31 May 2009

The inevitable European Elec-torial

The elections are, of course, on the way, so it would be slightly barmy of me not to use some time over the next few days to issue some sort of editorial.

It should come as no surprise then, that I'm endorsing the SNP candidates: Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith are canny, formidable politicians who do more than the average Parliamentarian in any chamber to engage with the electorate, meaning that when they're in Brussels and/or Strasbourg, they've got direct experience of what's happening on the ground in Scotland, and can use that experience to their advantage. Add to that Aileen McLeod, who knows the European political system like the back of her hand, and you've got one hell of a team there; I hope they all find their way to the European Parliament.

Certainly her expertise is a welcome contrast to George Lyon's candidacy, which has come about following his ejection from Holyrood at the hand of the voters of Argyll & Bute two years ago, and what must surely have been a desperate search for a gravy train to board. Of course, his attempt to be a 'local candidate' not just for an election to a national list, but to be local in two different locales is little short of embarrassing, and matters are compounded by the apparent efforts in his former Argyllshire stomping grounds to pretend that the 2007 election never happened and that the last major test of public opinion in the area was four years ago. It's sad that a former Scottish Parliamentarian and one-time Junior Minister should be the least credible of the Scottish candidates in this election (second place going to Mev Brown, who as Julie flagged up last week, is one of the Jury Team candidates) but given the campaign material behind him (made worse by absurd assertions that only the LibDems can win in Area X, Y or Z when it's a proportional, multi-member election for the whole of Scotland), but there you are.

Anyway. I must still confes that my endorsement has a bittersweet quality to it.

The first is that I won't be in a position to do what I'm asking you to do: I'm in the North West of England where it goes without saying that my ballot paper won't have an SNP option, so I'm still pondering who to vote for (I'm leaning towards the Greens), and I'm also facing a County Council election where my ward has only two candidates: Labour and Tory.

Now on the one hand, none of the brushes I've had with Lancashire County Council have given me any hope that the Labour-controlled body has even the slightest clue what it's doing. But on the other hand, my brushes with the Tory-controlled Chorley Borough Council make me wonder if Lancastrian voters might well be better holding onto their Labour nurse for something far, far worse.

There isn't even a LibDem candidate, which is strange, as this County ward contains the only Borough ward in Chorley which has any LibDem Councillors representing it, so I fear a deal has been done, and if I'm still here next year, my ballot paper for the Borough elections will once again have only two names, and it will be the Conservatives who are conspicuous in their absence.

So the Labour candidate, Edward Forshaw, almost had my vote, until last week when I was walking through Chorley town centre: when I saw a leaflet for the candidate in that part of town's ward, Hasina Khan. Barring the pictures, anme and ward, the leaflets were identical. Now, I'm fine with templates, and I have no problem with two candidates in the same party making the same point about being visible all year round and not just at election time. But I draw the line at the pair of them putting on their respective leaflets the same first-person quote with the exact same wording. It doesn't inspire me with confidence that they're local candidates, acting as local voices, if they've put their name to identikit leaflets. Moreover, I have at least heard of Hasina Khan, and while readers are well aware that I'm not a fan of some of Labour's candidate progression structures (i.e. the AWS), she'd be a worthy beneficiary from them. In fact, she'd tan the hide of anyone else she faced in an open contest. Forshaw, on the other hand, has been the County Councillor for four years and it took me a couple of weeks since seeing his name mentioned on the offical declarations before I remembered where I'd seen the name before. Specifically, four years ago when he was elected for the first time. So not only can the pair of them not come up with their own rentaquote, but in his case, the centrally issued tagline is bullshit anyway.

So in short, I'm stuck with a choice of two candidates I can't bring myself to vote for, but I'm going to be at the polling station anyway for the European elections. That's a toughie, and if there are any readers in the Coppull area, if you hear tales of a man standing in a polling booth in St. John's Church Hall on Hewlett Avenue, wailing like a baby, screeching "Why? Why me?" and banging his head repeatedly against the plywood wall, it's probably going to be me.

Nevertheless, despite having to vote for someone I really don't want to support, I'll still bite the bullet and turn up with my polling card. But then, you'd expect me to: I'm into this sort of thing, and I'm an electoral diehard.

On the other hand, lots of other people won't be bothering. If you were to compare Parliaments to football leagues which reflect their standing in the national consciousness, the European Parliament ranks not as the Champions' League, but as the Cowal Peninsula Sunday League Division 3. And everyone's pissed off with the expenses scandal.

Indeed, it's now become fashionable to look at the minority of MPs with their snouts firmly embedded in the trough, throw up one's hands and say "What's the point?". That it was becoming fashionable to avoid finding time within a fifteen-hour window to cast a vote anyway is overlooked. It's also tempting to grumble about how your vote on its own won't make a difference, how voting never changes things anyway, and how voting only legitimises politicians.

Well, you're probably right. But while the chances of you casting the deciding vote may be so slim it makes Amy Winehouse look like Cyril Smith, that minuscule probability is still greater than the zero it becomes if you don't show up.

And if there's a low turnout, politicians briefly wring their hands about voter engagement, then takes their seats as if everyone acclaimed their position. So not voting doesn't spook politicians all that much. Unless it's their supporters who aren't voting, that is.

One last point: voting might not change things in one election, but give it a few tries. Here's my idea: vote once, and if the people you support don't deliver, vote for someone else at the next election. And if they don't get the message, vote for someone else again. A body of diehard voters, none of whom are beholden to any one candidate or party, but will turn out. If I were a sitting parliamentarian, or even a candidate, that idea would scare the bejeezus out of me: a hoarde of angry people willing to indulge me, but watching me constantly for five years, ready to turn on me if I fuck up. Say goodbye to safe seats, say goodbye to complacency. Say hello to a gang of politicians who will let you use their first born child as a garden gnome if you stick with them, then wave goodbye to them at the next election as you ditch them for someone who isn't willing to stoop quite so low.

So this time, don't listen to those siren voices telling you that not voting will send a message. The only message it actually sends is, "I may have wasted my spare time watching Susan Boyle, that fat Greek Cypriot family, that spoilt brat from Accrington and all those dancing chavs but I can't find five minutes to put a cross on a piece of paper".

Send a better message. How about this one from Achewood?

I kick men's asses... AND I VOTE!

1 comment:

boxthejack said...

You said: "That it was becoming fashionable to avoid finding time within a fifteen-hour window to cast a vote anyway is overlooked."

I take your point, but low voter turnout does send a pretty clear message that the regime in place at the moment is lacking a mandate - not just the party that wins, but the regime, the system.

So I'm not sure that not voting is simply laziness or fashion. People genuinely feel it's irrelevant. And that should be seen as a serious indictment on the system and the beneficiaries of it.