Is it because your parents voted that way, or your friends? Is it because you fervently believe in that banner policy on immigration or independence? Is it to stop the party you like less from getting in?
I’ve always found it to be more than a bit scary the way that many people seem to vote out of habit, peer pressure, misguided loyalty or a heavily distorted view of what parties stand for, be it that Labour are a left-wing option welded to social justice, that the Conservatives will balance the budget or whatever.
Similarly, I’ve always held negative dogmas to be suspect. I’ve never liked the ‘everyone hates a Tory’ attitude which prevails in Scotland because it’s limiting, negative and unhelpful. It says a lot about our political landscape that many will vote Labour purely because they are preferable to the Tories and vice versa, especially when the actual record of the two parties is so similar in recent times.
Sayings like ‘More Pandas in Edinburgh Zoo than Tory MPs in Scotland’ demeans the vote of a substantial portion of the voting public (at worst, 12% or so in 2011, but usually 15-16%) and tend to harden tribal divides which makes collaborative politics and compromise impossible.
Politics should be about finding common ground and working together after voting for our principles, not about dividing lines and conflict after voting based on fear of a worse option.
Most of our preconceptions about the established parties are based on political divides which are generations out of date – it’s unlikely that Hardie, MacDonald or Atlee would recognize modern Labour or that Baldwin or MacMillan would recognize much modern Conservative policy.
In truth, all the major parties (Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Lib Dems) now occupy a very similar space to the right wing of the economic political spectrum, with tendencies towards the authoritarian side of the wedge with the SNP & Plaid Cymru slightly to the left (if still well right of centre) and only the Greens (of the parties with a significant share of the vote) actually pushing anything which amounts to a remotely socialist agenda.
At this time, free trade (neoliberalism) at the expense of all else is king in British politics, which results in parties competing with each other based on rhetoric, fearmongering and personal attacks, rather than on matters of real policy.
This homogeneity of policy once led to me being distanced from politics – when you can’t see a difference between the potential victors in a loaded game, what’s the point in playing? – for a long time and I have a lot of intelligent, like minded friends who do not vote because they don’t like the idea of validating an evidently broken system.
I can’t agree with that, on the basis of the old maxim that ‘all it takes for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing.’ I believe that it’s only right that if you see a broken thing then you should seek to fix it, especially when it has a direct effect on your life and the lives of everyone else. You can’t choose to become stateless, so why abdicate from the process of influencing how your state is run.
Therefore, I promote activism, campaigning, getting involved, becoming the media, finding a party who you are happy to vote for and if one does not exist then bloody well start one!
As much as this, I would ask everyone who votes for a given party to take a long hard look at their reasons for doing so and rather than voting on the basis of habit or dogma or outdated tribal loyalties, vote based on policies and even more, a party’s record for following through on those policies.
You can visit http://voteforpolicies.org.uk or http://www.politicalcompass.org to help with this. Both websites offer a blind test which will identify which parties most closely fit your personal beliefs. I think you might be surprised.
It’s also worth comparing policy promises to how MPs from given parties have actually voted in the past, because it’s one thing to say something in a manifesto or interview and it’s quite another to follow that up in parliament (I’m looking at all the supposedly more progressive but not so much in practice parties here.)
If you have problems with the terminology and concepts behind the policies, remember that things like economics, social dynamics and the actual effect of immigration are relatively easy studies (compared to say brain surgery or quantum physics) and much of the necessary material is readily available online. Surely it’s better to understand an issue and vote accordingly than just decide to accept the tabloid media’s interpretation or not vote because it’s all too confusing and boring?
Wouldn’t it be interesting if everyone voted based on the policies they believe in, that they had actively researched rather than being skewed by a compromised and biased media and the notion of voting tactically?
We might actually see positive change for once.