It is not sacrilege not to vote, and it is not sacrilege to implore others, on certain conditions, not to vote either.
Well… what are these conditions?
For one, a tangible sense of alienation from the current political homogeneity – do you feel as if, somehow, there is something inherently wrong with being subjected to the sight of a bunch of round-bellied, red-nosed, jowl-quivering, delinquent buffoons guffawing and whooping in a lavish palace of baroque decadence while the people they are there to represent struggle?
Secondly, a feeling of being disincluded from decisions that affect you and your fellow citizens, a feeling of separation from politics, of being dictated to and condescended to rather than being involved and engaged in discourse. Somehow there is a sense that politics, the real politics – not the bullshit sentiments of a Muslim threat or benefit scroungers, but the politics of negotiating with obscenely rich tax ‘avoiders’, of regulating (or de-regulating) the City, which helps decide the national fate, or of privatising the NHS – is out of our hands. We can’t help but feel disincluded when we see videos of prominent MPs blithely negotiating glorified bribes from rich individuals or companies. This sense of being disincluded is exactly what Cameron’s Tories were appealing to when they adopted their hollow tag-line: “the Big Society”, in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. How’s that worked out?
Perhaps you feel powerless? Perhaps when you see images of twee, idolatrous bronze statues of the Iron Lady being bought at auction for unsavoury sums by wealthy, cackling silver-spoon gobblers in order to buy time with politicians in return for filling Conservative coffers, you feel powerless? Do you feel as if maybe, just maybe, those politicians will be less inclined to care about getting you off food-bank dependence or reducing your tuition fees or listening to your grievances and more motivated to ‘uncomplicate’ tax laws for a hefty fee? Or perhaps they would be more inclined to cut through some red tape so that a developer may build in your back garden or, worse, frack there. Do you maybe read about the millions of pounds that get ploughed into lobbying by big corporations seeking to colonise your homeland and feel just a little… meek in comparison?
If someone feels detached and separated from the system in which they live, should they sigh, puff out their cheeks, utter a “ho-hum”, resign themselves to it and hope for the best? While this might have worked for the war effort, it doesn’t, and should not be the case for the UK’s democracy. We are constantly implored to vote, we are told to the point of zealous fanaticism to vote, made to feel that by not voting we would be forsaking the efforts of our forefathers and foremothers who jumped under horses to earn the right for us. Nowhere is this more true than among politicians themselves. Sincerely, with pleading, desperate, wistful eyes they urge the people to vote, beg them to play their part in democracy and exercise their power as citizens. This, apparently, not for any other reason than an honest desire by politicians to be judged by their people. “Please”, they may beseech with tear-glazed eyes, “please vote, please play your part, please exercise your civic duty and your choice, your one choice, your one decision. It is your duty as a citizen of this democracy, it’s why we fought the war!”
Of course politicians want you to vote. A vote, every 5 years, is an acceptance of the status quo. A vote is an implicit legitimisation of the current political system, of the behaviour of politicians writ large. Voting, and more specifically, voting tactically and perpetuating a two (almost three) party system is all the limited and ultimately futile political expression that politicians would wish you to have. Sure, vote! Don’t protest though, don’t choose any of those smaller parties (lest you be encumbered with a pesky coalition government) – just vote, vote tactically, and vote once.
Not voting is denounced as political apathy. “Well, don’t be surprised when things turn to shit – you didn’t vote!” come the self-important I-told-you-soes. But voting is no longer the revolutionary, wind-changing choice it once was. Perhaps even as recently as the 70s and 80s was your vote a powerful weapon – even if we still only had a two-party system – because there were distinct and important differences between Labour and the Tories. Now, though, thanks to Thatcher and New Labour under Blair who fervently and loyally continued her work, the needs of business decide policy and there is little to no difference between Labour and the Tories. Even where there may be – for example, where the exaggeratedly nicknamed Red-Ed suggested putting a cap on energy bills – there is outcry, there were bullish threats from the Big Six and Ed, with a simpering whimper, was forced to shut up. Voting, therefore, is the true apathy. Voting has the same psychological effect as falling pregnant – a sense of accomplishment without having done anything but lie on one’s back and get fucked.
The logic from defenders of the vote seems to be that if you don’t vote, you deserve and can expect the jackboots of tyranny to march into Parliament. But this logic belies the importance of democracy and the inclusion of citizens in politics that Westminster loyalists are trying to emphasise. It suggests that if we don’t exercise our vote, our one piece of political influence, that we deserve fascism or whatever other system suggests a lack of democracy. This is insulting. The power of the people is not in their vote, the power of the people is in their ideas, their passion, their numbers, their sentiency, their indomitability. To restrict the importance of a citizen in political terms to whether or not they vote is insulting. The system is fundamentally broken and to perpetuate it by voting is fruitless.
There was record turnout for the 2014 Scottish referendum. Why? Because for once the citizens of Scotland felt there was a choice to be made, the decision of which would practically and in real terms affect their lives – and it was a decision over which they had real, tangible control. Not only that, but the Yes vote was filled with promises of bringing power back home and putting it back into the hands of the Scottish people – drawing it away from Parliament who an astounding number of Scots feel is unrepresentative of, and completely detached from, them. Scottish citizens felt empowered and emboldened by the referendum. It, if nothing else, served to highlight the immense feeling of powerlessness and disillusionment amongst the citizens of the UK.
This alienation and disenfranchisement is the juicy sustenance that has enabled previously fringe parties to grow into threatening political beasts. UKIP feed off political alienation, greedily hoovering it up and exploiting it in every soundbite. But it is laughable to think UKIP hold the keys to your empowerment. Removal from the EU won’t empower you, getting rid of the brown people won’t empower you – Farage is just the same as Cameron and Ed and as long as there is a political infrastructure such as Westminster in place, you will continue to be unrepresented. Nigel, though, unlike the Cameron and Miliband and Clegg, is cursed by having dim-witted troglodyte bigots for followers as opposed to politically savvy, relatively sharp-brained political careerists. The only reason he has been able to convince so many poor saps of his genuineness is because his party is young. The Tories and Labour have to put up with being labelled as part of the establishment because, well, they undeniably are. But Farage, unencumbered by a long party lineage, is able to play the new-kid-on-the-block card. Make no bones though, he is just as establishment as the others. Unless you’re pouring his pint, he doesn’t give a damn about you.
No, aside from concessions for pensioners by the Tories or bribes for the ‘yout’ by the Lib Dems or whatever inane, unspecific babble comes out of Ed’s dopy mouth, there is nothing of importance that can be gained from voting. The big decisions are taken out of your hands and you are left with patronising condolences. Instead, voting is a case of ‘better the devil you know’ or ‘the lesser of two evils’. Is that really the concomitant of all our hopes for democracy, the conclusion of years of reform and revolt, the materialisation of an enlightened and aware populace?
If enough people don’t vote, or even better, spoil their ballots, then there is evidence of an undeniable, un-sweep-under-the-rug-able systemic problem with our present democracy. And that problem will have to be addressed. A large portion of the population not voting, or actively spoiling their ballots, highlights the illegitimacy of whichever party wins power, it evinces a population that has not given a mandate to rule. It shows that something deep and far reaching has to change – enough with petty giveaways.
So, apart from not doing anything, what instrument is there that exists to effect change, to affect politics tangibly? Well, there’s protest, there’s pressure groups, there’s petitions, there’s writing and disseminating information on the internet, there is civil disobedience.
There is the law. The courts are not just somewhere you don’t want to end up. The courts are, in fact, the people’s greatest weapon. Cameron has labelled judicial review frivolous and anti-christ Grayling has set about restricting it in the name of streamlining. To the layman this has been sold as practicality and a measure in the interests of stimulating business and ‘getting things done’. Or, worse, it has not been sold at all, but rather has been set about clandestinely and under-the-radar – at least in terms of getting reported in headlines as the massive sucker-punch to the rule of law and throttler of people’s rights that it is. Judicial review is the probe that allows a citizen or pressure group to uncover the motivations behind ministerial decisions and, even, to overturn these decision where it is in the interests of justice (remember that?).
There is also the Freedom of Information Act. Of course, applications can be refused on vague grounds such as national security – which has an ever enlarging, ever wavy definition – but it’s worth a try. There’s also public inquiries. They’ve got a bad rep but if there’s enough knowledge of their potential and enough motivation they can be used damagingly.
So, come May 2015, instead of desperately seeking that strand of truth that might be concealed within the condescending, pseudo-terrifying party political messages, instead of deciding which politician has the most honest face, instead of putting aside your pride and that nagging feeling that perhaps they’re all made of the same shit and that juvenile insult-throwing and accusatory “he said she said” isn’t the way politics should be, perhaps… don’t vote. If enough people do it, it becomes a choice just as legitimate, and arguably more powerful, as any of the names on the ballot paper.