Ryeview – June 2004

I’m not voting

John Clark writes…

First published: June 2004 – Gazette & Herald

I am interested in politics; I can be bothered; I’m not bored; I’m not young; I’m not apathetic and I’m NOT VOTING. How else do I protest? Vote for an extreme party? I’ve considered writing ‘No Thankyou’ on the ballot paper. I’ve wondered about standing with a banner. The possibility of throwing green flour at Tony Blair crossed my mind. Maybe I could write to my MEP if I knew who or where to contact them. The politicians are unaware that most of those who don’t vote are protesting.

The vast majority of the public are not apathetic or disinterested in politics. They are protesting against the politicians and their politics. The problem with protesting by abstaining is that the politicians are let off the hook. They can lay the blame at the doorstep of the electors. When MEPs, MPs, local councillors and others are not taking part in the debate or abstaining then presumably they are being apathetic. After each election the following phrases are often trotted out: “The XYZ vote stayed at home.” “They didn’t vote for their usual party.” We now have the ridiculous situation that the problem is ‘selective apathy’. Different electors become apathetic at different times depending on their political beliefs. What a ‘load of rubbish’. The apathy theory is an excuse. Low turnout is people peacefully protesting against the politicians and their politics.

So as to try and reduce the effect of this ‘apathy’ the government has gone down a road that is making it worse. The Returning Officer for Yorkshire and Humberside instructs me to post my ballot paper immediately. This produces another problem. Ryedale Council election officers have been organised and efficient. Unlike hundreds of thousands of other electors I received my ballot paper early. If I had returned my ‘vote’ immediately I would have done so prior to most of the Party Political Broadcasts. Not only is this a treat I wouldn’t want to miss, it implies a strange philosophy: ‘Just vote so as to increase the turnout. It doesn’t make any difference who you vote for – just vote.’ One of the advantages of not voting is that I have been able to watch many of the Party Political Broadcasts with my usual enthusiasm. They have confirmed my decision not to vote. Why did the Party Political Broadcasts come after the request to vote? Why are the politicians assuming the Party Political Broadcasts are useless? Otherwise what does someone who has voted and is now persuaded to change by a Party Political Broadcast do? Run to the count and ask the Returning Officer in the vain hope that they can retrieve their ballot paper so that they can change it. Don’t even try it!

I have always been in favour of proportional representation. However each voting system has some disadvantages ranging from large constituencies through to a party list system. The present system gives us the worst of all worlds: – vote for a party in a massive area and get given the candidate by the party in their order. We don’t choose what order for the parties we just put down our cross. It’s a game of noughts and crosses without the noughts. The way it is played we can only lose.

Election Day is not a bureaucratic exercise, it is a participating event. Originally democracy was everyone getting together to make a decision. Now it is a question of votes, turnout and efficiency. Part of Election Day is the involvement, even if “We only see them at election time”. Now they are trying to avoid even that. Politics were discussed at the polling station, on the doorstep and in the pub. If the national politicians want us, the public, to take part in the political process why don’t they want us to have an election day? It is the logic that a drinks party would be more efficient if the food and drink were posted to the guests. The ‘turnout’ would be higher. Maybe to continue the analogy the Party Political Broadcasts should all be after the election – like a hangover that comes after the party.

This article is so late in the campaign that it will not change the turnout (to be called the post out?). However I suspect three outcomes:

  • The major parties will all claim success
  • The minor parties will do better than expected – many of their votes will be protest
  • The abstentions will be the highest vote – they will get the blame and still lose.

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