Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Politics of Voting

The General Election looms near, and those of us who intend to vote are left with the choice of who to cast our lot with. Undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to politics at the moment, is the seeming similarity of the major parties and their policies. On top of that, is a terribly flawed voting system. Apathy has set in because of these and other reasons, to the extent that many feel their vote will not count or matter.

The Voting System

Why is this flawed? Quite simply, because it does not give the majority of people an equal voice. In simplified terms, let us take three fictional counties, 'A', 'B' and 'C', each of which counts for a single seat. County 'A' has 200 voters. County 'B' has 50, and county 'C' has 50. Now let us take two major parties, 'Party 1' and 'Party 2'. The people in County 'A' all vote for 'Party 1'. The people in Counties 'B' and 'C' both vote for 'Party 2'. What does this mean? That 'Party 2' gets 2 seats in government, to 'Party 1's single seat. The result being that 'Party 2' get into power, despite the fact that twice as many people voted for 'Party 1'.

Doesn't something strike you as unfair about it all? Yet that is how our current electoral system works. At the last election, the Conservatives in fact had more votes than Labour. Yet Labour gained more seats (think of them as 'Party 2' above), and as a result are in power. Irrespective of party affiliations, is it fair that a party which is quite literally less representative of the people gets into power, over one that gained more support than any other on an individual voter basis? It also means that the Conservatives have to be ultra-successful to even stand a chance of getting in, while Labour only have to be moderately successful to stay in power.

For the individual voter, it also means that their vote can count for shockingly little, or far more than they represent by themselves. For example, if a person lives in an area with a high population that has always leant one way, then their vote counts for little. Meanwhile an individual in an area with a small population that could swing either way counts for an incredible amount. Surely, logic tells us, the vote of each individual in each area, should count for every bit as much as the other?

So for starters, you can understand the apathy for voting, most especially in areas that are foregone conclusions. After all, if you live in an area that is a foregone conclusion, you know that if you want to vote for a party other than the leading one, you may as well not vote. Because nationally, your vote has no impact whatsoever. Put it this way, pretend you are in a group of 100 people and 70 of them vote for 'Party 1'. You vote for 'Party 2', along with the other 29 people. If the next group of 100 people all vote for 'Party 2', it would still only class as a draw. Why? Because each group only represents one seat. Meanwhile 130 people overall voted for 'Party 2', while only 70 voted for 'Party 1'. It is understandable if a person in the first group feels as though their vote means nothing.

The Parties

The other core problem seems to be one of similarity. In the old days, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Labour, all had very different attitudes on how society should progress. Now, many of their policies appear to blur into one another. The alterations can all seem equally valid on the surface. Who knows which policy will work, and which won't? Quite often whether they are good or bad, has more to do with how well they are presented rather than the sense of the policy itself.

All too often they shy away from definitive answers on things, because they know that every voter has an individual perspective. As such, they don't wish to alienate those voters by saying anything too specific that they may happen to disagree with. The drawback? That having nothing specific gives people nothing to grab onto or choose to vote for.

Then, even if you do vote, you have to decide who to vote for.
Let's divide things into three hypothetical parties.
Party 1 – They represent most closely what you believe in, but don't stand a chance of getting into power.
Party 2 – They represent some of the things you believe in, and stand a chance of getting into power.
Party 3 – Stand for few of the things you believe in, but stands the most chance of getting into power.

Do you vote for a Party 1 that represents what you believe in, but in the knowledge that the vote is going to have little effect? Or do you vote for Party 2 that actually stands a chance of getting into power, and at least stands for some of the things you agree with? If you vote for Party 1, is it in fact more of a vote for Party 3, simply because it gives them more chance of winning against Party 2?


Now take that into the real world. Realistically, it is a competition between Labour and the Conservatives. Possibly, as a remote outsider, the Liberal Democrats. Then there are the other fringe parties, from Green to UKIP.

Given the current voting system and its geographical layout, on average a vote for Labour probably counts for greater than 1 vote in their favour. A vote Conservative probably counts for slightly less than 1 vote in their favour. A vote for the Liberal Democrats will count toward either a hung parliament, or given the political landscape, it will divide the vote in swing areas sufficiently to increase Labour's chance, and decrease the Conservatives. A vote for any of the other parties effectively(on average) splits the vote slightly in favour of labour and/or slightly against the Conservatives.

So in all probability, if you want the Conservatives in power, vote for them. If you want Labour in power, vote for them. If you don't really like Labour, but would still rather see them in power again rather than the Conservatives, vote for any of the others. And all of that is before we even get into the inequalities and unfairness of the separated powers of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, with their associated money expenditures and parliamentary seats that heavily affect England with less effect on themselves.

My personal opinion is that we need to vote, regardless of the problems with the system, to make use of what little control we have. That right to vote, flawed as it is, has been fought for over decades if not centuries, with countless lives. At least if we vote, we can give our views with the authority that we made our decision and stood for it. If we don't vote, what right have we to complain?

I've decided who I'll vote for, but given the political world, I must admit it is by no means a decision of significant conviction. Who will you vote for?

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