Why bother voting?

Why bother voting?

An overview of the coming election from the Anarchist Federation.

The general election is here, and once again the parties are falling over themselves to promise us the earth. They talk blandly about “fairness”, “opportunity”, “security” and “a better future”, doing their best to avoid saying anything meaningful.

But a whopping 83% of the UK general public do not trust politicians, according to a 2009 poll. Just 13% think that they tell the truth. MPs came bottom of the list of least trusted occupations – even lower than journalists and lawyers! This is hardly surprising. If anything, it's hard to work out what the 13% who do still trust politicians are thinking – have they ever paid attention to an election campaign?

Everyone knows that parties make promises in their manifestos that they have no intention of keeping. For example, when first elected 13 years ago, Labour promised to end child poverty by 2010. Today 4m children in Britain are living in poverty – more than in any other European country. It's not hard to find other examples of politicians lying through their teeth, from local councillors trying to inflate their own importance, to the massive pack of lies Tony Blair came out with to justify the invasion of Iraq. Events of 2009 further underlined how untrustworthy our rulers are, as many of them were revealed to be fiddling their expenses – despite earning £64,766 a year – and using various other sleazy tricks, such as employing members of their own families. Meanwhile many of the rest of have to scrape by on a minimum wage of £5.80 an hour.

Despite superficial differences in their rhetoric, in reality life under any of the parties will feature the same things – cuts to public services, attacks on pensions, over-crowded classrooms, job losses, poor housing, under-equipped hospitals, poor public transport, and more war. Before the economic crisis, politicians were coming out with wild claims about the end of the cycle of boom and bust – an idea few of them would defend today. Then when the banks went into meltdown, they threw billions of pounds at them. The official cost of the bank bailout is a staggering £850 billion. That’s a bill we will be forced to pay through cuts in public spending, no matter which party wins the election. Labour cuts will hurt as much as Tory cuts or Liberal Democrat cuts or Scottish or Welsh nationalist cuts.

Governments don't serve us, whether they’re Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, BNP, SNP, Sinn Féin, Green or whatever. And the “alternative” left-wing parties are no better. Respect promised to be a radical alternative to traditional parties, but all it produced was George Galloway’s cat impressions on Celebrity Big Brother.

But now it’s election time and politicians want our vote, so they’re desperate to convince us that they care what we think. Like spam emailers or nuisance callers trying to sell us car insurance we don’t need, they turn up on our doorsteps, push their leaflets through our letterboxes, and appear every night on our TVs. Of course once they get into parliament they won't give us another thought for the next five years. But at the moment, they're all over us like a rash.

Well, we're all busy nowadays, and there are a lot of things that are more important, more useful, or just more fun than voting. It's hard to blame people who can't see the point of trudging down to their local polling booth to put a cross next to the name of someone who doesn’t really care what they think. The simple truth is that our “representatives” don't represent us, and voting doesn't give us any say in the decisions that really matter. That’s why turnout in elections is dropping right across Europe – not because people are lazy or apathetic, but because they know that voting doesn’t change anything.

In fact people are realising that voting isn’t part of the solution – it's part of the problem. Voting means accepting this rotten set-up, pretending that we have a meaningful say in how things are run. The fact is that politicians couldn’t really change anything even if they wanted to, because of the way the political system is set up. The main aim of parliament is to keep things going the way they always have, so that a rich few at the top have all the power and the vast majority of us have none. Voting just props the whole system up by making it look democratic.

Not voting or spoiling your ballot paper is a symbol of wanting something better. The millions and millions of us who won't vote will be doing so because we don't believe the lies the politicians come out with, because we recognise that they're a part of our problems, not the answer to them, and because we want a better world.

Instead of voting for some politician’s empty promises to solve our problems, we'll be talking to the people around us – our friends, families, neighbours and workmates – about what we can actually do to solve our problems ourselves. We believe that real change comes through direct action, solidarity and campaigning. Won't you join us?

Posted By

Farce
Apr 9 2010 19:02

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Comments

mjw101
Apr 10 2010 15:00

you're not very clear on what is to be gained by not voting. i agree it's damaging to think of voting as a solution to anything, as a real choice, etc. and i agree with your emphasis on direct action. but will it all be undermined if we were able to, say, increase the chances of avoiding another war by casting a vote? the problem is that the narrow range of choice the politicians give us sometimes is meaningful - maybe not in a hegel/marx history sense but in terms of avoiding or alleviating human misery.

Rob Ray
Apr 10 2010 15:16

That would misunderstand the reasons behind why such wars start. If the Greens had been in charge when Iraq was invaded doubtless they would have told the boys in Khaki to mount up - because not to do so would have invited economic/political suicide with the US (which itself hasn't exactly gone pacifist with the advent of Obama).

In any case, the point is not to mistake minimal reforms based on whichever faction of the elites has the upper hand in theorising the best way to run things as a real choice, because by voting you offer them a propaganda tool which which to pretend they have a real mandate for all the rest of the crap they get up to.

mjw101
Apr 10 2010 19:02

thanks for your response.

i don't share your conviction that uk involvement in iraq has nothing to do with the decisions of leaders. admittedly the uk has more exposure to the american economy than other european non-coalition countries, but it seems a stretch to say that absolutely any of the electoral options would have made the same decision as blair and new labour.

my wider point was not just about the war, though. there are several issues of genuine importance that we do have a choice over. public services, ID cards, civil liberties all strike me as genuinely important.

i used to feel exactly the way you do about voting playing into the hands of the elite, who then get to claim that elections are meaningful. but the decline in voter turnouts that we are experiencing usually gets interpreted as apathy, and the apathy in turn gets interpreted as a sign that things are basically okay - or worse, a sign that we are all post-political, post-ideological consumers who couldn't give a shit. maybe we should stop thinking about voting as a way of communicating with the elite or the public (giving our assent or signalling our displeasure) and start thinking about it as a tool, albeit one of the flimsiest but still a tool.

i say vote lib dem or green or whatever, but recognise that it's a humiliation that this is all you have in the way of choice. and then go ahead with the direct action.

Caiman del Barrio
Apr 10 2010 19:13
Quote:
the decline in voter turnouts that we are experiencing usually gets interpreted as apathy, and the apathy in turn gets interpreted as a sign that things are basically okay - or worse, a sign that we are all post-political, post-ideological consumers who couldn't give a shit.

Why would the British public having a healthy cynicism about the so called "ideology" of the mainstream political parties (which we all know is a rhetorical smokescreen anyway) be a bad thing? Surely at least one factor behind low turnouts is a complete disillusionment with the Hobson's choice we're offered.

Rob Ray
Apr 10 2010 20:35

Quite. The interpretation of low turnouts as apathy because things are going okay is a pretty pale argument and most of the media knows it, particularly in light of the bankers' crisis.

In part this is the reason behind their apparent shift towards "personality debates" where they try and drive the vote up by encouraging people to identify with the people, rather than the policies. Elites have taken notice of the "you can't fit a fag paper between them" attitude which is pervasive across the country and are trying to find ways around it, mostly filched from the US model.

mjw101
Apr 11 2010 00:45
Quote:
Why would the British public having a healthy cynicism about the so called "ideology" of the mainstream political parties (which we all know is a rhetorical smokescreen anyway) be a bad thing? Surely at least one factor behind low turnouts is a complete disillusionment with the Hobson's choice we're offered.

it wouldn't be a bad thing if the interpretation offered was that the public were cynical about the difference between conservatives and labour. but really the interpretation offered is 'as long as they get their beer and x-factor they don't really notice the difference'. that at least is what i was trying to put across.

my point is that whatever voting or non-voting happens, the interpretation given is automatically a pro-hegemonic one. non-voting can't be relied upon as a communicative action with meaningful consequences, so why not seize it for its small strategic value?

Boydell
Apr 12 2010 20:34
Quote:
my point is that whatever voting or non-voting happens, the interpretation given is automatically a pro-hegemonic one. non-voting can't be relied upon as a communicative action with meaningful consequences, so why not seize it for its small strategic value?

I actually sort of agree with this, but not at a national level. The small strategic value of a national or european vote is so small that it is effectively worthless - not worth the bother of taking time out to go to the polling station.

But at a local level, a developed left wing community can gain THE OPPORTUNITY of strategic value by voting. At the very least, it is a barometer of how big that community is. At the most, it offers the opportunity to elect a living example of what we would like to achieve that others can evaluate and judge us on - the other kind of Propaganda of the Deed.

There is no need for that councillor to play 'the grand game' at all, they can reject every condition and formality of bureaucratic politics, as long as it's OK with those that put them there. And if they start acting up or getting stars in their eyes, they can be recalled.

But, that scenario is pretty unlikely at the moment. More likely we would know pretty much where every single vote we got came from (and there's some missing).

The key to it is that the effort should be balanced against the likely end result. There's no point putting hundreds of hours into running a persuasion campaign if you're still going to end up 50/100/500/3,500* votes behind the Tories. At the start maybe just a fundraiser to pay for the entrance fee for the candidate, a manifesto, and sitting in on all the candidates debates (hmmmmm....tasty!). Then all go and vote for the 'our one' on the day, draw a big @ on your national ballot, and then have a party.

Sounds a better idea than Vote Nobody, or even just not voting. Voting is useless when it comes to representation, but i reckon it does have other uses.

*only applies to South Wiltshire.

Django
Apr 13 2010 06:40

But what you're describing here is investing a vast amount of time, energy and money in a campaign to elect someone who will only act as a "barometer" and do nothing with their office anyway. I wouldn't see the point if we were able to elect two-dozen councillors, but currently I think there are far better uses of time, energy and money than running electoral campaigns.

Boydell
Apr 13 2010 13:36

In fact I've just checked and there is no deposit for standing for local election, you just need to collect 15 signatures of support.

So, no need to invest a 'vast amount of time, energy and money'. I would say knocking up a leaflet and delivering it would be the only energy-sapper, and that's not so bad as long as it's not pissing down with rain.

Also, it wouldn't only act as a barometer, it would be a chance to attend local debates (if there were any), maybe a brief sneering article in the local rag that would unwittingly spread the word, give an anarchist angle on local issues, the council or even the representative democratic process - we could do as much or as little as we wanted.

I think i've convinced myself, maybe i'll suggest it to our local outifts for the next elections in a couple of years. Now, we just need someone to stand........

And no, it won't be me - i've got a face like a bag of spanners.

gypsy
Apr 13 2010 15:36

I would say another reason for the apathy, is the type of voting system which is used for the general election in the UK. First past the post is a joke, safe seats etc. Im not gonna vote for other reasons, but those are other reasons why people don't vote.

Django
Apr 13 2010 20:43
Quote:
In fact I've just checked and there is no deposit for standing for local election, you just need to collect 15 signatures of support.

So, no need to invest a 'vast amount of time, energy and money'. I would say knocking up a leaflet and delivering it would be the only energy-sapper, and that's not so bad as long as it's not pissing down with rain.

Okay, say a group like the one I'm in in Manchester was to do this, we'd have to pick one ward in a city of dozens, print thousands of leaflets, door to door hundreds of houses, and not get in in the final instace. What would be the point, if a) the candidate is highly unlikely to get in and b) would do nothing when they're in?

Whats worthwhile is building confidence in the working class to take action on its own behalf, something I don't think can be done through something as passive as voting every five years.

Plus, if you look at when left groups have been able to get elected, like Militant running Liverpool or IWCA councillors, they've been entirely contrained by the system they're part of and have ended up having to do things like cut pay due to the nature of the overall system which is beyond their remit. So they haven't been "living examples" of what we want to achieve at all.

Joseph Kay
Apr 13 2010 21:54
Django wrote:
Okay, say a group like the one I'm in in Manchester was to do this, we'd have to pick one ward in a city of dozens, print thousands of leaflets, door to door hundreds of houses, and not get in in the final instace.

and if we actually had anarchist groups with the organisational capacity to do this, there would be far better uses for such activity such as distributing revolutionary propaganda, organising mass public meetings on class issues and arguing within them for a collective, direct action based response... and doing so on a sustained basis, not simply every 5 years when the ruling class decides it's time to 'do politics.'

Boydell
Apr 16 2010 08:24
Quote:
there would be far better uses for such activity such as distributing revolutionary propaganda, organising mass public meetings on class issues

Thats what we would be doing tho, and i reckon far more effectively when it was at a time when, for whatever reason, people are thinking about political issues a lot more than they usually do.

As i said before, i'm not saying that we should back the idea of representative democracy, play the 5 year game of the ruling classes. Of course we would be doing this stuff all the time. But this would be a chance to see how well it's worked, and to piggy back existing structures and media set-ups to get the message out even more.

At the moment i think we are in a very much welcomed and overdue period of self-examination in the anarchist movement, which was shocked by it's own ineffectiveness after the 2008 capitalist crash was handed to us on a plate. You may not agree with that, your cycle may be different to mine, but I'm definitely in the mood for a bit of new thinking and challenging of sacred cows.

I have seen nothing on here that gives a persuasive argument against local election voting, or standing for local election, apart from distorted arguments about the amount of effort involved (the same as any other leaflet campaign, or public meeting involvement) and some very woolly statements about building confidence in the working class, and calling for a direct action response - both of which are hardly contentious, or in any way practical as a tactic.

Farce
Apr 16 2010 18:54

Any remotely decent election campaign would take a lot more effort than a standard leafleting campaign or public meeting. I have seen nothing that gives a persuasive argument for local election involvement.

Armchair Anarchist
Apr 24 2010 10:44
Quote:
Not voting or spoiling your ballot paper is a symbol of wanting something better.

This is a complete waste of time - deliberately spoiled ballot papers are not counted separately.

Invictus_88
Apr 24 2010 10:59

Yes, they are.

Farce
Apr 24 2010 14:10
Quote:
This is a complete waste of time - deliberately spoiled ballot papers are not counted separately.

Yeah, but no more of a waste of time than actually voting. The article never claimed that spoilt ballot papers were actually going to achieve anything, just that they were a symbolic gesture.

Armchair Anarchist
Apr 24 2010 19:47

It's not even a gesture though if there's no differentiation between someone who's written 'none of the above' and someone who hasn't followed the voting instructions correctly. Plus spoiled papers count towards the turnout. Better to stay at home.

Invictus_88
Apr 25 2010 13:20

No.

It's a clear gesture, because when enough people turn out to spoil their ballots the margin becomes significant.

Staying at home, just looks as if you don't care what abuses a government might perpetrate, nothing will shift you from your idiot slumber. This is - I think - hardly the sort of impression one ought to give.

Farce
Apr 25 2010 16:00

Neither abstention or ballot-spoiling will ultimately achieve anything, that requires actual action. Staying at home on election day and being active in day-to-day life is far more powerful than spoiling your ballot paper and then thinking you've somehow done your bit.

Cosmillogica
Apr 26 2010 00:39

I'm not voting because I have justified hopes that the rest of the nation is capable without me of making the worst possible choice when electing our new 'leader'.

After all history has shown that the unhappier people are, the more likely they are to go on the streets and do something about it.

And the larger the percentage of non-voters turn out to be, the higher the chances are of those waking up who haven't seen through the grand deception yet. It is only in that respect every (non-)vote counts..

I'll probably be spoiling the ballott paper by the way because if enough people do so, that fact might get some publicity. In that sense I agree with Invictus.

Invictus_88
Apr 26 2010 11:53

This is very true, Farce! I'm suggesting that spoiling ballots (or voting, as I do) is a way to express clearly one's dissatisfaction with the existing state of politics.

I wasn't suggesting that one's activity should stop there though, far from it!