It will not have escaped anyone’s attention that my first three suggestions for the #NextStep people can take for the General Election are focused on the primary way (and sadly, for some the ONLY way) people engage with the democratic process – casting your vote. I make no apologies for emphasising the importance of voting, and encouraging voters to get registered and ensure they turn out – but I hope to stop short of such platitudes as “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain!”
In the first instance, I recognise that readers may not be certain if they are registered to vote – in actual fact I contacted our local election officer at Oxford City Council only last month because I had moved within the last year, and wanted to ensure my wife and I were definitely on the electoral register! Firstly – if you are fairly sure that you are not registered, you can do so by going to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and following the link there to register. The same page also includes links if you want to apply to vote by post (where you complete your ballot at home and then post it) or by proxy (where you nominate someone to vote on your behalf). If you’re not sure if you are registered, the same page allows you to put in your postcode, and find out who you need to contact at your local council to confirm if you are on the electoral register.
Secondly – I also recognise that there is a lot of cynicism about politics, and whether voting makes any difference – a common complaint indeed is that politicians and political parties are “all the same.” If you’re considering whether it is really worth voting, or even registering to vote, here are a few thoughts that may persuade you:
- It’s always worth registering to vote – it ensures you at least have the option to vote, and if you choose to abstain it shows up as a lower turnout.
- That said – I think spoiling your ballot is a much better way of recording a protest against politics. Not voting at all puts you in the same category as voters who just couldn’t be bothered to vote (and, to be fair, voters who forgot or were unable to decide) – spoiling your ballot requires you actively casting your ballot, and so demonstrates the scale of dissatisfaction to the other parties.
- And having said that – a case I continue to make again and again is that politics is not ideal – but that it is much better to get involved and make a difference than to sit back and complain about how bad it is. It’s fine if you examine the parties and decide that you want to cast a plague on all their houses – but if you genuinely believe that one of the candidates or parties is better than the other – then vote for them! This particularly applies when choosing the government – if you would genuinely prefer David Cameron or Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, or would prefer a coalition government, there’s no use complaining if you didn’t express that preference by voting for it!
- I am sure a number of you will have seen this cartoon doing the rounds last year. It is a simple fact of mathematics that the fewer voters who participate, the easier it is for another party to change the result – in actual fact, the BNP won two seats in the 2009 European Parliament Elections despite the number of votes they attained going down, simply because turnout as a whole was down.
- Finally – there is a very positive reason to vote, even if your candidate does not win. Big changes have small origins. Seats across the country that used to be Conservative or Labour have fallen to other parties as they have chipped away in election after election after election – establishing the vote and establishing an opposition ready to step in and replace the incumbent. Even if you vote doesn’t impact the short term, do not underestimate the capacity it has to change the long term situation of your community.
I would summarise all five of these points like this. Protest voting, whether through abstention or spoiling your ballot, is indeed a valid political stance to take. But there really is no excuse not to be on the electoral roll – and many positive reasons why you should use your ballot proactively – not least in an election where only a small number of votes across the country might determine our next government!