One way or another, you should vote in the general election. It's the only real form of political expression available to normal people at the moment, and failure to use it makes most of your complaints about politicians utterly redundant. It costs nothing.
What we'd contest, though, is the notion that politics can be reduced to the singular act of voting once every five years.
There are simply too many factors at play for placing a cross in a box so infrequently to be adequate: the views and quirks of the local parliamentary candidates, party philosophies, party manifestos, party leadership, record in government, the issues of the day... The list goes on, even before you consider aspects like the contortions of tactical voting. For all of our 21st century sophistication, our general elections are a crude, unwieldy things.
Surgery... with blunt instruments
To be sure, many people don't consciously weigh up all those different elements before calculating where to place their mark, nor should we necessarily expect them to. What makes the decision even less satisfying, however, is the fact that you're compelled to choose one bundle of policies, one brand. You could (for example) opt for the Conservatives for their economic policies, Labour for addressing the issue of food banks, UKIP on the EU and the Greens for a serious commitment to the environment, but if you're crazed enough to think that all four are important, you're stuffed. If you happen to think that assisted suicide, drug legalisation or a host of other issues are important, where do you go?
Is that good enough? Do we have to accept production line politics, where you take what you're given without a murmur? Isn't that a bit arbitrary?
Furthermore, once you've made your choice, that's it. Short of becoming a noisy protestor or intensely campaigning for your beliefs as a party member, the options for the quiet mass of average citizens between elections are sparse. Politics is done to the public rather than with their consent.
Few would argue that government is hard and that decisions must be taken with at least one eye on the big picture. Leadership is tough. But the dividing lines that the parties draw and the way that business is conducted in the Commons creates vacuums and distortions that fail to serve the interests and values of the public.
What to do?
Some might argue that if you're unhappy with the options available, you should step into the arena yourself, but given the numbers of people who are at least a little dissatisfied, the idea is absurd. It ignores the fact that it is the system itself that's problematic. Our current party order isn't complex enough to serve the needs of the society at its source.
Hence the rise of the smaller parties that are making the 2015 election both intriguing and frustrating. You may sacrifice some of your values to vote for a party that you don't fully agree with, only to find that the issue that swayed your vote is cast aside in coalition negotiations. It's not surprising that leads to disillusionment.
What's all the more frustrating is that it doesn't have to be this way.
There will always be compromises and areas where progress is slow; there is no perfect system out there, waiting to be discovered. But with sites like Your Democracy and others, the technology is there for a mass re-engagement of the public with democracy, without reducing politics to a gibbering mass of referendums.
People don't have much appetite for scrutinising the details of legislation, but plenty of them care a great deal about the country they live in, day in, day out. That's why the compressed, 19th century mechanism of a general election isn't good enough alone.Back to news