Half-way through the election campaign and I still can’t make up my mind where to place my important vote. I need to qualify the word important in this context; my vote is very important to me but, regrettably, the constituency that I live in is considered a ‘safe seat’ for the Conservative Party so my individual voice is unlikely to be important to our incumbent, Sir Alan Hazelhurst. His majority at the last election was 13008 so we would need to see a significant swing to oust him. The dilemma I labour with, therefore, is would my vote for another candidate be wasted or is there a significant group of people like me out there trusting that their equally important vote might bring change?
I’ve held the view for some time that politicians are, for the most part, morally bankrupt, self-serving and fast to avoid the responsibility that goes with the job. It’s frequently difficult to give them a collective benefit of the doubt when survival is deniability and they demonstrate that survival comes higher up the list of their priorities than serving the electorate. Today we saw Gordon Brown provide a perfect example in practice. In a ‘stop and greet’ street interview a typical and perfectly normal voter raised a series of quite reasonable concerns. After delivering some patronising responses with suitable gravitas and reassuring smiles he was caught off-camera describing her as a ‘bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour’ when something nearer humility would have been more appropriate. It’s another example of the arrogance and duplicity of power that has been shown, to one degree or another, by senior politicians in this run-up. The recent televised Leaders’ Debates exposed this; platitudes and non-binding promises were handed-out like party favours, real commitments were avoided, technique was honed but important issues, like how the economy will be managed or what will form the heart of government policy on environment, energy, education, health and so on were avoided. We all believe that the VAT rate will increase and we all believe that spending cuts will result in job losses but why won’t any of the leaders say it?
In the first televised debate, a relaxed Clegg, with nothing to lose and less to defend, was the success of the night. Unencumbered by a fear of losing either his job as Prime Minister or his title of Pretender to the crown, he was able to say what people wanted to hear and appeared to offer the option for change that is allegedly the answer to our ills. He had huge if unbelievable ratings and whilst the dust had settled by the second debate a proportion was restored that was more to do with a subtle shift on the part of the others, not a real improvement in what is on offer. With the consequent ascendance of the Liberal Democrats, we are now forced to focus on the lack of proportional representation [PR] in our system and the implications of a hung parliament. So the real choices available to us at the ballot box are very limited if they exist at all. The situation is invidious and breeds widespread apathy.
Coalition governments can and do work; Sweden, Germany and particularly Switzerland, for example, make a clear success of it although Israel is a poor performer and Italy seems incapable of managing a chimpanzee’s tea party. But I suspect that it might work here and I think it might be the way to go if only for what it throws up in the process.
If we do end up with a hung parliament and the likely Conservative/Liberal Democrat alliance manifests itself then we certainly need better accountability and more transparency. The Liberal Democrats say they want to impose that on any partners as a condition for wearing the harness of coalition. The Conservatives are running a scare campaign so that the electorate will take the safest route when we cast our votes.
So now I’ve come full-circle – a vote for the man who’s already in place will probably be a vote wasted; a vote for someone else might be a vote wasted, but then again, might not. What will my fellow constituents do? They’ve told me in the pub that they want to see changes but does apathy rule or will democracy and courage walk hand-in-hand? Seems to me that casting a vote into the unknown might not be any worse than wasting it on the guy with the manicured garden. And even if it doesn’t achieve the changes we want, then at least we will have tried.
I’m not feeling very optimistic about this at all.