal choice and liberty to vote for whoever we choose.
Don’t vote tactically!
Some of us may be tempted to study the “form” and vote against a party rather than for a party. We may support the “Green party” but vote UKIP, because they have a chance of “keeping out Labour”. Personally, I don’t believe this is how we should use our precious vote. Why not? There are several reasons.
Firstly I feel it is dishonest. In my example, the Green Party will not receive a vote from its supporters and therefore will not know that people support them. UKIP will be encouraged by additional votes and believe they have your mandate to their execute policies. The Green Party will be discouraged and UKIP encouraged. We will have given UKIP permission to do things we may fundamentally oppose. It feels like we are lying to the system and misleading the parties.
Secondly, a tactical vote perpetuates the believe that your preferred party will never win. The Greens have no chance in this election because last time thousands of possible supporters believed they had no chance and voted for someone else. And so it will continue election after election. The Green party will be seen as losers, wen, in fact, if everyone voted with their true beliefs, they might start to snowball support.
Thirdly, we may call it wrong. How sure are we that your vote will be “wasted”? How would you feel if you voted UKIP but the Greens only narrowly lost?
Finally, the harsh reality is, my single vote – precious and invaluable as it is – in reality will not change the outcome of the result. So I may as well use it honestly and vote for who I believe in, whether I think they will win or not.
My first big vote was in the 1979 general election which heralded the glorious age of Thatcherism. Unfortunately my vote had not made the critical difference I had hoped. And of course, that was true for every individual – man, woman, working class, middle class or (as we called them then) upper class. The brutal truth is that at the next election my vote and your vote – whatever we do with it – will make absolutely no difference at all to the result – even to our seat, never mind the overall result and who sits in 10 Downing Street as CEO for UK PLC.
With apologies to Winchester (1997) where the vote was subsequently declared null and void, the closest vote for a parliamentary seat was 1930 when the good people of Ilkeston elected the National Labour Party over the Labour Party by just two votes. One confused X-er could have swung it the other way into a dead heat.
But ever since, nobody has been able to celebrate, or chastise themselves with the words “my vote won it” or “if only I had voted the other way”. That is the pure arithmetic of the electoral system. And in the light of that brutal truth, voting tactically makes no sense to me at all.
Promises and Policies?
So how should I decide who to vote for? We have all watched (or avoided) the TV debates, read (or ignored) our newspapers, maybe even read (or lit fires with) those interminable leaflets which drop through our door. They promise all things from world peace to lower taxes for hard-working families and an end to dog-fouling. Parties quote endless conflicting statistics and wheel out examples of this and that. They invent scare stories about each other and throw accusations and bricks at each otherlike kids in a playground. It can all be very confusing!
I guess we could scrutinise all of these claims, research all of the statistics, take a degree in economic theory and, on the weight of evidence and potential success of each policy, cast our considered vote. Unfortunately this would take rather a long time, and probably expose the fact that all of the parties are making claims they cannot substantiate and probably won’t deliver. Study the election manifestoes of any previous government, and compare it with what they actually delivered. The correlation is quite low. They fail to do things they promise and do other things which were never mentioned. So voting based on promises is risky to say the least.
Maybe we should vote based on personality? We can’t vote for Ed because he looks like a nerd and doesn’t know how to eat a hamburger? We can’t vote for Cameron because he is posh and went to Eton. Farage is mad and Clegg is dishonest.
Well it’s fair enough to examine the character of our politicians – do we trust them, are they genuine, are they in it for the country or for their careers? But really – personality – their individual quirks, mannerisms, hairstyles etc – has no relevance at all on how well they could run the country. If we want TV personalities, we should vote for them as we would vote for the X-factor, or Britain’s Got Talent. But if we are voting for people to weigh up complex issues and make difficult and critical strategic decisions for our country, we need to focus on their substance, not their appearance.
Let us assume for the moment that all of our politicians and parties are equality competent/incompetent, trustworthy/untrustworthy. If we are not to vote tactically, or based on a detailed assessment of every policy, and not for personality – how are we to distinguish between them?
Values and Beliefs
or me, the most important thing is to vote for the party or individuals whose values we believe in. Their policies may work, they may not work, but if we believe in their values, their ideology, and how they see the world and their “big picture”. What is their economic, social, national and international vision? What sort of Britain do they want to move us towards? And does that match your vision for the country? Are they prepared to make maybe even unpopular decisions for the greater good?
If it does, and if they are, we should vote for them – whoever they are !