Those that know me well will know that I am an avid follower of politics. However, it is a bittersweet relationship, because it is also so inherently unfair and makes me so utterly cross. Let me explain.
I believe that voting in an election is a tremendously important thing to do. I believe that it should really matter. I believe that it is something that should be contemplated in depth. Voting should not be like supporting a football team, your allegiances can change as the parties themselves change.
However, I also know that this is an idealist, yet sadly irrelevant view of our democracy. Because of the electoral system that we have, the vast majority of people's votes are deemed worthless. Let's look at my own constituency, Plymouth Sutton.
Results at 2005 General Election:
Lib Dem: 8,685
Socialist Labour: 230
Total votes: 38,192.
Labour won the seat, but this means that 22,695 voters may as well have not bothered - their vote simply won't count because they didn't vote for the winning party. Those people are therefore unrepresented in the House of Commons, and that's 7,000 more people than ARE represented by the winning party. How can that be fair or even democratic?
So now we have 2010. I'm going to vote Lib Dem, but it would need a pretty big swing from the figures in 2009 for the Lib Dems to realistically win the seat. So should I vote tactically? But that would actually mean voting for someone that I DON'T want to win, to stop someone else getting in. In which dimension is it a good thing to be forced to vote for someone you don't want?
But at least in my constituency, they're in with a chance. There are plenty of constituencies with huge majorities for one party, where you may as well not bother voting if you don't support that ruling party.
No wonder there is such apathy in the nation when it comes to politics - everyone just knows that deep down, voting really doesn't matter that much. And that's it, I guess. I WANT to believe that voting is important. I TELL people that they should get out and vote. But deep down, I know that apart from in a few closely-fought seats, you might as well not bother.
This election, Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems is really enjoying a wave of popularity. Why? Because the nation wants Gordon Brown to get out, but doesn't particularly want the Tories in. And for the first time in quite a while, there does seem to be a valid third way, a way that isn't better the devil you know or the devil itself.
But he won't get in. We all KNOW that. Even if he were to ride a Barack Obama-esque wave of popularity, he still wouldn't get in. Not least because we're all told so often that the Lib Dems are irrelevant, that they'll never be in power, that it's a wasted vote. People may flirt with the Lib Dems but in the end, they'll vote for one of the two because they know that real change isn't actually possible.
And talking of the media... Well, we all know that the papers are split into two main camps - those that are supporting the Tories (Sun, Star, Times, Mail, Express, Telegraph) and those that are supportive of Labour (Mirror, Guardian, Independent). The Indy & Grauniad are sympathetic to the Lib Dems, but they're always going to be reluctant to desert Labour.
This means that the Lib Dems are doing what they're doing without any mainstream support. In fact, now that they are being perceived as a threat to Cameron's Conservative revival, the right-wing press has Nick Clegg firmly in their sights. Here's a selection of today's Front Pages:
- The Times: Cameron: Hung Parliament will risk Economic Disaster
- The Sun: Wobble Democrat
- Di'ly Express: Nick Clegg's Crazy Immigration Policy
- Daily Heil: Clegg in Nazi Slur on Britain
- The Torygraph: Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem donors and payments into his private bank account
Only the Independent (Clegg Raises the Stakes) offers anything pro-Clegg on its front page. The Guardian and Mirror don't even mention him.
Nazi slurs, immigration wobbles, expense scandals... Grasping at straws, no doubt, but on the eve of the second leader debate, it is timely to say the least.
So the poor Lib Dems... Labour has boundary reform in their favour (which means that they could actually come 3rd in terms of the popular vote, but still win a Commons majority), the Tories have most of the press... And the Lib Dems stand alone. However, I do believe that this year could be different. I don't believe for a second that the Lib Dems will get in. However, I do think there is a real chance that there could be a hung parliament. And with a hung parliament, the Lib Dems will insist on REAL voting reform.
Forget the fearmongering, real voting reform is EXACTLY what this country needs. I want to live in a country where my vote does matter and real change is possible. We live in a country where we got Rage Against the Machine to Number 1 as a protest against Shit-Factor or Britain Must Be Stopped or whatever it was. Half a million people gave enough of a shit against Simon Cowell to get off their arses and do something. I would love it if people felt the same about who is running the country. And for that, you have to feel included, you have to feel that your vote counts.