Wednesday, 8 April 2015

You aren't disenfranchised because you live in a safe seat.


It's a common line - you hear it all the time (especially from successful left wing sorts who've gone to live in the leafy suburbs): "my vote doesn't count because I live in a safe seat".

This is, of course, complete clap-trap. Of course your vote counts (and is counted). The problem is that your neighbours choose to vote a different way. And there are more of them than there are of you. So the candidate or party they prefer gets elected.

Bradford has 30 local council wards. And just eight of those wards have only elected councillors from one party (four Conservative, two Labour and two Liberal Democrat) since they were last redrawn in 2004. Going back further there are even fewer wards that have only ever elected councillors from a single party (Ilkley, Wharfedale/Rombalds, Tong, Bingley Rural). And yet I'm sure that many living in inner city Bradford believe that the proverbial donkey with a red rosette will always win.

So instead of moaning (here's a classic from a Lib Dem):

Confession time. I’m a political activist and I’m not currently registered to vote. I have dropped off thanks to individual voter registration and I haven’t sought to redress it.

This is something which I find reprehensible, yet I am lacking the motivation to correct it.

I live in Esher and Walton which since 1906 has only ever returned a conservative MP. The lowest majority was in the 1930s, it was 16%. Dominic Raab got 58% of the vote in 2010, a majority of around 18,000.

The rest of the post is essentially a personal attack on the MP in question but the 'activist' is complaining that there's no point in registering to vote because not only do the Tories always win but the MP doesn't see it as his personal mission to address all her political concerns.

Now while it is pretty soul-destroying at times to feel that the enemy has vastly more local fire power, democracy still matters and our vote matters. I know this because when the BNP got a thousand votes in Bingley Rural - without a great deal of effort - I wanted to understand what it was that was exercising the minds of my electorate. I didn't change my principles but I did think about how I talked and listened to my neighbours.

There's a debate to be had about electoral reform (but not too often or loudly because the voters aren't really that interested) but no-one in the UK is disenfranchised because their neighbours choose to vote a different way. And the opportunity exists - as Bradford's politics shows us - for people to break through that safe seat logic and persuade those neighbours to vote a different way. Indeed the City has two MPs who proved that to be just the case - David Ward and George Galloway.

There may be such a thing as a safe seat but no such seat, given effort and circumstance, is invulnerable. And no-one is disenfranchised.


1 comment:

Nigel Sedgwick said...

One of the things that has always worried me about UK political elections is that there is no official abstention - with the possibility of official abstentions winning the vote and so requiring the reopening of nominations and another election in which none of the original (individual) candidates are permitted to stand.

Without this possibility, failing (ie not bothering) to vote is pretty much the same as voting with a blank or spoiled ballot paper - not an affirmative action.

As Simon points out, who is the winning candidate in an election is not the only information provided by that election - but how many votes are cast in total and for for each candidate is also important.

If we ever get the AV system, there would be even more information available on the political opinion of the country, and in each individual constituency.

Best regards