Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Right To Reply #5: Election Special

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The participants:
Ben - your host
Jez - likes Stereolab, dislikes Margaret Thatcher
Jonathan of Assistant
Jonny B of Jonny B’s Private Secret Diary
LMT of Between The City And The Deep Blue Sea
Lol - likes the high seas, dislikes last orders
Mike of Troubled Diva
Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey
Pete of The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha
Phill of Danger! High Postage

Part Two: Choice

To what extent is there a real choice between different options or alternatives for voters?

Mike: There's more of a choice than some pissed-off former Labour voters would have you believe.

Jez: Yes there are real alternatives, each party is keen to stress differences and it’s not too difficult to find them. It’s lazy to suggest otherwise.

Ben: The concept of real choice is predicated upon the existence of a range of different credible alternatives from which to choose, otherwise it’s meaningless. Rightly or wrongly (and I do think wrongly), many British people – mostly, but by no means all, young – feel the choice offered to them on a ballot form is artificial and illusory.

Jonny B: Perhaps there's less choice than there was through much of the 20th century due to this rush for the middle ground. Politics is terribly safe now, isn't it? But was a choice between a Labour Party run by Michael Foot and a Conservative Party run by Margaret Thatcher really any more representative of our opinions? There is still choice – it's just different choice.

Jonathan: There’s far less choice than you’d hope for, but then we always have a choice of two parties who broadly occupy the centre, at least during elections which are close. This time that choice is further to the right than normal, unfortunately.

Pete: I really don't think voters have much of a choice. I think there are real and fundamental differences between the Labour and Tory parties but the differences are becoming harder to differentiate. In any case, even if there was massive gulf between them, you would still be left with little choice.

Jonathan: There’s a massive difference between Labour and Tory, but that doesn’t imply we should be happy settling with the former.

Mike: I absolutely refute the line which says there's no real difference between Labour and Tory, so why bother voting for either. Despite all the frightful things which Labour have done, a Conservative government would be vastly more frightful.

Lol: British politics is nowadays contested within very narrow parameters (for example, the Tories want to spend 42% of GDP whereas Labour 43.5% and all parties recognise the need for immigration control, albeit the Tories want a quota system whereas Labour advocate tougher general controls etc etc) The philosopher Alain de Botton said on Radio 4 (Wednesday) that the reason why people are not as passionate or participative in politics these days is because the big ideological battles of the past have all been won. We have broadly settled on a general consensus of how we want to live and there are no significant issues left that require revolution. I endorse de Botton’s argument to a certain extent as this is evident by the lack of radical politics – there are no politicians advocating getting rid of our cars to save the planet, diverting food (40% of which is binned) to save the third world or scrapping schools and making one parent stay at home to teach their kids. However, within the margins of the “acceptable society” I do believe that there is a genuine ideological difference between the parties and therefore some (albeit limited) choice on 5 May.

Phill: There are single issues parties like Green and UKIP but they are more suited for local and European elections and a system of proportional representation. The main parties are pretty similar on many issues – there are no ideological poles.

Ben: Our “first past the post” system means there is little chance for smaller parties with genuinely radical proposals to make political headway in terms of parliamentary seats.

Pete: [We have] a very flawed system of democracy which leaves millions of people, effectively, with no choice, as their individual votes will count for nothing, unless they live in a marginal seat.

Phill: In the current political system it is pretty pointless voting for any other party outside the top three. In Scotland and Wales then the SNP and Plaid Cymru are a factor. Most seats are safe and are unlikely to change hands. In mine (West Bromwich East), Labour will win whatever happens.

Jonathan: In a perverse way, there’s more choice because people are increasingly unlikely to be swayed by voting traditions.

Ben: While I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s barely a hair’s breadth separating the two main parties, they are in close enough ideological and political proximity for it to make for an exciting election. Whereas in the past many people had longstanding loyalties to one or the other, now they are floating voters, prepared to be persuaded and change their minds and allegiances on polling day, which I think ensures that the outcome is far less predictable. At least that keeps the politicians on their toes and makes them work to try and win your vote rather than complacently counting on it.

Paul: Labour strike me as more and more like the Tories of old, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I vote blue. Unfortunately I just can’t see Kennedy as being electable, which is a shame because at least the Lib Dems are offering alternatives to the status quo.

Jonathan: I never had a choice about how to vote before (or never felt that I did) but this time I’m rather enjoying deciding between Labour, the Liberals and the Greens. That’s a rather facetious answer, isn’t it?

Phill: I consider myself a pro-European socialist, but there is no party for me to vote for. Parties like Socialist Alliance and Socialist Labour are both stuck in the past and rabidly anti-Europe. The Respect Coaliation is a good idea in theory, but it's a bit of a mess and also decidedly anti-Europe. Who am I supposed to vote for?

Ben: When people perceive there to be a lack of choice, they often resort not to endorsing one party’s campaign but to voting tactically to deny another party power. It’s depressing that for so many voters putting their cross in a particular box is not a positive seal of approval but a cynical if understandable ploy.

Pete: The reality is that we vote for one or the other and we end up choosing between the lesser of two evils. I vote against the Tories rather than for Labour – my vote is a negative rather than a positive thing.

LMT: Although I really like my local Lib Dem candidate I am considering the unthinkable: voting Conservative. My theory is this. At the moment there is a political stalemate. An over-comfortable Labour majority in the House of Commons, and an impotent opposition. This is not healthy for democracy. It’s democracy I care about, no one political party, and a stronger Tory opposition would in my eyes be better for democracy. I may vote purely on this basis.

Jonny B: The Labour / Conservative consensus to marginalise the Lib Dems as a “wasted vote” is pathetic, cynical and encapsulates everything I detest about politicians. A vote against Robert Mugabe was also wasted if one follows that logic. People should vote for who they believe in, full stop. Otherwise there will never be change.

Tomorrow’s topic: Issues

Links (courtesy of Mike):

Political Survey 2005 - "This is the only internet survey of political views based on real opinion poll data. We can tell you not only where your views lie, but how they compare to the views of the rest of the British population."

The Public Whip - "Choose how you feel about each of these issues. We'll tell you how your ex-MP and each party voted on them in parliament over the last 4 years."

No comments: