Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,”

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” Mr Hislop told them.
BBC News Website 12 March 2015 : Hislop says private-state school gap widening (answering questions from Schoolchildren.)

I could accept this slogan if I had a vote that had any effect. But we have a problem in that most of us are in constituencies where our vote is not going to make the slightest difference. It’s a similar situation with the slogan,

People fought and died for the vote; you have an obligation to use yours.

I don’t buy this either – but mean no disrespect to those who fought for a wider suffrage. The problem is the fight is nowhere near finished.

So, what’s to be done – in general and in May 2015?

A vote needs to have a chance of having an effect – and that chance should be approximately the same irrespective of where you live in the country.

If there is no chance that the vote will have an effect, because you just happen to live outside the marginals, or because your natural party of choice has selected a candidate with whom you cannot identify, you are effectively disenfranchised.

There are three issues:

  1. We have an unresponsive election system. There is no guarantee that if a party gains votes it will gain seats or that if it loses votes it will lose seats. (The Proportional Representation Argument)
  2. The election system does not elect representatives who are broadly representative of the diversity of opinion in the country. (The Parliamentary Democracy Argument)
  3. The chance of having an MP who even represents your views at a party level is less than 50%. (The Constituency Link Argument)

And yet, as supporters of the status quo point out, when we were offered the option of change we rejected it. The whole episode of the AV referendum has probably put back reform a generation. As a “solution” to the above three issues, it was a pig in a poke. Which is probably why the two old elitist parties were happy for AV to be put to a referendum. AV is really the bastard love-child of First Past the Post and the Single Transferable Vote – unloved by anyone.

This leaves most of us with no effective options in May at the General Election.

If you are outside the marginals, it could be argued that voting for your party of first preference endorses the current system.

Outside the marginals, voting tactically is also pointless. In our current corrupt system what makes a constituency “marginal” it is the chance that tactical voting (i.e. not voting for your first preference) could make a difference. Outside those marginals you could only get change with a highly co-ordinated massive tactical switch by third party supporters to the second party – but they don’t want the second party; it may not even be their second choice!

So, abstain (and incur the wrath of the likes of Hislop), spoil your vote, or “vote stupid”? All these options are pretty pointless unless significant numbers take that option.

In local elections turnout is often less than 50% – which means “the abstentions should have it” – but they don’t and few complain about our local authorities being run by people with no real mandate. Likewise our crime commissioners were often elected on turnouts well below 20%.

Would it matter if general election turnout dropped below 50%? There would probably be a minor ripple of concern, but if the two old elitist parties continue in power (turn and turn about) things are unlikely to be any different to the situation with local authorities.

Spoiling your vote is something I have done before – by writing against each candidate my principal objection to them being my representative and then scattering a few “X”s around the paper so a candidate in danger of losing his or her deposit may try to claim that my vote is actually for them. That then means that my paper will be examined by the returning officer and my comments may be read by some of the parties’ election agents. A small but rather silly and pointless pleasure.

That leaves “vote stupid”. Many refer to our election system as a lottery – but it is skewed so that the old elitist parties can still guarantee that they take the lion’s share of the seats and have a greater than deserved chance of taking power. “Vote Stupid” involves trying to give those parties a kick so that they realise that the lottery is not in their interests.

To “vote stupid” you try and get a local move to vote for the leading party outside the established parties (The Cons, Labour, and Liberals). So this (at least in England) may involve voting UKIP, Green, Respect, Independent or even BNP and its co-conspirators. You do not vote for them because you support them, but you vote for them because they are best placed locally to threaten the established parties.

The established parties definitely do not want to see these parties gain seats because they do not want to have to form coalitions with them. Also to have 30% of the electorate unrepresented because they don’t vote is something they can tolerate, but to have 30% unrepresented because they vote for parties they detest is far more worrying as it represents a potential threat to the concept of “government by consent”.

Although the established parties do not want to form coalitions – part of their elitism is their belief that it is only they who have a right to unfettered (and undeserved) power, they need to accept that the world has changed. They could manage this by improving the franchise which would mean that we would not have to “vote stupid” but could vote for some flavour of politics that they may recognise. This may mean more coalitions but that is the way the world has been for some time – but we have suffered from having established parties that in themselves are hidden coalitions:

  • In the “Blue Corner”
    • Reactionary right-wing xenophobic Tories
    • Something more akin to what is oddly referred to as “Christian Democracy” elsewhere in Europe
  • In the “Orange Corner”
    • Libertarian Whigs – “Orange Bookers”
    • Social Democrats
    • Green Local Liberals – disparagingly referred to as “beard and sandals”
  • In the “Red Corner”
    • Democratic Socialists
    • Socialists
    • Democratic Marxists and other “points left”
  • in the “Green Corner”
    • Dark Greens – environmentalists that put the earth first and want a new economic system
    • Light Greens – who are more inclined towards radical reform of the existing system

Electoral reform to a system that permits preference voting would make these hidden coalitions accessible to the electorate. Within the above options there is probably an effective home for 95% of the electorate. Then we could vote effectively. And then if we did not vote we would have no right to complain.


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One thought on ““If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,”

  1. Pingback: Hidden Coalitions | Outside the marginals

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