Emanating from the heart of the Labour party as much as from its ardent supporters on the fringes, is a message that causes deep frustration to the more hopeful observers. “Vote Green, Get Blue” is the most often touted line, but recently we’ve also seen “Vote SNP, Get Blue”, and the sentiment clarifies. Effectively, vote anything but Labour, and we’ll have a Tory government for the next five years. Don’t waste your vote on a party that can’t win the seat.
It’s understandable to a point, First Past the Post is a fairly odious electoral system that generates extraordinary advantages to the established parties with both intensive and extensive enough support among the constituencies. We’ve seen cycle after cycle that lesser but ambitious parties like the Greens and Lib Dems do not reap remotely proportional benefits in relation to their overall vote share, to the benefit of Labour and the Tories.
So here’s the question. When the hell is that ever going to change if all we can bring ourselves to do is perpetuate the dynamic in feeble subjugation to the cautionary words of the established parties? From where will the impetus for a better system ever come? Not selflessly from the parties that the current system well serves, you can be assured of that.
A basic truth of proper democratic government is that winning the election does not grant the victor an unyielding mandate to pursue their agenda. Not only is there an opposition to convince or circumvent, but there is in fact still the message of the people rendered by the vote. A winning Labour or Tory party understands that many millions of people don’t support their vision, otherwise they would have voted for them too.
This is to say, a vote for a losing party is not a zero sum game. Every vote carries with it even the smallest amount of political capital, even if it doesn’t translate into seats, and this is exactly why we should be ignoring the fear-ridden message of Labour. A vote for Green is a vote for Green, and a vote for the SNP is a vote for the SNP, and so on. If you sympathise with these parties’ messages, or any other party’s message, you simply must vote for them. Do not vote the system.
Voting the system means the system will never change, and you’ll never have a hope of achieving the politics you want. Of course you’ll always have to temper that hope against the fact that this is a democracy and your views may well just be in the eternal minority, but the notion that we only have room for two major and only a few minor schools of political thought as represented by the current parties of Westminster, is daft.
The issue has never been more pertinent, as this year we do see several smaller parties muscling their way onto the centre stage, notably over the matter of the televised debates. In only their second incarnation, two of three debates will see not only the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems, but also UKIP, Greens, SNP and, controversially given that regional parties Sinn Fein and the DUP actually courted more votes in the last election but are not invited, Plaid Cymru.
It’s right that these forums are as representative as possible, and chances are you’re going to hear some very appealing notions from parties you never thought to bother with. But what’s the point if all you’re going to do is vote based on electability? On that basis there really only are two parties in this country, Labour and Tories, being that no other party is likely a generation within being a viable majority party. Unless, of course, we start to have the courage of our convictions and vote purely and only for our politics.
There’s no surprise whatsoever that the Lib Dems have long since championed reforms to the electoral system, and that Green and other minor parties support this change as well. Labour have shown some meaningless sympathy to the idea, smothered in prevarication, and the Tories are simply just against any change in this regard.
Looking ahead to May, we can predict that the Greens might elicit around 6% of the national vote, for which they will likely be rewarded 0.2% of available seats, or in real terms, likely only one seat, their Brighton stronghold. This is, in and of itself, a clarion call for changes to the system, as it is patently, demonstrably incorrect that this should be the case. However you feel about UKIP politics, a possible 15% of the vote share translating into possibly four or five seats, 0.6% of available… well, it just isn’t a fair reflection of the will of the people, is it?
The UK is, for the time being at least, one sovereign political entity, not 650 constituencies. Having constituencies works in terms of establishing geographical or demographic units for individual MPs to serve, but it’s madness that they should function as they currently do, which is effectively as self-contained electoral units. The national vote should be the national vote.
Without going into the nitty-gritty of the more representative systems available to us (and they are perfectly available to us), the message here is that if sufficient millions of votes appear to back the mandate for changes to the electoral system, it becomes a difficult issue to ignore. Voting Labour or Tory as a tactic, or out of a sense of futility, instead of a conviction, is nothing more than a vote to perpetuate an unrepresentative system, which is itself the only reason not to vote your convictions.
Staring down the barrel of a political future where outright majority governments are fewer and further between, where the coalition will be key and smaller parties of greater relevance, there is every reason to make the push now. Vote Green. Vote SNP. Vote Lib Dem. Vote UKIP. If they or others speak to you, give them the legitimacy to say the system in place is just too flawed. That is the meaning of your vote, even it doesn’t win your party the seat, and even if it does defer votes from whichever major party is politically “close enough”. As politicians live and die by the vote, they’ll clamber to be the party that delivers.