And now for something completely different…
My good friend and ex-colleague Ned Hartley was talking to me the other day about politics. I studied politics at university, but rarely get drawn into arguments over politics. Maybe that’s because I spent one too many Wednesday mornings at uni hungover and arguing about governance or whether the BNP should be allowed the oxygen of publicity (yes they should, btw), or maybe I just don’t talk about politics much because I much prefer to listen to other people’s views. I think a lot can be learned from listening instead of shouting over one another.
Anyway, Ned and I were talking about voting behaviour, and I told Ned it’s my secret geeky interest – I wrote my dissertation about it. So Ned and I reckoned what with the European and local elections happening TOMORROW in the UK, it’d be good time for him to do a guest post about why the top of your to-do list tomorrow should be going a voting. Otherwise: SHAME ON YOU. Over to Ned.
“Democracy is the worst form of government”, said Winston Churchill, “apart from all the others”. Look, no one knows better than I do that the next General Election seems like it’s going to be a choice between grotesque villainy and horrifying incompetence. Which is why I can understand the rise of movements advocating spoiling your vote, voting none of the above or not voting at all. Russell Brand summed it up pretty well when he said, “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does.” And maybe he’s right.
It’s hard not to see the rise of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) as an extension of this same sentiment. Nigel Farage is the flip side of Russell Brand: he claims that he’s not a politician (even though he is) and he pretends to offer something other than Westminster’s “Politics as normal” (even though he doesn’t). It’s easy to knock Farage and UKIP, but it’s harder to address the source of the problem. This is about the frustration with politics that Farage cynically manipulates, it’s about voter disenfranchisement that allows UKIP to get a hold.
Farage and UKIP’s policies are only really coherent when they are presented in opposition to something, and that’s because it’s easier than coming up than an idea on your own, and it would be easy to write them off if they weren’t polling so well. In the last London opinion poll they were only 1% behind the Lib Dems, clearly taking support not just from disillusioned Conservative voters, but also Labour and Lib Dems voters as well. This is a problem that’s bigger than just the right wing throwing a strop at David Cameron, it’s indicative of a much larger trend in British politics.
It isn’t fair to call UKIP the British version of the US Tea Party, but they harness the same vague anti-establishment sentiment to mask their cruel agendas. This problem is massively compounded when the solution offered by people like Russell Brand is “don’t vote”, a simple refusal to participate. This can be a tempting option, to see yourself as standing nobly above the crowd in your refusal to part of a broken system. If enough people do this then surely someone must notice that something is wrong – right?
But this is a basic misreading of what democracy is all about. Democracy doesn’t owe you a perfect candidate; it doesn’t owe you a 2008 Obama complete with “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”. Democracy doesn’t even owe you a candidate that you or anyone you know can vaguely stand. Democracy owes you a part in the process, it owes you a chance to get involved, it owes you the ability to have your voice heard. Not voting means not having a voice, and I’m certain that there’s absolutely no power and change in that.
But hey, I could be wrong. You can find me on twitter at @nedhartley if you think so.