In this instalment of Elections for Dummies our Political Sub-Editor, Shaun Balderson, explains why you should vote and why it matters.
An electoral abstention narrative has infested itself into the political culture of our generation. There is a fiction that not voting this General Election on the 7th of May is making a stand against the political system – a system that ignores you, doesn’t represent you, and only empowers the political and financial elite. However, not voting, as will be argued in this instalment, is what makes us ignorable, what makes us unrepresented and what makes our political system play into the hands of electorally aggressive zealots and unaccountable elites.
No matter whom you are, what you care about, find ethically appealing or find pragmatically necessary, a polar opposite opinion so detrimental and dangerously disadvantageous to everything you hold dear will be clutched tightly to the aggressively palpating chest of a large body of society. The votes that these rabble-rousers cast will grant them decision making power, the dynamic ability to radically transcend the environments and lives of those you care about. The herd of hopeful and desperate candidates in order to secure their own electoral victory need to be either approved by you or the disreputable rabble; one standing candidate may be a dignitary of the group and precisely reflect their views. However, more likely, those tolerable middle grounders noticing your absence will find it a necessity to ethically mutilate themselves into an electable Frankenstein. Your vote has the ability to assuage the political passions of others you may disagree with. Your decision of not voting has the effect of your voice and your opinion being ignored, empowering and amplifying your political archenemy and the powerful elite through your silence. In a democracy it’s quite true that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ – as once stated by Edmund Burke.
Photo by Ian A Wanless via Creative Commons
Aside from the aforementioned, voting is valued in other senses. Firstly, it’s the only method, at all, that will secure your favoured representative within parliament, a representative who will reflect your opinion in crucial debates, raise awareness of the issues that matter most to you and legislate on your behalf. Let’s not underestimate the value of this; every representative during their parliamentary term will be to a very significant extent be impacting the economy, NHS, climate change, inequality, rights, welfare and justice. Protest, collective action, civil disobedience and dissent have their merits and are vital to progressive movements, but without a representative that also believes in your protest, change becomes tougher, institutionally opposed and unlikely.
However, if the electoral abstention is down to the fact that none of the major parties truly represent you, then vote for a minor party; there are genuinely tons, or even go for one of the many independents. Minor parties do win seats – Greens, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, Respect, Sinn Fein and most recently UKIP all have seats in parliament among others. However, the likelihood is, due to the electoral system, ‘First Past The Post’, (as explained in the last [smiths] Elections For Dummies instalment), the hopeful representative not backed by a major party won’t secure their seat, but at least, unlike not voting, your vote will act as a clear indicator to where your ideological allegiances lie, and can signal to future candidates that if they wish to secure re-election, or if they wish to effectively challenge the incumbent they will need to alter prospective policy more towards your side of the political spectrum.
Along those same lines, your vote, along with encouragement to others to do so, has the outstanding ability to hold those in power to account. If MP’s break manifesto commitments, illustrate governing failures and show signs of corruption your vote is the only method to truly punish them.
Groups, who do turnout to vote, will be and are less likely to bare the butt of harmful decisions, such as austerity and cuts; instead they are pandered too and pampered. Democracy cannot work effectively without the involvement of every member of the electorate; without quite quickly democracy is a tyranny of the electorally active.
My final point, a short but important one, if you choose not to vote, due to the excessive role money plays in politics, you are propagating the problem and becoming the integral part of the problem. Not voting creates and perpetuates a vacuum of power, rather than the people holding power, this vacuum gets filled by money and special interests; democracy soon transcends into a plutocracy (wealth power). The more we collectively plug up this gap, the less important these influences become and the more important we – the people – become.
The ‘tacit’ consent to a system that does not represent you, is through not voting, voting is the tool to make it represent you. This General election on the 7th of May be a part of the solution, register and vote.