This Damn Election

I’ve had an election post bubbling around in my head for a around a week now.  However, I read an article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee entitled “Your heart might say Clegg. But vote with your head.” which has pushed me over the edge (very slowly, it was over a week ago!).  In the article, she says that the Liberal Democrats are a hopeless case, with the system stacked against them.  Since they cannot win, she argues, we should vote tactically to prevent the Conservatives from getting into power.  So in any given constituency, Polly thinks that we should vote for the party to the left of the Conservatives that has the biggest chance of winning in that constituency.

This view may be pragmatic and sensible for people with a “keep the Tories out” agenda.  Personally, though, I find it soul destroying and  depressing.

The  reason that we need “tactical voting” is because the electoral system is broken.  Tactical voting depresses me because a tactical vote is not for a person or party, but against a person or party.  It is fundamentally negative.

This week, in 2010, tactical voting feels to me like surrender.  Surrender to the brokenness of the electoral system, and surrender to the profoundly depressing idea that there really is no choice of a government outside of the Labour and Conservative parties.  I have gone along with this in the past.  I remember tactically voting for Labour in 1997, because as part of the “keep the Tories out” deal with the Liberal Democrats they had promised electoral reform.  This promise was discarded once the size of the Labour majority in Parliament became apparent.

So we need to fix the electoral system.  Except, we are told, we can’t do that because it would result in a “hung parliament”.

Certain elements of the press are very exercised about what they are portraying as the awful spectre of a “hung parliament” or “coalition government” as the rest of us might call it.  Unfortunately, the media are politically active entities, with the possible exception of the BBC which at least tries to be neutral.  Media organisations have a stake in how elections come out, and I increasingly believe that it is very often to do with placing more power and money with very rich people who don’t live here, and much less often to do with right and wrong, or what is best for those of us who aren’t media barons.  At the very least, there is room for voters to question their newspaper’s opinions in the light of its interests.

Oh, and by the way… if Murdoch is so keen for the Conservatives to get in, that’s a definite strike against them in my book.

At any rate, I don’t feel inclined to swallow whole the media view of the disastrous nature of government by coalition.  Clearly it will be challenging - we haven’t had to work this way for over 30 years, but disastrous?  Really?

The thing is that I’m not so sure that we’ve been well served by the thirty-plus years of overall majorities that we’ve just had.  The bigger these majorities have been, the more that they have been abused to push through crap legislation.  The Poll Tax and ID Card bills both spring to mind.  Except when large numbers of MPs rebel against the whip system, which very rarely happens, it is very hard indeed for anyone except the governing party to exert effective influence on the actions of the Government, however bonkers.

Perhaps if we’d had a coalition government, the undemocratic ramming through of the awful Digital Economy Bill could have been avoided!

To be honest, I quite like the idea that the power of politicians is limited by the need to maintain a coalition.  I want them to have to debate properly, and explain themselves, and compromise, and think twice, or even thrice.  This makes a coalition parliament very attractive to me. In one of the debates David Cameron said that the politicians in a coalition would spend all their time “squabbling” rather than taking action.  I think he should take the lead and make a personal commitment to not squabbling should he find himself leading a coalition government on Friday morning.

So how do we get electoral reform?  Well, Polly Toynbee’s tactical voting might keep the Tories out, but I don’t believe that an overall majority for either Labour or the Conservatives will achieve electoral reform.  I think that their instincts go against it, because the current system has served them so well in the past.

So, I’m going to vote for the party whose policies best match my beliefs about what is right for me and mine, and for the UK.  In other words, I am going to vote for something, and not against something.  I hope that everybody else in the country does the same.

If the result is that the popular vote and the distribution of parliamentary seats are substantially different, then I hope that we will be able to use that to mount a vigorous campaign that will force our politicians into actual change - change of the electoral system.

If we can have that then I, at any rate, will consider it a win.