A meta-comment on voting in the election

A brief personal comment, hopefully far removed from the left-vs-right squabbling occasioned by some of the other recent posts.

I live in the Forest of Dean, a constituency that had a Conservative incumbent, and where Labour were the closest challenger in the 2010 election. But UKIP have been rising fast, and pro-UKIP signs are to be seen all over, intimidating the relatively few non-white people we have in the area. (Not speculation: direct accounts from people affected.)


How to vote, then?

By inclination, and by agreement with their underlying principles, I tend to prefer the Liberal Democrats over the other mainstream parties.

But I like the Greens’ idealism, and would like to shift the framing of the political debate by helping them to become a more significant force. If only a vote for the Greens was not a vote wasted.

But in this particular constituency, the more pragmatic LibDem vote is also a vote wasted: they simply can’t win the Forest of Dean.

Which means that if I want any kind of compassionate representative, I surely need to vote for the Labour candidate — right?

Except that, living as I do in a constituency sadly attracted to the fear-driven rhetoric of UKIP and keen to blame all the local problems on outsiders, there’s a very real chance that the UKIP candidate will get it. So perhaps I need to vote for the Conservative candidate, who has the best chance of keeping him out?


This is not an amusing thought-experiment. This is the genuine choice that I had to make on polling day. There were real reasons for me to vote LibDem, Green, Labour or even Conservative. The truth is that even as Fiona and I approached the polling station, we’d not fully made up our minds; we had to consult just before entering to make sure were both voting the same way and wouldn’t cancel each other out.

And this is stupid.

When I go to vote, I should simply vote for the candidate I want to win. Instead, I had to tie myself in knots with what-ifs and yes-buts. That’s tactical voting for you — a waste of mental and emotional energy that in most cases results in my lying on my voting slip. I want to tell the truth when I vote, and I want everyone else to, as well.

That’s why I was so supportive of the AV system, and why I was so distraught when the referendum in 2011 rejected it. That referendum is the reason we’re stuck with the present stupid first-past-the-post system, and why in the end I did lie on my voting slip about who I wanted to win.

Our system is horrible.

[Read on to Election results #1: why did the Conservatives win?]


7 responses to “A meta-comment on voting in the election

  1. Gerard Taylor

    Me and tracey where on holiday for this general election but did not vote with a clear conscience because our voting system is so bad.

    Our region south Suffolk is completely conservative by a massive margin and always has been, voting against this makes no difference, so why bother?

    I am not familiar with av but hope it’s some type of pr will look it up after this comment, but a system where every vote counts has to be a fairer and more democratic system.

  2. Gerard,

    The AV system (Alternative Vote), also known as STV (Single Transferable Vote) and IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) is the “rank any number of candidates in your order of preference” system. It’s not a proportional system, instead maintaining the link between constituencies and representatives. It’s not perfect (literally no voting system is) but it does solve the problem of having to lie about who you want to win.

  3. Another interesting system (“quadratic voting”): http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9512322/humans-are-doing-democracy-wrong-bees-are-doing-it-right/

    Apparently it sorts of works around Arrow’s theorem because anonymous internet person (always a reliable source says:

    “Arrow’s Theorem applies only for voting on ordinal scale. QV allows degrees of preferences in voting so Arrow should not apply. (This actually is why I do not understand all the fuss about Arrow) “

  4. When I lived in the UK, I never had a meaningful vote. I always lived in constituencies in which there was a candidate who was certain to win, and my vote had no say whatsoever in how I was represented in Parliament. However, what you’ve had to put up with here sounds even worse.

    I now live in New Zealand, with its MMP system. Which means that at least part of my vote has meaning, and that ultimately, parties get a voice that is proportionate to the number of people in the country supporting their views. It isn’t perfect but it’s on a differnet planet compared to FPP.

  5. Pingback: Election results #1: why did the Conservatives win? | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  6. Pingback: Announcement regarding changes to church policy | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  7. Pingback: Election results #5: why UKIP won 12% of the vote but only one seat | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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