Demystifying elections

There are many reasons to vote tomorrow, and many reasons not to. You may like a candidate standing in your constituency, or you may support certain policies of a party or have an affinity with their leader. Alternatively, you may think that party politics lacks any efficacy in a globalised world, the party you support may have no chance in your constituency or you may live in such a safe seat that voting at all seems pretty pointless.

I will be voting, and voting Labour, because I want a Labour-led government. While there is no chance that my vote will actually make a difference to Labour winning the seat, I’ll be voting because the larger the share of the popular vote they get the more legitimate a Labour-led government will be (and though that shouldn’t really matter in a parliamentary system, all the disingenuous comments by people who should know enough about our politics and history to know better makes me think it might be important).

I want a Labour government because I think they will be better than a Conservative-led government. I think they will stop finding new ways to throw money at people who already have money while squeezing those who don’t. I  appreciate it when Ed Miliband says that he does not offer euphoria after the election but hard-work. I understand that him becoming Prime Minister will not make things miraculously better overnight. There will be no socialist dawn. But in small ways I think things will be better. And personally I hope he can pass a law on three-year tenancies and pegged rent rises before the contract on my flat is up in November…

So that is why I want to vote. But what about people who think things won’t be any better regardless of who wins, who don’t think any of the leaders are decent people, and who don’t even have a reason to vote in their own narrow self-interest? Why should they vote when they believe that politics and democracy should be about more than voting, about more than choosing the lest-worst option from barely-distinguishable non-entities who cannot and will not offer the radical changes we need to reformulate our society on genuinely equitable and communal grounds?

I understand those arguments, but I don’t think they offer any reasons not to vote. Elections are given too much weight and importance in political culture, often in a completely inverse relationship to their actual impact. But the only way that elections will stop being treated as the be-all and end-all of our politics is if participation in them becomes a given, if it is accepted that everyone will engage and cast their vote. It that becomes an accepted reality then the battle for influence and involvement can move on to the spaces in-between elections, when the real decisions about the allocation of resources and authorities are made.

When the very point of elections are questioned and debated then they themselves become the issue. But elections should not be the defining point of our democracy. They should not be treated as a mystical moment when the individual transforms into the citizen, when the world pauses and political destiny turns on the cross of a pen. It should be just another day, just another way in which people participate in their political system. And nothing you do on that day should silence you or give you an excuse not to participate the next day, and the next, and the next…


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