With just a few weeks to go before the General Election (7th May) the conversations are already getting a bit shrill and shouty but also a lot more interesting than usual. Today the Christian think tank, Ekklesia launch their invitation to Christians to “Vote for what you believe in“. A radically un-cynical offer in a horribly cynical world.
Voting is not democracy it is, as Vaughan Jones, Director of Praxis and an associate of Ekklesia put it recently “an event in democracy” and such a rare event that to pin all our hopes for democracy on that moment is like like hoping that an occasional facebook message is like having a real relationship with a friend. You can vote, if you like, if that’s what you want to do, but it isn’t the same thing as ‘taking part’.
So having swiftly put voting in perspective. Let’s think about what it means to ‘vote for what you believe in’. Is it a good idea at all? It’s a serious question since some people have very angrily (social media) insisted that we should vote instead for what will stop the [insert vilest political party here] from getting in, even if that means voting for something you don’t believe in.
Strategic voters dance to some else’s tune
Someone recently berated Green Party members on my late facebook page (may it rest in peace) for letting in the Tories and said that they should vote for the Labour Party – even if they didn’t like the Labour Party. Of course it turned out this person did like the Labour Party’s policies and really wanted them to get in. In other words, he’d like – no: insists – that Greens hold their noses and vote for his party but isn’t planning to make the same compromise himself.
And this is the main problem with what’s called “strategic voting”. It’s usually argued by people who want you to do it so that they get more votes: “You’re best strategy is to vote for me”. Well of course they’re going to say that. In fact the whole getting people to vote strategically is a strategy dreamed up by cynical political aides to get people to ignore the policies they don’t like and vote into power people they don’t want. It is, as you know, very effective, we’ve had governments we don’t want my whole life.
So the first reason to resist and reject strategic voting is that it’s someone else’s strategy – not yours! You’re being ‘done to’ again every time you take their advice and vote with your nose pegged.
Strategic voters are short-term cynics
But here’s an even better reason. It makes the voter complicit in the sort of short-term thinking that we so often criticise our politicians for. “I’ll vote for the Conservatives this year to keep UKIP out but I really want UKIP.” Really? And in five years time will you do the same? And then five years later?
Not that I’m suggesting you vote for UKIP since they are both racist and incompetent on a scale not known even by the BNP (and that’s saying something!). But if you do believe in UKIPs policies (ahem, when they actually decide what they are) then why would you vote Conservative?
It is in the interest of Labour and Conservative that we continue to vote short-term for a quick fix so that the smaller parties – some of who have the bigger ideas – stay small.
Strategic voters make the mistake of thinking this is a democracy
If I decided to vote at all, I want a vote that counts not just for the next 5 years but for my children and grandchildren (grace allowing). In fact since the party I want to vote for – The Green Party – hasn’t a hope in hell of getting in where I live so my vote will be discounted as meaningless in the current faux-democratic system we live in.
First past the post system means that the majority wins and the rest – even if together they add up to more than the majority party – just get tossed aside as meaningless. That’s it. The event is over and your values have been duly noted and disregarded.
My vote isn’t going to change governments since governments these days are run by corporate interests anyway. It used to be that big business lobbied government. Not any more. Now governments have to lobby big businesses. Whoever you vote for Serco, Capita, Google, Shell Oil, Monsanto and the others will run the show. A handful of citizens elect the MPs and then an even smaller handful of suits write the cheque and buy them. MPs don’t get a say in this. They get bought whether they like it or not.
So if voting isn’t going to get you the government you one at least use your vote to register your belief in the government you’d like (if you’d like a government at all, that is).
If you want a strategy: organise!
So vote for who you believe in. Or if you don’t believe: don’t vote. Either has integrity. But if you want to be really strategic then build power, tear down idols and prefigure in your neighbourhood the kind of values you’d like society to organise around. As Gandhi put it, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Of course first we need to work out what our values actually are!