So much things to say

by Stephen Tall on April 30, 2005

It’s an excruciating irony of an election campaign that, just as my brain is most over-loaded with opinions and rants I want to transcribe, I have least time to cast before you my pearls of wisdom. The result is that, over the last four weeks, I have been short-changing you, my loyal reader, even as this website attracts more regular traffic than usual. I would say sorry, but, in keeping with the times, I will simply say that I have nothing for which I feel I should apologise; that I can understand you may disagree with my decision not to update this site on a daily basis; but that, ultimately, continuing to read this site, or not, is your choice. And you must make that decision now.

The people I meet currently, whether at work or (very occasional) play, ask me, “So what do you think is going to happen?” There is a very simple answer: haven’t a clue. Anybody who spends time knocking on doors picks up, at best, a partial and impressionistic view of how it’s looking in their patch. This is called ‘candidatitis’, and depending on the particular human condition, leads to an absolute conviction they will either win or lose against all evidence to the contrary.

This year I have the luxury of not being a candidate, having been re-elected again as a city councillor last June, and not having the time to be a county councillor, nor having yet acquired the disturbed psychosis required of aspiring MPs. But I don’t find myself any better qualified to make a call on likely outcomes.

My one confident assertion is that turn-out will be up considerably compared with 2001’s dismal showing. The public seems to me, despite the media-induced cynicism of party politics, far more engaged than they were four years ago.

Yes, of course, you find those who are bored with, or ignorant of, the whole process. And yes, of course, you find the usual clichés: “You’re all the same” (erm, really? I would have thought being pro- or anti-war is a pretty big distinction); “We only see you at election time” (usually said by the cantankerous old git I recall talking to for 20 minutes a couple of months ago. And whom I know will vote Tory.); and “I haven’t had time to think about it yet” (well I guess things get a bit hectic, what with the snooker and Hell’s Kitchen both on the telly).

However, by far the most smug, crass, pathetic statement that some people occasionally trot out (as if they are the originators of some bon mot of which Oscar Wilde would have been proud) is: “I don’t vote, it only encourages them.” Nothing riles me more than the vogue for supposed ‘conviction abstention’: the idea that by refusing to use your vote you are, in some valid way, making a statement of belief. Utter bollocks. For a start, how will anyone know that your vote is principled, unlike the millions of can’t-be-bothereds who will shrug their shoulders with total indifference on 5th May?

If you really can’t be bothered to think very hard about politics, just admit it. Don’t dress it up as some form of pro-active stand against this ‘Parliament of knaves and fools’. I can’t think of any campaigner – and certainly not me – who agrees 100% of the time with 100% of their party’s policies. The point of an election is to work out to which party you feel closest. If you feel that strongly about those policies for which your party stands, and with which you disagree, then argue for a change of policy. If you don’t feel that strongly about it, then what right have you to complain? And if you can’t find a party with which you have enough in common to support, then get stuck in and stand for election yourself. And, if you lose, accept that the people have spoken, and that, in a true democracy, majority rules.

One of the most depressing websites of this election is “I’m not voting because”, which can be found at www.msn.co.uk/htx/imnotvotingbecause/Default.asp – where members of the public attempt to rationalise their abstentions. The point which seems to allude these ‘conchies’, and a perniciously indulgent media, is that politics is a product of our society. If enough of us want to change something, we can. But, if people choose to opt out, and flunk the big decisions because it’s all a bit difficult, then we might as well all just gather around a big basin to wash our hands of our collective civic duty.

The modish belief that abstention is ever justifiable is part of a wider cultural refusal to accept responsibility for what happens in our communities. Of course, it’s much easier simply to be an oppositionist – chances are you will find lots of other people who agree with your stance against a policy. But that’s only half the job. For your opposition to have any validity, you must also propose a workable alternative which attracts similar consensus. This is much harder, too hard for most of those who prefer to ‘stick’ at abstention rather than ‘twist’ by risking taking a stand on an issue.

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” I think people should care. And if they care, they should vote. It’s quite simple, really.