I’ve been thinking about the electoral process recently. This post comes a little belatedly, but might give me something to refer back to if there’s ever another election. Which, I’m assured, there will be one day.
By now, you’ll know all about the proportion of spoiled ballot papers. 7% of would-be voters couldn’t quite organise two perpendicular, intersected lines within an appropriate square space on a sheet of paper. My curiosity is piqued: is it that they don’t understand the requirements of the voting process? Or have they deliberately spoiled their ballot papers? It seems a silly thing to do, given that one has made the trip to the polling station. Perhaps they think their democratic voice would be put to better use by scrawling some message on their form. That’s a possibility: the smallest of spanners thrown into the political works, so small in fact that it makes no difference whatsoever. It’s certainly more restrained than going to a polling station and smashing up the place, as one chap did.
Both courses of action (the anarchic scrawl and the smashing up) occurred to me as I stood in the hastily erected confines of my polling booth. But Mrs H was in the next booth, and kept rubbernecking into mine to see how I was getting on, so I thought I’d play it safe.
Anyway, back to the 7%. How good a government are we likely to get if 7% of those deciding it cannot be trusted to fill in a voting form properly? Surely it’s only pure luck that these people, by their own ineptitude, removed themselves from the voter pool?
I had tremendous difficulty in choosing who to vote for. A lot of the parties are keen on the same things. Very few, for example, want a rubbish NHS or education system. A lot of them make the same promises as each other. Who’s to say which ones will be kept and which ones will be forgotten? Of course, there’s the odd flagship issue that distinguishes parties; what to do about Iraq, for instance, or whether Scotland should be its own country or not. My problem, though, is that I don’t know enough about any of these things to know what’s best. Would independence be better or worse for Scotland in the long run? Some say yes, some say no. And if people who are supposed to know about these things can’t agree, how am I supposed to make up my mind?
In practice, I suspect people often vote for a party or candidate on the basis of snazzy leaflets, an appealing face, or because their favourite colour is red (for labour voters) or blue (for Tory voters). Not only is the process reduced to a popularity contest, but we’re also giving the nod of approval to the most extravagant expenditure for publicity. It all ends up in the recycling when it’s all over, except the Green Party leaflet, which I just threw into someone’s garden.
Given that there are probably quite a few among the electorate who know at least as little as me about these affairs, perhaps would-be voters should have to prove that they’ve been keeping abreast of current political affairs before they’re allowed to vote. A few multiple choice questions as they hand over their polling card should suffice. Uninformed opinions (like mine) are really no use to anyone.
So, who to vote for? Let’s think about what I want from my government. I certainly want public services to be improved, so I guess I’m all for increased public spending. But I don’t want to pay any more tax. I’m quite happy for others to pay more tax if necessary. That just about covers it, I think.
Is the idea to vote for what would benefits you most personally? That seems OK, since we might assume that others are doing the same, and thus that everyone’s interests are equally represented. Or should everyone be voting for what they think will be of most benefit to everyone? John Rawls talks about the ‘veil of ignorance’: when we’re trying to decide on which system of authority to have in place, the fairest thing might be to pretend that we have no idea how well off we are (financially, occupationally, intellectually) compared with others. If you’re top dog, it’s still a good idea to have a system that will accommodate you should you hit rock bottom. Life is a great wheel, and all that.
It’s all very confusing, and probably makes for quite a boring blog post, in retrospect. I suspect I will continue to use my vote as best I can. There was a time when I’d think someone was ignorant for not voting. But maybe they don’t vote because they know they’re ignorant, and don’t want to sully the voting process with their lack of substantive political knowledge. In which case, perhaps they’re onto something.