Hardly a day goes by these days without us being asked or told how to vote for some cause or another.
Last month, the residents of Scotland were asked: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” To many people’s surprise, and many others’ disappointment, they turned out in force to narrowly vote “No”.
Last week, the people of Clacton were asked to vote for a new Member of Parliament, their previously incumbent Member having defected to the UK Independence Party. The original Member got his job back, albeit under a different banner.
The other day I was asked to vote for Time Out magazine’s awards for the best best local restaurants, cafés, pubs and shops in London.
And so it goes on. We are asked to vote on anything, from the best of an obscure category to the worst of some other mysterious grouping.
As for being told how to vote politically, even former Sex Pistol, Johnny Rotten, is in on the act! He believes we should all vote, no matter how apathetic we may be about British politics. “Stand up and be counted”, he says.”Make your voice heard.”
And I agree. We should all vote.
The trouble is, many of us either don’t know who to vote for, or see the whole process as a waste of time because none of the parties, or their candidates, offer anything we can relate to.
Much of this apathy is, no doubt, due to our disillusionment with Parliament and our MPs. The expenses scandal clearly undermined people’s trust in the establishment. The differences between the parties’ policies are so slim it’s impossible to slip a cigarette paper between them. The all-too-frequent bouts of incompetence do nothing for our confidence.
As a result, many of us see politics as a waste of time and don’t bother to vote at all. Which, as Johnny Rotten would no doubt agree, is a crying shame.
A new alternative
I believe voting in Britain should be compulsory.
“Pretty radical”, I hear you say.
Well, maybe. But look at it this way.
If we were all legally obliged to vote, we might all pay more attention to what’s on offer and, instead of abdicating our responsibilities for the way our society is governed, we might actually engage with politics more positively.
Some of us, of course, will never want to vote for any political party or movement.
At present, if that’s how we think, we can always go to the polling station and write whatever we choose all over the ballot paper. “None of these candidates are suitable” or “Bollocks!” or “I’d rather go to a hen party than vote for one of these dogs” are all candidates for this style of voting.
But this is not very productive.
Under the present system, the spoiled papers are set aside and described as such: “Spoiled Ballot Papers”. They’re not counted. No one knows how many there are. They’re just a pile of waste paper and a waste of time.
The confidence trick
My suggestion is that, as well as being obliged to vote, we’re offered a space on the ballot paper where we can put a cross against “No Confidence”.
This way, we could express our disaffection. All the “No Confidence” votes would be counted, just as if they were votes for an accredited political party, and the politicians would know exactly how many people, nationwide, had given Parliament the thumbs down.
As a result, people like David Cameron and George Osborne, David Milliband and Nick Clegg, will know beyond all reasonable doubt that XX% of the population have no confidence in any of them.
It’s my belief that this will make them think.
At the present time, they don’t have to. They can simply brush aside all the spoiled papers by telling themselves that people who do that kind of thing don’t matter. “Loonies”, as David Cameron might describe them.
But, faced with the certain knowledge that a percentage of the population – which could be as high as 50% or even 60% – were actively saying “We have no confidence in any of you”, the folk in the Westminster village would have to pay attention. They would have to ask themselves: “What are we doing wrong?”
Doing the right thing
Making voting compulsory and offering people a chance to express “No Confidence” is the right way forward.
It will make people understand that we all have a responsibility for our society and how it’s governed. It will give us all a chance to express what we feel about politics, just as it will continue to give us the opportunity to support the candidates and parties we favour.
And it will ensure a properly representative turnout out major elections.
That must be better than living in a country governed by people who sometimes represent fewer than 30% of the population.