So here we are, election day, all the hype and bluster is over, now it’s time for us, the great British public to have our say and make our voice heard. It’s the one day when politicians feel most helpless, there’s little they can do now to change things, it’s down to us! I’ll be voting, as I always have, but for the second time now my vote will count for very little.
I currently live in a constituency that is pretty solidly Tory, where tactical voting is pointless and protest votes mean little. I’ve never voted Tory and never will, and even if I did I would never vote for the current incumbent (Liam Fox), therefore my vote will have little impact. I am one of many voters who feel somewhat disenfranchised by our voting system.
It’s so different for me now, I used to live in Bristol South so was lucky enough to live in an area where my vote mattered, where who I voted for actually got elected. Back then I lived in an area where there were active political campaigns, where you knew there was an election happening. You’d be forgiven in North Somerset for wondering about that. Apart from the blue signs in farmers fields and the increase in junk mail (sorry, election material) through our letterbox, you’d hardly know anything was happening. And that’s despite the fact that we also have a local council election. Living in a Tory majority constituency and ward appears to breed complacency. The Tories know they are going to win so don’t bother, whilst the opposition know they won’t get anywhere so activity is reserved for the occasional leafleting campaign or being paired with another more marginal constituency, where you’re encouraged to go and help out instead.
I’ve watched with envy the attention being given to seats like Bristol West, which seems to have had more high profile politicians and celebrities visiting in the last few weeks than you could ever imagine. Where I live, there’s been nothing! When the labour candidates for both the local and general election did some leafleting in our village they got positive comments from residents, not because they were necessarily going to vote Labour, but just because they were the only candidates people had seen doing anything!
Last time we had an election, for the local council, I had two votes to use and three candidates to vote for – two Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat. That was it, that was my choice – no choice at all, no Labour candidate and no Green. That was the first time I have ever spoilt my ballot paper! This time, in both the local and general election, there is more choice, but still I’ll end up with a Tory MP and two Tory councillors. So does my vote matter? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
In the European election it did matter and did count, because we had a different voting system for that election. I voted Green and my vote helped to get a Green MEP elected for the South West. This time, voting Green in the general and Green/Labour in the local election will make no difference at all, I’ll still end up being represented by Tories. This story is the same for many voters who live in so called ‘safe seats’ where majorities are large and unlikely to be over turned. Until we change the voting system to some form of proportional representation the problem of ‘wasted’ votes and disenfranchised voters will remain. Perhaps in the next Parliament we can have a proper debate about the issue and a real discussion about how we encourage more people to vote. PR is part of the answer but so is greater engagement and responsiveness.