May 05, 2015

How to use a vote

There’s a lot going on with this election, a lot of questions and suggestions as to how or if to use your vote tactically, about coalition agreements, about confidence and supply and so on. They’re all focused on how you, using your vote, can best get the result you want.

But an assumption has been made, by pretty much every party on the campaign trail, about what the ‘result you want’ is. Namely, the ‘result you want’ is the Government that will do the most for you. You may well read that and think it’s self-evident, and wonder what I’m going on about, and that, is very much the problem.

Let’s be frank: there’s nothing wrong with voting purely in your own self-interest, and if someone wants to do that, then I’m not going to complain. What I have a problem with is the the notion that anyone may want to vote for different reasons has been roundly ignored, by the media and those standing for election.

The vast majority of us do things on a regular basis that are not in our self-interest. We donate to charities. We volunteer. We take care of our friends and family when they’re suffering. And so on. There are some people that do none of that, that care for no-one but themselves. But I’m happy to live in a world where those people are in a minority.

Why then, is the assumption being made that everyone wants to use their vote to benefit themselves, and not in a more altruistic fashion? Why is this entire election about what you get rather that what we can give?

I know people who have a problem with immigration. It’s easy to dismiss them as backwards racists or such. Indeed, that’s what most left-wing columnists do. Or talk about some nebulous numbers about how immigration is a net benefit to the economy or such. Taking that approach to people who live in areas where immigration levels have been high, and has changed the culture of the community and environment in a way they don’t like is pointless. And when you’re in an area with either little immigration, or one where your environment is changing in a way you do like, it’s an easy approach to take.

But I haven’t seen a single person make the argument that, while they understand the personal effects it might have on that individual, there are huge improvements to the lives of those who, by pure accident of birth, were born elsewhere, come to our country in search of a better life, and we offer them that. I was going to write “proudly offer” right there, but I’m not sure we have any pride in it anymore. No-one is making the argument to them that, “yes, voting UKIP might marginally help you (but they can’t turn back what’s already happened), but it’ll hugely hurt a tonne of other human beings”.

Likewise I found myself utterly depressed by the Green copyright fiasco. Regardless of the truths or otherwise behind the policy, the number of creative liberals, many of whom I respected, suddenly declared they couldn’t possibly vote Green any more because of the negative financial impact it would have on them directly (with no though given to the huge benefit it could have for everyone else) showed up the fact that, while it nice they were going to vote Green, they were only doing so in their own self-interest. Let’s face it: it’s easy to vote for a party that is promising to give you and your interests more money. Green is an easy call if you’re an artist and they’re promising more arts funding. And again, it’s fine to vote in your own self-interest. But pretending you’re doing it to help everyone else out is disingenuous.

So what do I want people to do? Simple. Before you make your final choice about who you’re going to vote for, stop and asking yourself how you want to use your vote. Do you want to vote in your own self-interest, or do you want to use that vote for the benefit of other people. It’s an important question to consider, doubly so as it’s clear that no-one in the media or the parties you’re voting for want you to do so. And if, in the final reckoning, you choose to vote in your own self-interest, then own it. Don’t pretend you’re doing everyone else a favour, and don’t pretend that you actual believe in Tory trickle-down-wealth nonsense. And do that in the knowledge that you could have voted differently, and you did have a choice. You just had to put other people first.


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