Wednesday 21 May 2014

Why you should vote

In the weeks before the 2014 European and Local elections I did a lot of coverage in order to explain why it is a good idea to vote alternative, and to examine the policies of certain political parties in greater detail than the mainstream media care to.

One of the most commonly recurring comments has been the "why bother, they're all the same" expositions of apathy. Some people even made outright appeals to voter apathy with "Everyone should just stop voting" type comments (possibly inspired by Russell Brand).

In this article I'll explain why voting is important (without any platitudinous "you owe it to your ancestors" moralistic appeals) and explain why apathy is such a poor way of expressing discontent with the political system.

OK, I admit it, the voting system is rubbish

I believe that marking a piece of paper every five years or so for some rosette wearing politician to supposedly represent your interests from then until the next paper marking ceremony is an appallingly unrepresentative system, and that proper democracy should involve a great deal more citizen participation. If politicians had to actually consult the electorate (via local or national referendums) on the major decisions they take, there's no way they could get away with doing so many things that the majority of the public strongly oppose.

The voting system used in Westminster elections is particularly outdated and unrepresentative, and the vast number of "safe seats" (created by the lack of proportionality) has led to ever increasing levels of tactical voting (voting for a party you don't even like in order to keep out an even worse party) and outright political apathy.

However, realising that the current political system is flawed, unrepresentative and apathy inducing is no excuse for not voting. The system may be rubbish, but it's the only system we've got right now, so the key is to vote intelligently in order to change it from within.

Your options

When it comes to voting, you've got three options.

You can vote for the political establishment and support parties that have a vested interest in keeping the system pretty much exactly the way it is, because it keeps returning them to political power. The three parties that have governed the UK for the last 35 years have used this power to relentlessly push the Thatcherite ideology of neoliberalism, and they've sold off the national silver at bargain basement prices, despite the fact that the majority of the public would rather their essential infrastructure and services were publicly owned and run on a not-for-profit basis.

Voting for the establishment parties is essentially saying "more of the same please" to the political classes.
Voting alternative is seen as risky, especially in Westminster elections, because you might end up "splitting the vote" and letting one of the establishment parties that you strongly dislike get into power. This "splitting the vote" excuse doesn't wash in the European elections because they are conducted on a more modern proportional representation system, meaning that every vote counts, and minor parties are in with a good shout of actually getting MEPs elected. If you want to see real change then it is best to vote for a minor party that a. has a realistic chance of getting enough of the vote to return some MEPs and b. has a manifesto commitment to enact reform the voting system. 
Voting for an alternative party is essentially saying "I'm sick of this, I want change" to the political classes.
Not voting at all simply means that you're handing more political power to those that do choose to vote. Some people seem to think that by not voting at all they are expressing dissent, but it's simply not the case. Look at the 2012 PCC election farce. The turnout for this ludicrous election was the lowest in British electoral history, with 85% of the public not bothering to vote. In 8 of the regions the winning candidate ended up with votes from less than 5% of the eligible public! Do you think that any of them cared that 95%+ didn't bother to vote for them and then refused to take up their lucrative taxpayer funded jobs out of principle? Of course they didn't. Even if we upped the level of apathy so that everyone stayed at home, these people would still just vote for themselves, and still take up their jobs, without giving the slightest damn about their lack of mandate.
Not voting at all is essentially saying "I don't even care, I'll let other people decide for me" to the political classes.
Voting alternativeIn my view the only sensible option for people who are dissatisfied with the system is to try to change the system from within.

Put it this way, in 2010 David Cameron's Tory party received 23.5% of the eligible vote, yet 35% of people didn't even vote at all! The votes of less than a quarter of the public resulted in a shiny faced proven liar with no real world experience and appalling leadership skills becoming our Prime Minister, yet more than a third of people stayed at home!

If staying at home and not voting actually changed anything, then that 35% would have been the winner and the Prime Minister would have been decided in the most apathetic manner possible - perhaps the Queen picks a random National Insurance number out of a gigantic velvet bag and appoints that person Prime Minister (probably a better system than the one we've got). But that's not the way the system works, so instead we get a Prime Minister that 76.5% of the public didn't even want.

There are an awful lot of political tribalists who relentlessly vote for the same political parties. Put a red rosette on a donkey and there are former industrial heartlands that will vote it into power with a stonking great majority, and even if David Cameron killed, dismembered and ate a baby live on television, there are millions of habitual Tory voters who would still continue voting Tory. It's impossible to say exactly how many political tribalists there are, but I'd estimate around 15% each for the Tory party and Labour.

If a significant proportion of people who didn't bother to vote last time around decided to vote alternative, and people stopped voting tactically and voted for a party that they actually endorse, the establishment parties would probably still win the majority of seats because of the way they have rigged the system in their favour for the last hundred years, but alternative parties would gain a lot of seats and send a powerful shockwave through the establishment.

Why you should vote alternative in the European election

As I mentioned before, the European elections are conducted on a more modern proportional voting system, meaning there are no "safe seats", no "wasted votes" and no sane reason for voting tactically. If enough people in a region vote for a party, that party will end up with an MEP.

Another very good reason to vote in the European election is the appallingly low turnouts which have never exceeded 50%. In 2009 the turnout was just 34%. The fact that around two thirds of people won't bother to vote in this election has the effect of doubling the voting power of those who do. Not only do you get to vote for the party you actually like, your voting power is doubled too.

It is worth noting that the people of Wales and Scotland have their own national assemblies, which are elected on a proportional basis, but the people of England don't. If you live in England, the European elections are your only chance to vote under a fair electoral system.


The outdated and unrepresentative voting system used in Westminster elections is hopelessly unfair. The vast majority of people end up being represented by a politician they didn't even vote for. There isn't a single constituency in the whole of the UK where more than 50% of the electorate actually voted for the MP that supposedly represents their interests. Under such an unrepresentative system it is understandable that many people vote tactically (for parties they don't even like), and millions just give up hope and don't even bother to even vote at all.

The Westminster system badly needs to be reformed. My suggestions would be:

  • Larger constituences with proportionality - This would get rid of all the safe seats, wasted votes and tactical voting rubbish, and it would provide people with a selection of local MPs, so that they can contact them all and judge which ones actually listen to their views and represent their interests, and then vote accordingly the next time around.
  • Positive and negative voting - This would allow people to vote for the parties they actually like, and against the parties they hate.
  • None of the above - A "none of the above" option would allow people to actively express their discontent with all of the candidates, rather than simply staying at home and not voting, which is easily mistakable for pure apathy.
  • Local and national referendums - This would give people the chance to vote on the issues that concern them, rather than having that power outsourced to the local MP that in all probability, they didn't even vote for.
The European elections are different, and as far as I'm concerned, you've got no excuse for not getting out to vote for the party that best represents your political views (unless they are a really tiny fringe element without a chance of even picking up a few thousand votes). If you live in England and you don't bother to vote in the European elections, you're wasting the best opportunity you've got to vote for a party that you actually approve of.

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More articles from
Reasons to vote alternative 
The AAV Euro election scorecard

 The mainstream media oligopoly
Why 73% of UKIP supporters should actually vote Green

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