It’s fair to say that these past two years have been busy on the elections front. It started with the General Election 2015, in which we were promised a referendum as if it was something we all wanted. Then in June 2016 we held the EU referendum after months of divisive and somewhat factually questionable campaigning.
These two elections put the UK into a very precarious political position, especially when it came to using the word “win” or “mandate.” The Tories had got into power by a slither of a majority, and with just 25% of the electorate voting for them. Yet, due to our First Past the Post voting system, that was enough to hand power to the Tories. But it’s hardly a mandate for saying that the party truly represents the public.
The same then happened with Brexit. As a result of having no call for a minimum vote cut off – such as 60/40 to win – we ended up with a referendum result based on only a 52%. That is so small it could have been different if the weather had been worse, affecting people’s choice about going out to vote or not to vote. I have written before about Why a Second Referendum Could Just Repeat the Same Mistakes because we placed such a complicated choice into the hands of Polar Politics. That was demonstrated again by other shock elections, such as Donald Trump.
It almost seemed like democracy itself was completely broken. Now we have the French election coming up, which has also shown some very interesting developments in round one. They have dwindled the eleven candidates down to just two. Those two are poles apart in ideology. So we have yet another country that could be facing being split right down the middle.
Elections of Extremes
Careful thought should be put into the aftermath of elections where candidates are either far on the left or far on the right. Even if an individual’s opinions were somewhere in between, they are now left with making a second vote for chalk or cheese. That’s where France are now. Whilst the cheese is getting support from a number of the old hats of wine and biscuits, the chalk is on her own, scrawling her angry manifesto onto the blackboard.
And people are reading it. Angry people are paying attention, too.
We should not be too dismissive of Le Pen’s apparently extreme opinions. Or at very least, we should have learnt not to do that from the unexpected election of Donald Trump. I don’t mind admitting that I joined in with the guffawing and joking about how ridiculous it would be if he was elected. I didn’t even think he would get as far as being in the final two. It is only when it was the final two, and the polls were showing his growing successes, that I began to consider what happened in the end.
That did not do anything to negate my concerns, however, and my opinions of him and his politics have not changed. The only difference is that I have the added concern that he is now in one of the most powerful political seats in the world. Yes, that stupid orange man from the TV is now one of the most powerful people in the world.
(No, not Dale Winton)
The Power of the Vote – Does my vote really matter?
Let’s start off with getting civic duty out of the way. I have to admit that, on a personal level, I believe that it should be the legal duty of each individual who is eligible to vote to uphold their responsibility and cast a vote. There are nations in the world, and there are times when some people don’t get a vote. They have to put up with other people making choices on their behalf, and this is not always positive. When you have the chance to give your choice – and given that you have postal and proxy voting to aid and facilitate you – simply not voting for any spurious reason shouldn’t be seen as an option. If we live in a society where jury service is required by law, unless you work in certain professions, why is voting not held in such high regard? Does it not also have the potential to enact significant change?
Now that’s off my chest…
One of the reasons a lot of note voters make that choice is that they feel like there is “no point,” or their vote “makes no difference.” This is where we are supposed to say something about how each vote is equal.
But it isn’t – not real terms.
An Illustrated Example:
The truth is that no matter much you like or dislike Jeremy Corbyn, for example, your vote in a general election is not for him, unless you happen to live in his constituency. We don’t vote for the Prime Minister: that’s decided behind closed doors by the party. However, I am not as convinced by the anti-Corbyn camp as others might be. He has brought so many people into politics, and engaged so many new members of the Labour party, that he earned the mandate to lead the party from the leadership elections.
When it comes to individual votes in UK General Elections, there is a mathematical issue to be considered. Imagine you have two voters – Bob and Betty – who live in different parts of the country. There are around 100,000 people living in Bob’s constituency, whereas there are only 50,000 in Betty’s. That means, mathematically speaking, since our individually counted vote only goes towards establishing our local MPs seat, it looks lie Betty’s vote is worth double Bob’s vote.
So, lucky Betty, right?
What if we added another factor into the voting system: voting habits and constituency strongholds. Even though it is possible to cause shocks as with the 2015 election where the SNP decimated Labour in Scotland, there are still times when a certain constituency has a party loyalty that isn’t going to change. That can be the result of lower transience with the population, and long term family connections. But what if this happens to Bob and Betty?:
If we put Betty into a Tory stronghold constituency and make her a Green Party voter. Meanwhile, Bob’s much larger constituency is much more of a swing territory and around seven parties could snap up the seat if they really convince the voters. In that case, you could be forgiven for thinking that Bob’s vote will count for more – his voice will be heard with greater potential to enact change. Poor Betty knows that despite being strong minded and highly outspoken, highly educated, with such a small party that represents her beliefs, she is effectively silenced. Her vote means nothing in real terms no matter how much we TRY to convince her otherwise.
When quality counts for nothing.
It is also interesting to take a step back and think about how this affects immigrants. Of course, in many ways it makes complete sense as to why an immigrant in any country would not have a vote in the national affairs of the nation they are temporarily residing in. It makes sense in many ways that only citizens can affect decisions about government.
Or does it?
In some local or Mayoral elections EU Citizens are allowed to vote. So that would mean that an unskilled EU migrant could vote in a local Election, which could affect practical matters of their lives in the UK. But a highly skilled, fully qualified doctor from a non-EU/EEA country, having lived and worked in the UK for fifteen years, and plans to remain in the UK…
…they have no say in the decisions that will affect them equally.
Perhaps more controversial, if we were to consider for a moment that we want the very best people making decisions for us, should we not be turning to highly educated people like this doctor than to lazy, British Citizens who just can’t be bothered to exercise their civic duty and get up to vote? How many of our skilled NHS workers who are earning £34,000 and facing having their visa’s cancelled under new rules, might vote against a government dead set on such a policy? How many EU NHS workers worried about their future in the UK and wanting to vote to see if they can get the party who would save them (and the whole life they have established in the UK) from being cut down?
Whose Voice is Really Heard in Elections?
It’s to easy to blindly say that elections happen and the “will of the people” is the clear result at the end. It isn’t. It wasn’t in 2015; or in the referendum; or in the US Presidential election. There is a great risk that it won’t be in this coming election, unless people really take a stand and vote in much greater numbers. Theresa May has timed this election – which she previously vehemently rejected the idea of – in order to try and secure a larger majority in the Commons.
To what end?
The intention is clearly to ensure far more decisions – presumably over Brexit – can pass through without interference from other parties, allowing her to use a party whip to ensure enough votes. This is something we should be very worried about in uk elections. The whole point of a democratic elections is not to give power over to a single, unchangeable political party. That is called a “dictatorship.” We should be insisting in the UK that as long as we still use the current system we have that the opposition party is still there to represent those voices of the people who do not agree with the leading party line.
In a democracy, the people should hold the power; discourse and debate should be the dialogue and elections should aim to facilitate this. Everyone’s voice should be heard. Anyone who tries to silence objection, challenge or argument is essentially self-serving. And that is why voting is so very important: you cannot defeat narcissism with nonchalance.