Yesterday several election leaflets came through my letter box. Let me share two seemingly conflicting graphics.
Hmmm, who should I believe? According to the Lib Dems, this is a two-horse race between them and Labour, the Tories and other parties “can’t win here”. According to the Conservatives, this is a two horse race between them and Labour, the Lib Dems and “Others” have “no chance in this area”.
On closer inspection, the difference in the statistics can be explained quite easily. One shows results of the last general election whilst the other is actually results for the last mayoral election. In reality, whichever statistic you choose to believe in the most, the one common thread in both graphics is that Labour is by far the biggest party in this area. This is going to be a one-horse race and if I were a betting person my money would be on Labour winning fairly comfortably here in May.
Still, there is something about being told that a party “can’t win here” or has “no chance here” that I find particularly galling. Surely anyone whose name is on the ballot paper has a chance of winning if enough people vote for them? In the privacy of the ballot box, voters can mark their “X” wherever they choose. Yet such is the nature of tribal politics in this country that a large proportion of votes get taken for granted. Elections are decided by the floating voters not by the loyal party members.
Something about this status quo irritates me greatly and makes me wish I had the nerve to run as an independent candidate in order to upset the apple cart. But of course that is not likely to happen – I am not made for politics. There is something quite deflating about living in a “safe” constituency, no matter what ilk it is. Why bother to vote? It won’t make much of a difference to the result. I’m sure a certain amount of voter apathy – not all – is due to people feeling that their vote won’t influence the result. I am half tempted to not turn up at all on 7th May. Not a single party appeals to me and besides, it’s going to be a slam dunk isn’t it? But my British citizenship and with it the right to vote, obtained with some difficulty less than ten years ago, means that at the age of 44 I will have the opportunity to vote in a general election for only the second time in my life. I cannot waste that hard won opportunity.
As someone who has come to party politics (not general or international politics) rather late in life, I have never felt that belonging to or supporting a particular party was part of my identity. Yet I know many staunch Labour and Conservative supporters who would never consider voting anything else because it is so much part of their identity, almost a religion. I saw this during the Blair years, when he took us into what many saw as an illegal war – one for which we are all paying a heavy price today. People were fiercely critical but when it came to the ensuing election still voted in their familiar way. The ballot box was not used to punish politicians for wrong decisions but to reinforce the status quo. People say they are disenchanted with politicians, with their expenses scandals and so on, but few stop to think about what makes politicians accountable to the public.
Let’s imagine for a minute or two what would happen if voters in a safe Conservative seat voted anything other than Conservative and voters in a safe Labour seat voted anything other than Labour, just to show the parties that no vote should be taken for granted. Wouldn’t that shake up the political system!
To a certain extent, that is exactly what is happening in Scotland at the moment. There is no such thing as a safe Labour seat there anymore because voters are fed up with being taken for granted. The referendum last year invigorated the electorate into believing that their vote can actually make a difference. The SNP should tread carefully though. Whatever wave of enthusiasm is causing them to surge at the moment could also cause them to crash next time around if they do not actually deliver on their promises. That’s democracy for you.
So as a floating voter myself, I would ask any of you out there who are planning to vote Conservative because they come from true blue stock and for those who are planning to vote Labour because they and their family have always done so, to stop and reconsider. Tribal loyalties only entrench power and block any real change from happening.