I’ll admit, the recent celebrity interest in voting has got me riled. That’s where this comes from.
Last week, I found something strange happening. I found myself agreeing with everything Russell Brand said/wrote, only weeks after the same thing happened (that time tinged slightly with a little self-aware hypocrisy, but still).
I was amazing how well his views matched my own. I am utterly disheartened and disenfranchised with the current democratic system.
There was one significant difference though. I have voted. Only once mind, and I’m never going to do it again.
I voted. I voted for a Party (not a candidate, because who really does that?), a Party whose manifesto had fairly closely matched my views, and, shockingly, that Party (through a quirk of our electoral system) actually won some power. And then immediately set to work doing the exact opposite of everything that they had promised, all in the name of “Coalition Compromise”.
Before this point I had only had one chance to vote in a general election, and I chose not to take it. I wish now that I had spoilt my ballot, if only to have some counter-argument against those that would assess that I had “squandered the liberties that people fought wars for” or some other such guff. In that election I was represented by no candidate, or rather, the only candidate that did in any way represent me had zero chance of winning (how many times do we hear that?) and therefore would be a wasted vote.
My point here is nicely summarised by Aaron Sorkin (or whoever wrote the line) in the West Wing: “Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares.” If my only choice is between several candidates or parties that offer me nothing, that represent nothing that I hold dear, or that (it turns out) only say that they represent these things, why should I choose at all? Why can I not choose to do something different? The mindset here is epitomised, for me, by the fact that it is even vaguely considered that someone would choose to vote in a particular direction to prevent the other candidate or party winning. That is just madness.
I am represented by no-one. Who should I vote for?
The Tories, who are systematically destroying everything that is I believe is good about this country?
New Labour, who have shown nothing but a distinct lack of spine in almost any capacity since they began (and I can offer no better criticism of New Labour than this wonderful article)?
I won’t even mention the other party (because there are only three, right?), since they literally disgust me so much (so much that I actually wrote a letter).
In fact, why does Party politics even exist? The infantile back and forth in the House of Commons during debates makes me question why anyone would think that was a good idea. In some ways it could be good and allow for structured disagreements, which are good. Instead it just homogenises perspectives and gives us (essentially) two groups of people who cannot hope to represent the majority of the populace in one fell swoop. Why do we not just have independent candidates that can actually speak for their constituents instead of having to do political battle with whip counts and party lines? Why do we have a “government” and an “opposition”? There are never just two sides to an argument.
The arguments against voting generally go along the lines that to change the system you should do so from inside. That you have to engage with the process to change it. This is so facile that it makes my face itch. “Democracy” as it stands in our country is an archaic anachronism. You need look no further for a metaphor for the utter banality, contempt, corruption and subservience to money that defines Parliament than the building that our “democracy” works from – the Houses themselves. A crusty, decaying shell surrounding huge gilded chambers where members call each other names from finely upholstered seats across enormous desks of fine wood and even more gilt. An old boy’s club bigger than any other. To hope that this system will change itself from within is foolish when those inside only have things to gain from perpetuating it. I have met and listened to good and true ministers and members of parliament, good people, that do everything they can, that are enthusiastic about the right things and say the right things but can do almost nothing in the face of The System because “that’s just how it works”.
Well I think we need a better system. I think we should demolish the Palace of Westminster (preferably on November 5th, for nothing other than giggles) or at least sell off the contents.I think we should start afresh and let no one near the building who has ever expressed a desire to be a “politician” but rather look for people that want to do good, no matter how they think that might be done. To abandon the ridiculous idea of dividing opinion into discrete units of Political Parties and have real arguments between people that are just trying to do the right thing.
But that’s just me. I don’t know for certain what the better way would look like. And it seems that many people think that’s not ok. Brand’s argument, seemingly to many, including Paxman, is flawed because he doesn’t and can’t describe the Utopia he seeks. But by buying into the current system by engaging with it, we will never get to that point. To even begin to start to see what a better way might look like we need to step away from the old and think differently.
To end, I wanted to pick up on Robert Webb’s snide little comment about Orwell. The whole article is a little snide, but the near-final comment is particular misplaced. Orwell actually wrote remarkably little about voting. He wrote a lot about politics, and I’m sure he would be against Brand’s excessive use of long words (Never use a long word when a short one will do), but I think he would agree with almost all of Brand’s sentiments on Politicians themselves. However, when it came down to it, in 1936, Orwell didn’t vote to send weapons to Spain (not that he could, since national manifestos can only be voted for in a general election or referendum…) or lobby his party to debate in Parliament. When it really came down to it, Orwell packed his bag and went and did something.