If you don’t vote, no-one cares what you think

Another May, another opportunity not to vote. The No campaign is trying to hustle its supporters to the polling stations by warning that a low turnout makes a Yes result more likely. Maybe. Last-minute polling figures suggest a fairly comfortable majority for the No campaign. It is difficult to get too worked up over this, despite my preference for any result David Cameron doesn’t want (and stirs up Daily Mail hysteria over),  for the reasons I mentioned in my last post. Probably that’s the problem. No-one cares.

But despite the general and entirely reasonable sense of disillusionment surrounding the AV referendum, I made sure at least that I went to my local primary school and cast my vote. Why? Because that way, even if my side loses, I at least did everything I could have done to help it win. That means I get to complain about the result.

Too many people fail to participate in the democratic process. Excuses range from “I’m not interested in politics” through to “what difference does one vote make, and anyway Neighbours is on”. Not good enough. The political system is already skewed to screw traditionally under-represented groups, without members of those groups (the young, ethnic minorities, the poor, basically the people whose lives are most directly affected by government support) exacerbating the problem by failing to express a preference come election time. Politics affects you, whether you are interested in it or not. It affects you if you pay taxes, receive benefits, have a student loan, are ever going to get sick or injured or have children, buy a car, smoke, drink alcohol – or indeed consume pretty much anything. And you, individually, may not be able to have a visible impact. But if everyone who could have voted in the 2010 UK general election, but didn’t, had instead voted Monster Raving Loony Party, we’d all be eating compulsory asparagus for breakfast, under the protection of a policeman on a unicycle on every street corner, before enjoying the lush underlay of a freshly-carpeted M25.

These men all studied PPE at Oxford

With politics increasingly run by middle-class, public school and Oxford (PPE, obviously) educated young-to-middle aged white men, whose careers have consisted largely of time spent working for their respective political parties, preceded by school, sometimes with a spot of private sector work experience thrown in, the entire system increasingly represents the sort of violent, factional, self-interested, introspective competition described by Max Weber in his celebrated lecture on Politics as a Vocation. Politicians depend on votes for their livelihoods; indeed, a whole industry of politicos depend on them. As I said last time I wrote, the AV referendum is even more about politicians and less about voters than usual. Some of them may lose their jobs regardless of how it turns out, and there is at least a possibility that the coalition government may split. Voters, meanwhile, will see little immediate impact either way (and, in the likely event of a No vote, none at all).

Still, in principle (and indeed in areas where local and regional government personnel are being elected today), not voting means you approve of whoever wins; after all, you made no effort to oppose them, and you could have done. It also means you forfeit your right to complain if the winners do things you don’t like. If you don’t vote, no-one’s job depends on winning your approval. So no-one will even try to get you to like them. They will not care what you think. And it’ll be your own fault (for once).

P.S. Good luck today to Greg Williams, ex-MCBC stalwart, and prospective MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine. Greg has taken my argument to the logical extreme by actually standing for election himself. Admittedly, he is a young, white, Oxford-educated man from the south of England, but that’s hardly his fault.

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About jamesstrong

I'm a PhD Candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics, writing a thesis on the public debate in Britain before the invasion of Iraq.
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