A Vote of No Confidence?

From my opinion column written for the Egremont 2Day newspaper.

The elections are nearly upon us and considering the strong political roots upon which Egremont 2Day was founded it seems appropriate to me that this issue at least mentions politics and elections in some way.

That would be all well and good if it wasn’t for the fact that I find it difficult to consider any political party worth voting for. I’ve only ever voted once and, while I backed the winning pony, I rather regret what that particular beast went on to do to the country. I was young; I was naïve; I was duped! So now I have a healthy, to-the-point-of-dysfunctional, distrust of political parties, politicians and promises.

It seems I’m not alone. In the 2010 elections, of the 45.6 million registered voters less than 30 million actually voted. The Tories and Lib-Dems, who combined to make the coalition government, were voted in by just over a third of all registered voters and a quarter of the population as a whole meaning most of us didn’t want either of them in power. These kind of figures are nothing new but I can’t help wonder why the British public seem to accept this as simply ‘the way things are’. Are we really like the submissive beasts in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, allowing the pigs to do as they wish?

Perhaps we should be grateful anyone bothers to vote? In 1973 a councillor was elected to an Aberdeen community council with only one vote cast in the entire election. No, it wasn’t the councillor himself – he hadn’t bothered to vote either!

We should also be grateful for fair and honest elections even if the system does seem terribly flawed. When I lived in Bangladesh I witnessed two elections and neither went well. In 2014 the main opposition party boycotted the entire election process so the government party won almost every seat uncontested. One leader of a smaller party – who himself once took over as a military dictator until ousted but reinvented himself as a lovable politician – tried to boycott the elections too. He was placed under house arrest by government forces preventing him from physically withdrawing his party in time and so must be the only political leader in modern times to win his seat against his own wishes.

At least when we do vote our ballot papers are counted fairly unlike, according to author Stephen Pile, one election in Liberia where the successful candidate for presidency won with a majority of 600,000 when there were only actually 15,000 registered voters. Our system is wonderful by comparison.

Recently I discussed voting with my nephew and he spoke most adamantly that he won’t vote this year. As a young man, he felt the system was against him, he was powerless to change it and there was simply no point and no hope. I sympathise but I really believe that simply not voting isn’t the answer.

Philosopher and politician himself, Edmund Burke is often credited with saying:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Therein lies the rub. The British mentality of ‘not making a fuss’ does nothing to improve the political system and cannot prevent corruption within. Instead it tells our politicians that we really don’t care what they get up to. A better alternative, rather than not voting, would be to vote and deliberately spoil your voting card. Now imagine what message that would send to Westminster if 15 million voters actively demonstrated their complete lack of confidence in the parties or the system.

That would be quite impossible to ignore.

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