I’ve just read two articles on BBC News relating to elections and the way the UK electoral system works.
The first article was about Jack Straw backing election night counts, as it seems many electoral officers are keen on starting official vote counts the day after the election rather than having the the traditional late night/early morning count. I don’t actually have a huge problem with counts being done the next day for a variety of reasons, but I couldn’t help but be surprised by the quote attributed to Eleanor Laing (Conservative) which went as follows,
“Postponing election counts until the next day would have sucked all the excitement and drama out of general election night.”
It seems I’ve misunderstood the point of elections these last 17 years I’ve been entitled to vote. I always thought that elections were about electing a government, not providing ‘excitement and drama’ one Thursday night every 4 or 5 years. If starting the count the following morning, given how late the polls close, makes it easier and more efficient for the electoral officers to get an accurate count, then all politicians should support it, especially as the only argument against is the entertainment value it seems. Ms Laing also seems to be missing a two very key points about election night. Firstly, given the exceptionally low turnout for most elections (compare it to Germany), who really actually cares about the result? Less than 40% of eligible voters for a start. Secondly, of that less than 40%, how many people can actually stay up until the wee small hours watching the results and how many have to go to bed at a sensible time because they have to go to work the following day? If you are going to reduce the major political event of the UK to ‘entertainment and drama’, at least schedule it so people can watch it at a decent time.
The second article is my favourite, and has done more to put me off voting for any Conservative candidate than any other single issue. This one is about a referendum (good) on reform of the voting system (also good). MPs have backed government plans to call a referendum on plans to change the way individual candidates are elected to seats, and specifically about switching to the ‘alternative vote’ style of counting. Now this will make zero difference to democracy in the UK, as it doesn’t change the overall first past the post, elected dictatorship system we currently ‘enjoy’. It doesn’t address MPs inability to vote with their conscience and with their constituents ahead of party line as it doesn’t remove the whip system or introduce secret ballots. The whip system is of course an abomination unto democracy.
Anyway, it was a comment about proportional representation from Dominic Grieve (Conservative), shadow Justice secretary, that took my eye. Apparently he said proportion representation systems
“saddle a country with impossible legislatures where you cannot have any proper governance carried on at all”
Seriously. He said that (according to the BBC). Now while I’m not a huge fan of Wikipedia, it does obligingly provide a list of countries who, according to Mr Grieve, have no proper governance. They include Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and so on. For someone hoping to hold one of the UKs most important government positions come June, Mr Grieve has shown a remarkable ignorance on the way democracy can work. If he is so willing to casually dismiss a system used successfully by so many of our near neighbours, he is certainly is not a man I want anywhere near running my country.
None of which answers the question as to why I won’t vote this year. The answer is there is simply no point. I am under no illusion that I have any kind ‘say’ in who gets elected and who governs the country. Even if the candidate I vote for is elected as an MP, unless they happen to be in the party who wins the majority, they will have no say in how the country is run, for all intent and purpose. If my candidate is elected, and is in the majority, and could actually make a difference, the whip system and lack of a secret ballot mean that in almost all situations that it might matter, my elected official will follow party line no matter what their constituency wishes. That combined with candidates of the outstanding quality of Laing and Grieve, makes me think ‘what’s the point?’.