(or the background politics of the polling booth)
OK… here’s a little bit of audience participation to get us started…
- Put your hand up if you did NOT vote in the 2005 General Election.
- Put your hand down if that was because you were too young or were otherwise ineligible (not a UK citizen or EU/commonwealth citizen with leave to remain etc).
- If your hand is still up, think about the last 5 years and keep your hand up if you have (at any point) complained about something the government has done.
Firstly well done to everyone with their hand down. Now to everyone with your hand up you should be ashamed; and here is why:
“If you do not vote in the election, you therefore relinquish your right to complain when the parliament does something you don’t agree with or don’t want.”
What… you didn’t realise this? I find that hard to believe as I distinctly remember the UK Electoral Commission putting out a very prolific advertising campaign including the TV Advert you can view here. Believe me this is no ploy by the Electoral Commission to make you do something you don’t want to, afterall you don’t have to vote… unlike in Australia where voting is compulsory an it is enforced by small (AU$20 – 70) fines. (REF: Compulsory Voting, Electoral Offences )
However let’s just think about this for a bit, lets say you vote for a party and that party has won the election – Whoop – that party is now directly accountable to you as a voter because you have contributed to its’ mandate (i.e. how many votes/seats more it got than the opposition) and when the next election comes around they will want to make sure you are as happy as possible with what they have done – and by corollary what they put in their manifesto in the last election.
What if you didn’t vote for them then? Well in this instance you have contributed to a narrowing of that mandate. If the mandate is narrower then the government of the day might be slightly more wary about how it goes about its’ policy changes, might call more referenda and debate their bills longer to get the best possible outcome. Similarly the opposition (the parties you voted for) will have more seats and can mount a more aggressive “check” on that government – once again they are directly accountable to you.
So final scenario: you don’t vote at all, or spoil your ballot paper (which is at least voting). In this instance you are in effect voting for the winner (whether you like that party or not).
You might think that by “automatically voting for the winner” it doesn’t matter if you don’t turn up to the polling station on May 6th… but you would be very wrong indeed. No vote means no control over the outcome, and also no contribution to whatever mandate the winning party has. This means that there is no accountability, and you lose your right to complain about what is or is not being done in your name as a British citizen.
I hope that you see what I’m getting at here. Now whilst we don’t have compulsory voting in the UK I personally think that given the voter turnout comparisons visible in the aforementioned compulsory voting document from the Australian Electoral Commission it would be a damn good idea! That said no-one in modern British Politics would dare agree to it, they would become too accountable!
In closing… I’m going to merely ask another question, are you going to let yourself throw away your vote, and in turn your right to complain about British Politics after all; we all have to have something to moan about?
Ben D Brooks
Shortlink for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-1E
Authors Note: If you haven’t yet registered to vote, it’s really simple to do by visiting www.aboutmyvote.co.uk, filling out a form to print then signing it and sending it to your local electoral registry office. The cut off is the 20th April.
**I had previously stated that “and university students can vote in both their home and university constituencies.” however I have been informed by a good friend that this is actually not legal… so thanks to Miriam and Oxford Electoral Services for correcting me on that**