Wednesday 5 May 2010

Voter Apathy: Our only hope

One of the things that has amazed me about responses to my not voting in this election is that some people have chosen to be offended. There is a moral outrage. Quite a few people have said they think it should be illegal not to vote. In effect they are saying I deserve to be fined and if I don't pay I should be locked up. My crime would be refusing to comply with a system which is:

1. Unjust.
2. Creates political apathy
3. Creates losers.
4. Disenfranchises the majority.
5. Allows people to abdicate responsibility for the decision made in their communities.
6. Selects people to fund and organise violence against me and people in distant countries.

1. Unjust.
This system is unjust most obviously because it is a 'first past the post' system. But if that doesn't rig it enough, the boundaries mean that there are huge disparities in numerical representation. The New Economics Forum have published an index of an adults notional vote. The theory is flawed in that it relies on some fairly circular arguments: If 75% of people want a party then your vote doesn't count because it's a safe seat? One could argue that it has counted, you wanted that party. Nonetheless they make a good general point that voter power is a real postcode lottery.

2. Political Apathy
People talk about voter apathy as though it's a bad thing. Yet the only reason the three biggest parties began this election talk about reform is they fear voter apathy. You can protest the government; you can kick them out; but if you really want to scare them: ignore them. The angst in this unjust system is evident all around, people worry about far right parties that would get in if the model was more fair: all this tells us is that people are using voting as a short cut to deal with racists and fascists. So rather than challenging bigotry and violence where we find it in everyday life we vote once every five years and pretend the evil doesn't exist because it has been smothered by the first past the most: the seeming moral majority. If refusing to vote is 'voter apathy' then voting may often lead to 'political apathy'. I feel certain that the suffragettes did not simply fight for democracy so that we could make do with something so absurdly symbolic as 'the vote'. The story is not over.

3. Losers
Christians are to love one another. Not only one another: Christians are to even love the enemy. How unChristian then to vote against the wishes of other people. To put all this energy into trying to silence the views of a fellow citizen. The aim of a general election is not to find out the will of the people but rather to set up a competition with a stolen mandate as the prize. Voting creates losers and I can't believe that the Jesus-community is called to create losers.

4. Disenfranchises the majority
More than half of all votes will count for nothing in parliament. They will be, in effect, rejected. MORE THAN HALF. Not only that, but a fifth of the voters hold the balance of power in their marginal constituencies: and within those constituencies more than half the votes are thrown away. That suggests that less than ten percent of votes really matter in our current system. Even if this was not the case: the system locks us into a combative mode of government where party-politicians seek to disenfranchise one another.

5. Abdicating responsibility
Decision making, consensus building, and community organising are hard work. We vote because we choose not to do this work. This may be because we're too busy but we're often busy earning the money that pays the people who have taken our decision-making ability away from us. Meanwhile the richest keep their money and buy power at a fraction of the price because they don't have to vote. The majority get a free vote once every five years. Well, you get what you pay for. The minority spend hundreds of thousands on buying the MPs that we leave to get on with it on our behalf. 80% of Conservative MPs are members of a Zionist lobby - their biggest backer - and the Labour party aren't far behind. Refusing to vote can have a powerful psychological effect: it causes one to ask how else one might get power and what better world might be possible where this crazy machine stops being oiled by the ballots. Emma Goldman famously said, "If voting changed anything they'd make it illegal." So why isn't those who abstain who are having criminalisation waved at them?

6. Violence
This is a simple dilemma for the Christian who thinks voting might be moral. The Matthew tradition tells us that Jesus taught his followers not to resist violence by force/violence (Matt. 5) 'antistenai' if you're interested in the Greek. Some translators have it as 'don't resist evil' but this is too weak a translation. But either way - violence is out. Governments use our taxes to fund wars, and not only wars - all three big parties (yes, including the liberal democrats) advocate some form of nuclear deterrent - weapons that are deliberately aimed at civilians, that harm generations of innocents, that destroy all biological life in a given area. If I vote I am consenting to this violence being done on my behalf. If I vote I am saying I want my rights preferred to those of others because they live within different abstract borders. And I want my nation's rights to be defended with violence against the rights of any other nation. No wonder the politicians fear voter apathy but voter apathy is the only real hope of real change we really have.