GE2015 minus 48: every vote matters?

Posted: 20 March 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

It’s important to vote, vitally important for a democracy, and the inconvenient fact that in almost every case, your vote won’t change anything is irrelevant to that importance. I kind of agree with Matthew Parris on this though: the main reasons most people offer for why you should vote are not only wrong, but almost insulting in their patronising wrongness. The main, the only reason to vote, what Parris calls the “one and only one supreme and luminous reason for exercising your right to vote” is that voting changes things. Which of course it does. Whatever place the UK would have been had Labour formed the last government, it would have been a very different UK today. For a start, there’s no guarantee – in fact I think it extremely unlikely – that we’d have had marriage equality in the UK. I also know we’d never have had the ‘bedroom tax’. We’d have had cuts to public services, of course, but those cuts would have fallen on different services. Would that have been better or worse? I don’t know; I only know that it would have been different. We’d have had different indirect and direct taxation rates than we’ve currently got. Almost certainly the 50% top rate of income tax would have remained, and it’s likely – though not definite – that VAT wouldn’t be at 20%. 

So, voting changes things, huge things and little things. And your vote – if you voted conservative or liberal democrat – helped those changes come in. Except it didn’t. Because, as I alluded to yesterday, not only will whoever forms the next government have little to do with your specific vote (especially in a coalition scenario) but for the overwhelming majority of people, their eventual member of parliament will be elected with a majority high enough that even if you and everyone you know in the constuency had voted against them instead of for them, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

Sure, there are constituencies where that isn’t true. A few, very few. Currently, the four countries that make up the united Kingdom have different typical sizes of parliamentary constituencies. The Office for National Statistics gives the median total parliamentary electorate across constituencies of about 72,400 in England, 69,000 in Scotland, 66,800 in Northern Ireland and 56,800 in Wales. In the last general election, the number of constuencies where the winner had a majority of under… let’s take 1% of 65,000: under a 650 majority. That’s fair, yes? Ok then, how many constituencies ended up with majorities of under 650?

There are 32, with Fermanagh and S Tyrone held by Sinn Fein with a majority of 4 increasing to Dudley North, currently represented by Labour with a majority of 649. 32 members of parliament, out of 650, or a shade under 5%. 

And, of course, elections aren’t decided on a single vote. Even the seat with the lowest majority wasn’t decided on a single vote. But even it it had been, the results of the other elections taking place that day, in the 649 other constituencies, they were the seats – or at least those won by the conservatives and the liberal democrats – which decided which government we ended up with.

Because we don’t elect a government. Even leaving aside the “we didn’t vote for a coalition” arguments, which as I’ve suggested before are nonsense, we vote for individual members of parliament. And sometimes, people vote for a member of parliament, despite instead of because of their party; it’s a purely personal vote, because, say,  the MP is a superb constitency MP. I’ve done that myself, voting for a conservative knowing he wouldn’t be in the majority party, but he was a great constituency member of parliament, genuinely representing all his constituents no matter whether they’d voted for him or not. Sometimes, a personal vote can come from a specific cause the member of parliament campaigns on. No matter my personal views, say, I can think of MPs from all the main* parties who’d get my vote were I to be in their constituency simply because of the importannce of the campaigns with which they’re associated.

(* I exclude UKIP from this; Ofcom may consider them a major party; I don’t consider them a political party at all. They’re a Saturday night pub crowd minutes after throwing out time.) 

So, vote. Vote because you think it’s important, not because anyone else tells you it’s important.  Vote because you want to, or you need to, or just because you’ve nothing better to do. 

But vote. 

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