Monday, March 29, 2010

Goodbye, apathy

Why exactly should I vote?

I've been turning this question over in my mind over the last few weeks and have come to realise that there is absolutely no reason to do so.

I'll just briefly address each of the usual answers offered as to why I *should* vote.

1) It is in my interests to vote.

Sorry, but this dog just won't hunt. Even if I lived in a marginal constituency (I don't) and even if my vote was "the decider" (and it wouldn't be) and even if my constituency MP was the difference between one or the other of the control parties having a working majority and not having a working majority (unlikely) then the chances that my action would result in a government that is more likely to behave in a fashion conducive to my wellbeing would still be so remote I would more profitably spend the day playing videogames or, you know, *working*.

Furthermore just where does my putative inquisitor get off assuming I'm some kind of greedy dastard who only wants what's in my interests? Perhaps I feel I have a duty to vote for the party I feel best represents the national interest?

2) I have a duty as a citizen to vote.

This is just plain wrong. The only duty I have as a citizen is to obey the law. If voting were to become compulsory I would, of course, vote, because to do otherwise would be breaking the law.

If I feel I have further duties as a *person* then I shall do my best to fulfil them, but I certainly do not believe that choosing not to vote makes me a bad person. Particularly if it is on a point of principle.

But if I am to be morally culpable for something that is considered "bad" then surely *I* must be responsible for my decision? But if the cause is apathy (and in my case, it isn't, but supposing it were) then surely that is the responsibility of politicians for not inculcating in me a desire to engage with the political process by actually voting?

3) I owe it to the shades of all those who fought for the rights of people like me to vote.

This is probably the most interesting, and also the most frequently cited reason for voting. It also raises all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of inter-generational obligations, harms to the dead, and so forth.

I would say that what the various democratic heroes of the past did was to give me the *right* to vote, but not the obligation to do so. Or maybe they didn't think about it like that. Maybe if they knew about me they'd despise me, but that says more about them than it says about me.

So what's to be done?

Now I don't want this post to turn into one of those whiny disquisitions on how politicians aren't "engaging with the youth" - I basically disagree with Sian Anderson's view that politics is presented as too complicated or boring, and that this is what is dissuading young people from voting (and why should this dissuade only *young people* from voting? There are plenty of older folks with low attention-spans and better things to do with their lives).

It is not the case that I'm not interested in politics. I read as many newspapers as I can and generally try to keep up to date on what is happening. And I do occasionally badger my MP about legislation when the mood takes me.

So, given I'm actually fairly turned on to politics, why do I still feel it isn't worth my while voting?

Basically because of each of the following:

1) Government has a lot less ability to affect change than people generally credit them with. Therefore even if my vote *did* have an effect on the makeup of the government it wouldn't make a lot of difference quickly.

2) The two control parties have hit upon a basic raft of positions and policies that are designed to appeal to a narrow, non-ideologically-aligned, section of the electorate who live in marginal constituencies. The "floating voters" or "scorekeepers." As I mentioned above, I'm not one of these, so the government genuinely *doesn't* have any reason to give a damn about me.

3) The areas where I feel government *could* make substantive improvements are in areas like prohibition, immigration, housing, and tax policy. These areas are essentially precluded from discussion by the necessity of pandering to the perceived self-interest of the aforementioned "floaters." I disagree with *both* of the control parties on a number of issues that they just don't have the guts to act reasonably on (viz mephedrone).

And this is what it comes down to. It's not that I don't care. It's that I do care and I care enough to know I'm being ill-served by the current offering.

I appreciate that the Tories are much more vociferous class warriors than Labour and are likely to arrange matters to suit the super-rich, rich, and extremely well-off at the expense of the poor but maybe a bit of Sideshow Bob right wingery is what the public needs right now. And who knows, a few years of a Conservative government may be character forming.

So in conclusion: I might vote, or I might not. But it doesn't matter if I do or don't. And I say this as a fairly politically-engaged yoof. If I really want to make a difference there are plenty of other avenues to do so, and if I really can't be bothered I might as well comp my punt to these guys [via Penny Red], who actually might give a damn.


(A) Incidentally, I have personally done rather well out of the Labour government. Contrary to popular belief they have managed a fairly solid redistribution from rich to poor, especially considering the structural factors (globalisation) they've been fighting against. If it weren't for the bloody stupid wars, stupid policies, and nasty authoritarianism I probably would vote for them.

(B) And, as with every bloody thing, I discover Daniel Davies said it first, said it briefer, and said it better.

(C) As has Alix Mortimer.