It’s a silly question in many ways: how personal is your vote? Well, in one way, of course, it’s nothing but personal. You go into the voting booth yourself and it’s no one else other than you that’s putting that cross in the box, or spoiling your ballot paper deliberately or otherwise. Or it’s you that’s put the cross in the box of the postal ballot. I suppose it’s less slightly personal if you’ve appointed a proxy, but in the last thirty-odd years, I’ve only met one person who did that. And I suspect there aren’t many reading this who plan to appoint a proxy in May. Sao, it’s a persona vote, i.e. it’s you the person who are voting.
But there’s another meaning when I ask “how personal is your vote?”
I know some people – quite a lot actually – who just can’t and won’t vote for a Conservative candidate. If the candidates for election were Ghenghis Kahn, Darth Vader, Death, or a Tory, I’d start hearing them say “Well, Vader’s not that bad, you know…” But like switching off the light in a room when you leave it to go to bed, it’s not a genuine consideration of whether or not to vote for them. Neither does the decision in any way take into account the candidate that’s being offered to you as the Conservative PPC; the decision not to vote for the Conservative candidate is by now automatic, like flushing the loo when you’ve finished.
It’s not personal at all; it’s just a flat out NO. This isn’t limited to the Tories of course; there are people right now who have sworn never again to vote Lib Dem under any circumstances, and equally, I know people who’ll never vote Labour because of this thing or that. Plenty of people of people I know – including me – made up their minds long ago never to vote BNP nor UKIP nor pick-a-party-of-your-choice.
Thirty-seven days to the general election and I’ve yet to make up my mind who’s going to be the lucky candidate to get my vote. There’s so much to think about: “who do I want to win the general election?” is one factor of which I have to take account, but it’s not necessarily the determining factor in who I want to be my constituency MP.
About six months ago, while writing about how I’ve little sympathy for the unsympathetic, I wrote the following:
I can’t think of a single election in the past thirty years where I’ve agreed with even the vast majority of any single party’s manifesto. I can’t really speak on how they’ve acted as a constituency MP, on the other hand, with one exception. My Member of Parliament for some years was Sir Sidney Chapman, a man with whose politics I fervently disagreed. Yet, I never heard a single complaint from across the local political spectrum about his activities as a constituency MP. He seemed to be that apparently most rare of species: someone who believed, once elected, he owed a duty to everyone in his constituency, whether or not they’d voted for him.
What I didn’t add then was that even though his politics and mine were far apart I had no hesitation in voting for him because of his reputation as a first class constituency MP. The decision was, I have to say, made a lot easier because there wasn’t one chance in a thousand that his party would form the government, let alone let him be part of it.
This was in 1997 and 2001. There was no chance that Labour weren’t going to win, and win big. So, Chapman was my MP and I was pleased he was. His personal politics aside, he worked for his constituents as a constituency member of parliament is supposed to. I met him just the once, in Barnet High Street. He was charming in his way, I suppose, but I didn’t take to him personally. But he got my personal vote in the elections.
There’s also the small but rather inconvenient fact that in some constituencies, they effectively don’t count the winning party’s vote; they weigh it. It’s highly unlikely, say, that in Hemsworth, they’ll ever elect anyone other than a Labour candidate. It’s been held by Labour since 1918 and at the last election, the winner had a majority of almost 10,000. Same thing applies in Horsham, a Tory held seat since 1880; if they put up a donkey wearing a blue rosette, it’d be elected. (I’m minded to check whether at certain periods, they’ve tested that out, but I’m worried what I might find.)
In those and other constituencies, it really doesn’t matter who you vote for, the only satisfaction you’ll get from viting for someone else is the satisfaction of looking in the mirror and knowing you did the right thing. And sometimes, that’s enough.
But in all seriousness, what if you like your constituency MP, or at least you like the candidate, and you’re in a marginal seat, but you don’t like his party and in a close election, every seat counts. One could argue that you should look at the bigger picture, that no matter how much you like the candidate, you do not want his or her party in government and if you have to make sure the nice candidate loses, then so be it; can’t take a joke, shouldn’t play the game.
But isn’t that hypocrisy writ enormously large? We implore the young to vote, to get interested in politics, to check out the people who have the temerity, the sheer audacity to say “vote for me so I can go to the House of Commons on your behalf”. How much more interested can they get than learning about the candidates standing in their own constituency? How hypocritical is it to tell them no matter who they want in parliament representing them, they should vote against that person to stop other people they’ve never met and will never meet in the same party forming the government.
And how hypocritical is it of us to do the same, to vote for someone we don’t actually want in Parliament to stop someone else we don’t want forming the government. We don’t have a presidential system; we elect individual members of parliament and it’s a blatant abdication of responsibility to vote tactically.
We tell our politcians that we’re fed up of negative campaigning, and then do it ourselves by saying “vote tactically, so the vote is against someone, not for someone.”
I’m more than fed up of the hypocrisy that seems inherent in the British political system; at 50 years of age, however, I’m only just beginning to realise some voters are as hypocritical as the politicians.