Here we go again…
It’s General Election time and once again, a bunch of people I’d normally cross the street to avoid are all suddenly intent on ‘engaging’ with me and ‘gaining’ my vote. To be honest, I’d rather they all leave me alone and let me find out for myself what I do and don’t like about what they stand for – but then I do have to accept that if they did, it wouldn’t be much of a demonstration of willing from anyone looking to achieve a mandate to run the country.
And so, the whole dreary process rolls inevitably down the hillside of the next six or seven weeks, promising only a modicum of voyeuristic entertainment when the debris lands as it finally crashes to a halt. Who can forget such classics as Portillo v Twigg (pictured) and Hamilton v Bell?
Having been through this rather ludicrous affair five times before, I am tempted to wonder why I’m doing this again? Not the voting bit itself – I’m not that cynical that I don’t believe the right to vote, paid for with millions of lives, should be relinquished or squandered lightly. What I’m questioning is my complete immersion in the canvassing and pre-election process, as a responsible voter.
From a pragmatic point of view, there’s really no need to bother: I could agonise over every line of every manifesto, I could flip a coin or I could just ‘vote with my conscience’ and it would make no difference to the outcome. Cue horrified cries of “every vote counts” and “well, if everyone thought like that..” so let me clarify things a little. I live in the Wigan constituency, a dyed-in-the-wool Labour stronghold since 1918. It has for almost a century been the very definition of a seat where the proverbial ‘pig in a red rosette’ would expect to win – and in all probability, a couple have, over the years.
The current incumbent, Lisa Nandy, most recently the shadow Junior Education Minister, is a highly-rated young parliamentarian and is certainly no proverbial ‘pig’. The combination of her capability and her seat’s geography means that she must be one of the Labour candidates most likely to be working in Westminster for at least the next five years. In fact, for her not to be returned as the member for Wigan during the next parliament, Jeremy Vine’s swing-o-meter would probably have to point almost due east. In short, she really doesn’t need my vote, whether she gets it or not.
This is the situation, then: I’ve decided that I’m definitely going to vote for someone, that I shouldn’t disrespect the process so much that I’m not just going to vote for anyone, but also in the realisation that after doing all that and then casting my vote, not one iota of difference will have been made. So the question ‘why am I doing all this?’ is, I think, a reasonable one.
The best answer I can muster is that, if nothing else, I feel I need to cast my vote and be accountable to myself. Will I be able to look my future self in the eye (if that’s possible to imagine) and say that, whoever wins and whatever happens in the next four or five years, I contributed my voice responsibly? If the country is well served by the next Government, I accept I’ll have either the satisfaction for having backed them or the nagging guilt of overlooking their potential? Conversely, if the next lot cock things up, for four or five years, I know I’ll either inhabit the moral high ground for having tried to stop them or a kind of ‘naughty step’ for being partly responsible. I want to feel I can always assure myself that I made the right choice – and that doesn’t change whether you live in a marginal constituency or a ‘shoo-in’, like Wigan.
That, to me, is the essence of democracy and the value of the franchise. In lots of ways, the whole ridiculous charade is flawed, often seriously (I could go on, and I probably will at some point) but it’s important in the same rather old-fashioned way that might compel you to drive slowly past a funeral cortège: you know you don’t have to, but it’s a standard to which one holds oneself for no other reason than one’s own sense of propriety.
I accept it’s not the same for everyone – elections often bring into the spotlight a very strange ensemble of ‘characters’ with a wide variety of contributions to the process – but I think mine is probably not far from the same position that most people have. The phrase about of one’s voting preference being ‘between me and the ballot box’ is not just an assertion of privacy, it’s a secret pact that each of us and the ‘box’ have, to do our bit to guide the country through the waters of the next few years, even though it’s just a tick in the box when all is said and done.