Tuesday, April 05, 2005

5 April 2005: Spoil

My sister Ali phoned to see if I'd be voting in the usual manner at the election Tony just announced. I said I wasn't sure yet, I'd see if there were any Greens or Loonies with a reasonable chance of victory. Last year at the Euro elections, we actually returned a Green from my constituency, so it wasn't a wasted vote. That, however, used a proportional representation system; this is the UK General Election, which means we're back to the good ol' days of first-past-the-post, where your vote probably won't count, and even if it does, there's only about a 50% chance your elected candidate will be on the winning party.

So I told Ali that the chances are I'd be back to the normal approach come May 5. Since none of the candidates on offer are even remotely close to sharing my political beliefs (you don't want to know, believe me, but I'm after some funding into the elephant conspiracy investigations for a start), I'd really quite like to vote for 'none of the above'. Not abusing my constitutional (ha!) rights by not voting at all, I'd actually like to make the effort to go to the polls, fill out my voting slip with my preference for "not any of this lot" and thus have my voice heard. None of these candidates even pretend to be close to representing my views, so what choice do I have? Absolutely none.

A wasted vote, say many. Especially since we in the UK don't have an option called 'none of the above' -our equivalent is deliberate spoiling of the ballot paper. But hang on just a second -- these votes are not thrown away, and many people forget that. When results are declared for an given constituency, the returning officer says something rather like the following:

"Eh-hem. Here are the results for Winglebith West.
Alan Kenneth Babbage [off-screen voice of David Dimbleby: 'Conservative'], thirteen thousand four hundred and sixty.
*pause while a small number of people clap*
Anthony Trust-Me-Would-I-Sell-A-Used-Car-To-You Blair [DD: 'Labour, he says'], seventy-six thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.
*big cheer from orchestrated masses paid to cheer loudly while Tony grins cheesily*
Tartan Dougal Regional-Accent McSporran [DD: 'Liberal Democrat'], twenty-four.
*ceremonial one-clap*
Robert Angry Shaft-Em Kilroy Silk [DD: 'Not sure which party, but it's certainly not UKIP], twenty-five.
[*yeeeah* shouts Kilroy pointlessly].
The number of spoiled ballot papers was one hundred and twenty-eight.
I hereby declare Anthony Blair is returned as Member of Parliament for this constituency..."

Yes, they count them. And normally it doesn't matter how many there are because the number is too small. That's democracy, of course: I'm in a minority, I guess everyone else thinks they can and do identify with at least one political party, or they sufficiently hate one particular party that they protest-vote for the main rivals. But what if the number of spoiled ballot papers was larger than one hundred and twenty-eight? What if it was one hundred and twenty-eight thousand?

I don't see it happening somehow, but apparently some people do. Those nice people at www.spoilyourvote.co.uk think they'll garner sufficient numbers of spoilers to make the establishment take some notice. Their FAQ section says they have no idea what will happen should their dream come true, and hilariously their answer to the question "what is your alternative? You must have some manifesto?" is completely blank.

Still, you have to give them credit for trying, and it's good to see something a little different as the election approaches with the same numbing inevitability we had in 2001. Let's be clear: for the Conservatives to win this election, they need a bigger swing than Labour had in 1997, and remember that was a record swing. So what we need to do is to revel in the possibilities, dream different and enjoy the next four weeks before Tony and co get back in again with probably a reasonably reduced majority. Let's enjoy the Lib Dems as they continue to try to increase their number of questions at PMQs, let's laugh at Kilroy, and even though UKIP may be a one-issue party whose currency is fear and whole politics is only slightly removed from the BNP, at least they're different and give the Tories something to worry about. And let's enjoy spoilyourvote.co.uk, promoting the novel idea of a democracy where you actually vote for the candidate you like, and if there isn't one you like, you can say so.

What's that? "Why don't you stand yourself"? Pah. Politics is a young man's game.

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