There is a popular and quaint notion that voting in an election is the same as participation in democracy.
Some people see voting as your chance to shape the nation in the image of your will. Many consider voting a civic duty: your little X is you going out and mixing it with the forces of undemocratic darkness — hooded and cowled figures that lurk at the edges of society exclaiming ‘Curses! Foiled again!’ every time someone enters the polling booth.
Once every five years Mr and Mrs Voter don their hats and stroll proudly, nodding with satisfaction at their neighbours and acquaintances, as they promenade to the voting station to add to the sum total of democratic X-es
Yes, the notion that voting is participation is quaint in the way that believing that eating cheese before bed causes nightmares, or that homeopathy will cure piles, or that humans are essentially good is quaint. These are very well-meaning beliefs but are completely bonkers.
Last year, Russell Brand famously and controversially suggested that perhaps we didn’t ought to vote. His stated reason was that none of the parties really have our best interests at heart and the system is entirely owned by unelected corporate forces.
Brand was shouted down, booed and hissed by politicos, pundits and Mr and Mrs Voters everywhere to the great enhancement of his media profile.
Mr Brand may not be the most rigorous analyst of current politics but he did raise some urgent points. Even Mr and Mrs Voter have from time to time expressed a little disappointment with the system and have been heard to mutter about voting for the lesser of various evils. John Lydon — former scourge of the establishment turned pillar of it — weighed in with his own quaint view that even though the system is corrupt and rotten, we should turn out and vote because the alternative is giving up your voice.
Well, to the illiterate, I suppose a big shaky X is high literature.
Indeed, we can vote the lesser of a number of evils but evil is still evil. If you go into a restaurant and the menu offers dog poo, cat poo, cow poo, and rabbit poo, you are not likely to order the rabbit poo because it’s less offensive than the alternatives. You’ll turn round and go somewhere where there is no poo on the menu.
The alert reader (hi!) will be aware that I have in this space written about the paucity of political choice available to us (this is not just in the UK but is a word-wide phenomenon).
I argued that the Conservatives, Labour, the LibDems, and UKIP are distinguishable by their logos, not their policies, which are essentially the same, that none of these parties has anything to say about tackling poverty or inequality, that they have no credible ideas about preserving the environment. that their policies are merely tinkering and tweaking with the status quo, that none would address or change the system itself, and, most acutely to the point, they are shills for veiled corporate interests.
Of course, some people will see their political soulmate on the ballot paper. If you want to vote for a party that will demonise and punish the poor while molly-coddling the wealthy and their corporations, shovelling yet more money their way through bailouts, tax breaks and privatisation, while telling everyone that migrants and benefit claimants are ruining the country, and offering a manifesto that reads like the Daily Mail, then you are sorted. Just close your eyes and stab the pencil in the paper and wherever it lands, that’s your party. Done. Your vote has been a well-spent endorsement of what you believe in.
Mr and Mrs Voter putting pegs on their noses and voting for the least offensive candidate are not participating in democracy. Quite the opposite: they are participating in an ongoing sham of democracy. What kind of voice is your X? It doesn’t say much other than ‘X’, does it. The vote counters don’t look at these different X-es and say, ‘Well, this one is a wholehearted X, but this one is a reluctant, peg-wearing X.’ No, all X-es look like validation, whether that’s what you want or not.
Voting only makes a difference if the people you vote for are going to make a difference.
Clearly, then, to engage in democracy means more than plonking down your X every five years. Between elections you can join a party and try to shape its policies, you can take part in union activities or community initiatives, write letters and march on the Winter Palace. You can do all sorts of things.
Of course, not all of us have that much free time. We hardworking people do not have the liberty and freedom that is available to, say, millionaire comedians, so I would like to endorse another alternative.
This is not an original idea, but it’s a bloody good one: the ‘none of the above’ alternative.
Your ballot paper should include an option to use when none of the candidates are up to snuff — the none of the above option. This option should be counted in the same way that votes for candidates are counted and should be included in the overall result. If ‘none of the above’ scores a certain percentage of the vote, the election is declared null and a new one immediately triggered. The ‘none of the above’ option should be, on a constitutional level, a message to all parties to get their shit together.
Meanwhile, until such time that the voters have engaged for some real choices, until we have a ‘none of the above’ option, we can always exercise our right not to vote.