Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Enter my competition and win a vote in the 2010 British general election

Many years ago, I was berated by a friend for my plan to abstain from voting in a general election on the grounds that none of the political parties fielding candidates in my constituency held views similar to mine (perhaps of little surprise, given how little sway anarcho-syndicalism held in Tebbitt’s Essex of the 1980s).

My friend told me that if I did not exercise my vote, I had no right to complain about the actions of the elected government. The converse of which was, presumably, if I did vote for a party which represented none of my political views, I had every right to complain if a government formed by that party acted in a way I objected to, even if it were completely in keeping with its pre-election manifesto, which I had previously read, understood and disagreed with.

Well, Nick East, pick the bones out of this. The ‘give your vote’ campaign wants abstainers to donate their vote to those in other countries who have more of a view on British political life than the many jaded, underwhelmed ballot-casters which make up a good part of the British electorate.

The driving concept is that British citizens vote for British governments, which make decisions that affect many people in other parts of the world, who do not have a vote in Britain’s general elections. Which, considering the Iraqi military adventure debacle or the waste-dumping in West Africa super-injunction farce, seems a fair point to raise.

Egality, the activist group driving the campaign (and, I like to imagine, the bitter enemy of thinktanks Liberty and Fraternity), points out that there are many thousands of people who are entitled to vote in British elections who, for one reason or another, do not cast their vote.

Indeed, it is one of the ironies of the modern democratic system in Britain that the right to influence how we are ruled should be treated with as widespread indifference by the many, that the principle of universal franchise is routinely reduced to the diktat of the relative few who can be arsed to generate an opinion and go to a polling station to express it once every five years.

But here comes the crunch: Egality is urging us to give our unused votes to people in other countries – specifically Ghana, Afghanistan or Bangladesh – to use for their own political agenda.

Technology provides the means: Would-be abstainers sign up via the website, and receive a text message on polling day directing them who to vote for. Predictably, there are Twitter and Facebook elements.

(Actually, why leave it there? With the internet, the possibilities are endless: For example, what is there to prevent a vote-exchange system – the Multi-Coloured Swapshop of Suffrage, if you will – where a voter in, say, Sutton Coldfield swaps their May 2010 vote with a freedom-lover from California for a future Presidential contest, with comments moderated by Noel Edmonds? Or a ballot auction clearing house, (a new Ebay category of franchise, for example) where one can sell one’s vote to the highest bidder? Or indeed a combination of the two models, based along similar lines as the carbon credits offsetting scheme?)

When I first heard about the ‘give your vote’ campaign, on the radio in the kitchen, I cheered aloud for the sheer obtuseness of it. It’s not often you get this kind of high-browed imbecility. But when I came to set down exactly what I found so deplorable about it, I could not put my finger on one single reason. So many tried to muscle in at the same time, none could get through the front door.

Even now, after I’ve had a while to think about it, I cannot settle on one of the many reasons why one should object to the prospect of, for example, a Pashtun nationalist in downtown Kandahar casting a vote in, say, my south London constituency, where one of the most pressing political issues in recent months revolved around what should be done with a piece of graffiti (or is it art?) personally spraycanned by Banksy.

Indeed, I find myself in the bizarre position of wondering whether the ‘give your vote’ campaign is a perfectly reasonable idea, and it is merely my knee-jerk, mid-life reaction to it that prevents me from understanding this.

So here’s the deal. I will freely give my vote to the party of choice of the person who gives me the most salient argument as to why the ‘give your vote’ campaign is such an abhorrent betrayal of the principles of democracy, (or, if you’re feeling very persuasive and optimistic, why it is a good idea).

There are absolutely no restrictions and anyone may enter regardless of nationality, political belief or organisational affiliation/membership (although, obviously, I reserve the right to change this at any time, should it turn out I’ve crossed some constitutional line or another and the rozzers pitch up to sling me in the Tower).

The constituency is a former Liberal stronghold, which only held the Tories at bay by 1,000 votes or so last time. Given the neck-and-neck polls between Labour and Conservatives, this could turn out to be decisive.

Answers in the comments section please.


  1. I have to agree that voting for a party that you knowingly disagree with should give you no more right to complain about poor government than a conscientiously abstaining voter. What I would like to see is a "None Of The Above" option on our ballot papers, and option given to our European neighbours in Greece, France and Spain (and to the cast of Neighbours in Australia). But until we have such an option available, our only option is to submit a spoiled paper. If I win your competition then that is what I would like you to do with my vote. I leave the manner of spoilage to be left to your own discretion.

  2. Come on people, we all know what 'the manner of spoilage' means, surely we can raise the dignity of the ballot a little above that?

  3. I agree completely on the two points raised by falcozappa. I could not have put it better myself!

    PS: I may be young and politically unresponsive but I do exercise my vote. It normally goes to the opposition.

  4. Like Lan (and unsurpringly so...), i too, am not politically minded. I have accepted over the years, that whatever government is elected, their promises are soon broken and they hardly think about the people who voted them in. Hence, I have given up on voting and have decided that whoever is in power or whatever rules they want to pass, does affect me, but that I have little or no say in the matter. it's all for show...
    I do what I can to keep afloat, and concentrate on the things that are most important to me - which does not include politics...

  5. There is no logic to the idea that abstaining from voting means that you lose your right to complain. In fact, it makes more sense to turn things the other way around: by voting, you accept the system _and_ its outcome. It's the voters who therefore have no right to complain.

    For example, if your guys get in and they make a mess of the country, then you can't complain because you voted for them. On the other hand, if things don't go in your favour, well then your vote implies your acceptance of the result and you just have to wait until next time around.

    The non-voters, however did not agree to the whole process in the first place. They therefore have every right to complain when things go wrong.

    George Carlin explains it better in this clip:

    Now, on to this 'give your vote' campaign. Frankly, it's ludicrous in so many levels. First of all, the people who abstain do so for a few reasons:

    1. It is against their ideological views
    2. They are too lazy
    3. They just don't care

    What makes the numb-headed campaigners think that any of these groups of people would fall for such stupidity? If someone doesn't believe in the process, then why would they give their vote to some Afghan poppy farmer? If they can't be bothered to vote, then why take the trouble to visit the website and register? If they don't care, well they might as well spend the time making a peanut-butter sandwich.

    OK, that was just number one.

    The next point is that if the campaigners are really fighting against global political inequality, why restrict their generosity to only three other countries? There are about 200 countries in the world. What's so special about Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana? Aren't the other 190+ equal also?

    Here's one last issue I have with it, which is perhaps the most important. This whole thing rests on the premise that democracy is somehow morally right. What is so just about majority rule? Should the minority suffer simply because they don't agree with the majority?

    Let's put it another way. Say you invite us all to dinner. Now we're all sitting there yamming down the delicious roast chicken when we notice your nice silverware. It's really nice, and expensive, and most of all, we don't have our own silverware. So I stand up and announce that we should each take home the silverware that we're using from your table. Now, everyone else but you agrees, cos well, none of us has such fine silverware. Whachtya gonna do about it, punk? It's majority rules, after all.

    Now on top of all that, these guys are actually proposing international democracy. If you think things are bad right now, what do think will happen when every country in the world but Britain has run out sprouts?

  6. *of* sprouts.

    Sorry. I started foaming at the mouth towards the end and the spittle got in the way of my typing.

  7. Re: Anthony the Zombie: was it the fact that you're do darned opinionated that made you foam at the mouth or the fact that you're a zombie...?

    Haven't spoken to you in ages and then all of a sudden this "lecture"..!

    (PS hope things are good with you. are you in the UK or abroad?)

  8. Never mind all that, sell the format to Five and get George Galloway to front the next reality TV hit.

  9. @Long: It must be the opinionated part because foaming at the mouth isn't a symptom of zombie infection.

  10. I haven't closed the competition yet, but I have to say, unless a latecomer shows up with something very impressive, at the moment Mr Zombie is in the lead, with the copraphiliac Mr Zappa in close pursuit. Gentlemen, prepare to insult democracy.

    Although, I would add, that if the climate-change people are right, a world without sprouts could be just the ticket. Just saying.

  11. 1. Consider how differently politicians would act if they realized they must also court the international community during their election campaign. If (and it's a big if) this "give out the vote" campaign becomes mainstream, politicians could go one of two ways:
    a) make their campaigns as locally relevant as possible to deter potential abstainers from giving their vote to a more politically active foreigner.
    b) attempt to capture as many of these international votes as possible.

    In case A, nothing much will change. Elections have been locally based time immemorial, and it's unlikely that those who disagree with either party, the process, or just don't care are going to act differently under these circumstances.

    In case B, politicians will have to move to a new political center in order to capture enough votes, likely to be further to the left. (I can't imagine many foreign political activists with a stake in the British general elections to be advocating immigrant restrictions, neo-liberal economic policies, etc.)

    2. More people than just the British have a stake in the political process. Powerful countries such as Britain have an enormous impact on the lives of citizens worldwide, and only when such citizens have a voice will they be heard.

    While giving away votes to foreigners violates cherished state sovereignty values, it's obvious to anyone with a smattering of History that powerful states don't respect this in the slightest when it comes to weaker states. State sovereignty arguments are in reality an attempt to consolidate and maintain an imbalance of power in Britain's favor.

    3. Mr. Zombie has confused protecting the rights of the minorities with effective decision-making. Of course minorities (immigrants, women, First Peoples, the poor, people with nice dinnerware etc) have basic human rights that must be respected, regardless of what the mob thinks is most appropriate.

    At the same time, decisions are best made when all stake-holders are at the table, not just the stockholders (aka British citizens).

  12. @Blackbird I don't claim that protecting the rights of the minorities have anything to do with effective decision-making. The only decisions a politician will make are those that will keep him or her in power.

    Regardless of how many stake-holders are at the table, the purpose of an election is to let people think they have a choice. But in the end, money talks and it is the elite who end up make the real decisions.

    Why bother with taking part in the sham?

  13. hey Blackbird, you must not be from around these parts :o) your spelling of realise and centre give it all away.

    Where are you from if you don't mind me asking? Because politics is politics, but depending on where you are from, there are certain political rules the politicians must follow.

    Anyways, back to my point. Meth, give me the vote. This is for two reasons;

    1) Insult democracy
    2) I shredded my vote last week by mistake (not out of spite) thinking that the elections were over. that's how much of an impact the parties have made on me this year.

    I also don't like the fact that a billion flyers, and cheap ones at that, come through my door trying to persuade me to vote for this party, etc. And when I read what they are "offering" it seems that the local MPs attempts to reel me in are so different from what their leaders are offering. Some of the offers are so cheap and nasty, that I feel insulted.

  14. Did everyone enjoy the Leaders debates? I think that even though Nick Clegg started well, it was quite obvious from the last debate that he is just as much a politician as the other two. I found Cameron just plain aggressive and our PM a bit boring... he kept repeating the fact that interest rates were the lowest they have ever been - yeah, yeah, we got the point from the first time you said it!
    Maybe it was a good thing i shredded my vote - to recycle it and save the environment...

  15. Alas, your laudable environmental efforts will have been massively offset by the sheer volume of hot air emanating from the Leaders debates.

  16. @Blackbird: I didn't realise that women were a minority.
    @Methuselah: Have you cast the vote yet? If I won, I hope you had a nice vindaloo last night.

  17. I got the local curry shop to knock up a custom dish. Cabbage and spout phaal, with raisins.

    You will be repulsed yet curiously gladdened to know it was a postal vote. Hurrah!