Voting in my first election has been preceded by a cacophony of questions about what is important. These initial questions didn’t seem to be framed within any political paradigm – to the uninitiated, “the deficit” and other buzz-words are nothing more than a euphemism for the gaping asymmetry between politicians and the rest of us.
This asymmetry is forced onto the parameters of our political debate, permeating into the very questions that we think we ask autonomously. The opening question of the Leaders Debate wasn’t “Why should the deficit be cut?” which is a question few could succinctly answer, but “How would your party cut it?”
It could be because the prior question is stupid. But it isn’t. Keynesian macroeconomists would endorse increasing government spending during a recession, not cutting it. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has repeatedly annihilated the coalition’s obsession with austerity. Our politicians know there isn’t an economic consensus here, yet they continue to sell us one.
The same asymmetry is forced onto the immigration debate, which is apparently an extremely important issue. Why? Because immigrants are choking our public services. Public services, those things paid for by the government via taxes…the same government spending less because of ideological austerity. But no, the immigrants, of course, the EU immigrants, the ones that only Nicola Sturgeon was brave enough to admit are net contributors to the British economy.
“But,” shouts the anti-immigration, austerity-pushing caricature of British politics, “the future! Surely we cannot sustain such levels of immigration; the country will be at bursting point. How can we, in good conscience, leave such a burden to our children? How can we sleep at night with the idea that our grandchildren may face our national debt, and without upgraded nuclear weapons? Wait, what’s that — climate change, you say? Utopian Green nonsense.”
The lesser of two evils
Russell Brand, in his interview with Ed Miliband, claims that people who refuse to vote aren’t doing so out of apathy, but because they believe their vote makes no difference. He doesn’t mean mathematically – one vote may hypothetically decide an election but, to prospective voters who see little difference between limited options, that vote has changed nothing.
But what is one to do when alienated by a lack of genuine spectrum? There are two choices; one is chastised, the other heavily pressurised by parties attempting to seduce the conflicted: abstain, or vote against someone else. A Labour vote will prevent a Tory government. A Tory vote will prevent a Labour government ruled by the SNP.
The lesser of two evils argument and the pressure of realistic pragmatism perpetuate the lack of viable options that lead to them in the first place. It’s occurring on both sides of the coin too – UKIP are stealing Tory votes, Greens are often disillusioned Labour voters or students that might have voted for Clegg half a decade ago.
And it isn’t just the politicians pushing such notions. Owen Jones, a Guardian commentator and extremely popular left-wing figure, simultaneously advocates a Labour vote and heavily opposes the austerity that they would bring. Why? Because Labour are the lesser of two evils. That is the consequence of the British political system as it is – compromise – but a compromise in values.
Recent British political history is largely the tale of two parties. Two options. Two evils. But as people continue to become disillusioned, as fringe parties continue to battle through the pragmatism argument, as parliament hangs in unpredictable mayhem, the calls for electoral reform will hopefully grow louder.
A first-past-the-post system simply isn’t conducive to a spectrum and choice. If anything, it actively encourages a two party system over time. The lesser of two evils argument, pragmatism through peer pressure and a disproportionate lack of minority parties in local government are all a product of the system that we use, not unavoidable by-products of democracy itself.
Proportional representation would give some power back to the voters. Politicians would be less able to push their agendas and asymmetry, because you, the voter, could be both pragmatic and idealistic. With a single transferrable vote, for example, you could prioritise a main party but also lend your vote to a minority one were your first choice to be elected or have no chance of making the quota. In this, there is far less threat of a vote being wasted.
And so, for the stubbornly apathetic and the pragmatists alike, a solution does exist. British politics is archaic: PMQs more like schoolboy quarrels than society-changing forums, a self-perpetuating assembly line of primed Oxbridge politicians, an unelected House of Lords and so on. But the system will change, eventually. Electoral reform may not be an all-encompassing miracle cure, but it would bring us one step closer to the diversity that so many clearly want. Change may not be a faultless alternative, but it is a better one. It is the lesser of two evils.
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Bobby Gardiner is an aspiring writer and student at Durham University. Very much still learning his trade, he publishes original writing, political commentary and more general pieces on his personal blog (www.bobbygardiner.me). Find him on Twitter: @BobbyGardiner.
‘The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.
Articles published in The Other Political Series:
Maya Goodfellow: Why aren’t politicians talking about racial discrimination in the job market?
Maya Goodfellow: Letting migrants drown in the Mediterranean, is this what the Tories mean by ‘British values’?
Bobby Gardiner: The Reality Behind ‘economic recovery’
“Lessons from Scotland: Offer People a Vision”: Interview with Sofi Taylor
Lester Holloway: Political Parties Favour Asian Over Black Candidates
Dr Youssef El-Gingihy: THE NHS ELECTION
Kiri Kankhwende: Introduction: Small Politics
Omayma El Ella: The Suffocation of British Muslim Civil Society Space
Shane Thomas: You can’t move for all the ‘tolerance’ in Britain
Faisa Abdi and Hamdi Issa: Politicians Must Acknowledge the Link Between Negative Media Stereotyping of the Somali Community
Pragna Patel: The Elections 2015: Desperately Seeking Equality and Justice
Maya Goodfellow: Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most
Anouchka Burton: The pink bus is a start but parties need to show women they’re in for the long haul
Colin Joseph: BME communities should get on the bus & vote at this year’s Election
Huma Munshi: From a survivor to the new government: Every woman matters
“It’s an exciting time to be a politician”: Interview with Reema Patel (Labour Councillor)
The Conservative Party is a broad church” Interview with Walaa Idris (Conservative campaigner)
“We can’t allow the scapegoating of migrants in the political arena to go on.”: Interview with Benali Hamdache (Green Party member)