When the worm turned…

13 May

And so we have entered a new age, that where our government in the UK is forced to negotiate and collaborate on an unprecedented level. Yes there are thousands complaining about the arrival of the Tory party, and those who wonder why the Lib Dems bothered.

According to some I shouldn’t have an opinion. You see, when folks ask me years from now who I voted for in the legendary 2010 elections, I will have to answer ‘No one. I didn’t vote.’  There are those who believe that without voting for a candidate you have no entitlement to a say, no opinion, no voice. I have invalidated myself supposedly.

Never before have I encountered such resistance to discussion and ideas amongst friends than I did last week in the run up to the General Election. Some debated freely and we had a stimulating exchange of alternate viewpoints, others declined the debate, chose to plug their ears shut and shouted their own ideas to the exclusion of any other. I guess we should be glad that some people care enough to do this, but coming from Northern Ireland I find the latter means of address is rather like that of the Northern Irish politicians of old, has no place in a modern society and is both alienating and insulting. But then, I didn’t vote. So I don’t have a voice you see.

So why wouldn’t you vote?

You see, I completely believe that one should register one’s right to vote. It is important. We have been given a voice, and an ability to ostensibly alter the way our country is run (I’ll come back to that…), and we should acknowledge that. But I also believe in exercising your right to then not vote. And I’m not alone in this. As a means of voicing your dissatisfaction with candidates, or particular elections then you should.

Whereas here in NI, we tend to have our elections via a form of proportional representation, the General Election is simply a case of ‘those with the most votes’. There’s no choice. No balance. No equality. That’s why even though the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote (a mere 6% less than Labour) they only got 11% of the seats in Westminster. Fair? Doesn’t seem so. Hardy democracy in action.

So people have suggested that you vote for the least bad candidate in your region. Ha! Why should I vote for someone if I disagree with them? Under PR yes I’m inclined to rank most of the candidates, but to outright show my support for one candidate that I loathe? NO thank you.

In NI we still have the problem than most of the politics is dominated by the Unionist/Nationalist divide. In my constituency of East Belfast we had two nationalist parties (SDLP, and Sinn Feinn), three unionist (UCUP/UUP, DUP, and TUV) and Alliance – who are very moderate unionist basically. Politics here needs to progress beyond the border issues, and on to real issues. I should add that a vote for Sinn Feinn is wasted in the General Election anyway, because they don’t take up their seats in Westminster.

I will remain disillusioned until things change. Northern Ireland is not a priority of the ‘British’ government, and because our MPs are so focussed on the petty NI political issues, its hard to appreciate what a difference they make. UK politics remains dominated by the Conservatives, Labour and now Lib Dems. We cannot really vote for any of them, all our parties are loosely aligned. The Unionists tend to sit with the Tory’s (and the Ulster Unionist’s failed to get any MPs this time), SDLP sit with Labour (so you have to vote Nationalist if I want to support Labour, which may upset some Unionist Labour supporters), and Alliance are with the Lib Dems. But none of them are part of the bigger picture really.

So what to do, when you only have one vote and you don’t approve? For some, you simply don’t vote at all. You waste your vote. For others, you spoil your vote in some way – ruin your ballot paper with excessive marking etc. But then, why bother going to the polling station at all if that’s your plan? – well, to register the fact that you don’t approve. Watching the results being read out, some of the returning officers do at pains indicate the number of spoiled ballots. I think perhaps this number should be included in the published statistics.

I’d like to see an option on the forms for ‘None of the Above’, so you can positively register your dissatisfaction with candidates. I can see more people choosing this.

But then, I didn’t vote. So I shouldn’t be allowed to say any of this… except democracy is meant to be inclusive.

The questions beg to be asked to the doubters – if I didn’t vote for my MP, should I still be allowed to consult them for advice and to get them to work for my needs? If I was unable to vote for a valid reason, does that mean I am still not allowed a ‘voice’ or opinion? If I vote for Sinn Feinn does that give me a voice or not? If I voted with a spoiled ballot does that prohibit me from expressing an opinion? What if I went for the ‘least bad’ candidate, and I disagree with them on something crucial – say the transfer tests for primary to secondary schools – by voting I have endorsed their opinion, so should I really be allowed to protest that?

You see, we have a right to vote (and that includes the idiots who vote blindly along tribal lines, or without thinking, or without understanding policies), and we should use it. But we also have a right to voice disapproval by not voting, by abstaining from endorsing politicians, who will get in regardless. A government will be found, and it will govern. The nay-sayers have learned that this week, with the coalition now firmly in place and an interesting new way ahead. The world did not end when Clegg and Cameron shook hands did it?

I may not agree with what you say or think, but I will defend to the death you right to say and think it. Providing that is, you enter into the spirit of discussion and debate that you are capable of. And that means listening to what others say, or indeed what they have not said. This coalition is part of that. The ‘people’ did not vote overwhelmingly for any party, but nor did they say they did not want to be governed. And so the politicians have been forced to listen to what each other has to say before making a decision. And I’m cautiously optimistic that that means we aren’t just going to find policies put forward which suit the agenda of a single party – rather we will have issues debated properly, opinions taken on board and real compromises found which are in the benefit of the ‘people’ rather than the ‘party’.

Of course all this ideology is fine, but isn’t why I didn’t vote.

Despite sending back the paperwork to register, I contacted the electoral office on the day of voting and discovered my papers had not been received (allegedly). So I was not on the electoral register. Otherwise I would have voted. I was ready to go when I found out. My vote wouldn’t have made a difference (I don’t live in Fermanagh) this time. But I was disenfranchised, and that is frustrating. So forms are filled in to register for the Assembly vote.

Not that it matters. Because according to some, as I didn’t vote, I have no voice and am neither entitled to praise or condemn anything in politics. That’s what 40 years of Northern Irish politics does folks… it seeks to deprive you of a voice. Ah go on, you may as well round up all us non-voters and intern us for subordination…

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One Response to “When the worm turned…”

  1. avalard May 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    I received a comment via Formspring about this blog which I think is worth including here in full, along with my response: http://formspring.me/avalard/q/542314794

    It explains some of the origins of the blog, some clarification and further comments on democracy.

    Q: You tweeted that you don’t mean anything as a personal attack and yet it’s obvious to anyone who follows similar tweeters as you that your blog was a personal attack on a mutual friend. Perhaps that explains the questions on your supposed Christianity?

    A: I completely disagree, unless you are the ‘mutual friend’ in question, in which case you haven’t read the blog properly at all, but you are entitled to your opinions and interpretations. Any friend of mine should have the courage to address any questions they have with me directly and openly rather than veiled comments, anonymity and snide asides.

    I do not deny that the blog entry in question (https://avalard.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/when-the-worm-turned/) was prompted by an incident, or rather a series of incidents, in and around the General Election. But it was not targeted at any individual. I had similar conversations with three friends last week, and several work colleagues, all on the issue of my willingness to accept that some people will not vote as a valid response to the voting institution.

    There was an exchange via twitter between several of us that became rather heated, and resulted in some confusion. There appeared to be a certain amount of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

    My own viewpoints were aired in brief, but without the space to expound upon them were similarly not understood, or not listened to. I also felt – as I tried to make clear at the time – that I was being shouted down and my point was being missed.

    It strikes me that elections are very passionate times, and if that hadn’t been enough on Monday and Tuesday I had a barrage of soothsayers preaching doomsday for the impending new government in the aftermath of the election result.

    I felt the personal need to air my own views – and let’s face it, that’s all they are. They are my views alone, thoughts that I have, that will in all likelihood be of interest to nobody else, but then such is the nature of blogging. As with many personal blogs I felt it was a way of responding to those comments that I could not respond to in person (it is often ill-advised to talk politics in a work environment), and also to clarify my own thinking on the matter.

    In particular it had been suggested repeatedly to me (by one person in particular, but also voiced less stringently by another close friend) that if you do not vote you have no right to a say in anything regarding the government of our society. Something which as an idea is both interesting and alarming. And something which I also found stimulating to thought.

    That was the purpose of the blog. To voice my feelings, having taken inspiration from comments that were passed to me. Which is what we all do. Whilst it drew on personal commentary, and an emotive situation, it is not an attack.

    And as I say in the blog itself, you *may not* agree with what I say and I *may* be appalled by your viewpoint, but I will defend your right to voice it.

    Which is why there is a comments button on the blog. And why blogs are good – because we all get a voice. We may not think the voice has ‘worth’ but it has an opportunity to be heard, within its own parameters. We are free to disagree. That surely is real democracy?

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