May 02, 2006

Why bother voting in the council elections?

Writing about web page http://www.sunion.warwick.ac.uk/portal/Default.asp?url=ARTICLE&article_id=648

The Students' Union is currently urging us all to vote in the local council elections this Thursday, apparently for the sole reason of stopping the BNP gaining a foothold.

Last year, a member of the campaign team of each candidate for the seats in both the House of Commons and the local council for which I was registered to vote, delivered to each home in the area a leaflet detailing why, in that candidate's opinion, we should vote for him/her. Based on this information, along with what I already knew or thought about each candidate and the party he/she represented, I was able to make a reasonably informed decision as to which of them I should vote for.

This year I have received no such information. I have no idea who the candidates are, let alone what any of them claims to stand for. I could probably find this information if I was prepared to search hard enough, but why should I? As far as I can see it should be up to the candidates to make it available to me and all the other voters in this election, not up to me to seek it out. I shall not be voting on Thursday, and no doubt this will be viewed as apathy on my part and on that of all others who do likewise. It's not: it's apathy on the part of the candidates. Why should I bother to vote for any of them if they can't be bothered to tell me why, as they see it, they deserve my vote?

I will point out here that I am completely opposed to the BNP and the policies it stands for, but I consider that, if I decide to vote for a particular candidate, it should be on his or her own merits rather than because of any dissuasion from voting for his or her opponent(s).


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  1. John

    Michael, you raised some interesting points.

    On the Union telling us to "use [our] vote against the BNP", it seems a shame to me that this was the only reason the union could come up with to try and get us to vote. I really don't like people telling me what I can't or what I shouldn't do. The union wants me to vote against the BNP, well you know what, what if I like more policies that the BNP candidate presents than any of the policies presented by other candidates? what then? would it be better to not vote than vote BNP? I am not a sheep who will follow blindly what the Union thinks one should do. In fact by telling me explicitly to vote against the BNP makes me think perhaps I should vote for them, you know, just to be awkward, just as a big f*ck you to those who want to impress their political views on us.

    On the BNP: I think a lot of people are underestimating the BNP, much as people underestimated Hitler. The Nazi party filled the hearts and minds of the German people, telling them that they would be able to help them out of the depression, and out of their disillusionment. They told the people what they wanted to hear. The BNP are doing that today. A lot of their policies are what people want to hear. The three main parties are more or less dead in the water. The BNP makes bold, sweeping statements that people are listening to and will be voting for.

    Will I be voting for them? No. But a lot of people will be voting for them. Lets hope it is enough to put the frighteners on the three main parties to pull their socks up. If that happened then candidates next time may put a bit more effort into campaigning for our votes.

    02 May 2006, 04:17

  2. The Union actually want two things, firstly that the BNP aren't successfull in the Council elections in Coventry (or anywhere else, but there's less we can do about that) and secondly that students who live somewhere there's an election (like Coventry) vote.

    Votes for the BNP are likely to raise tensions within communities where they stand and, apart from being bad for society in general, that's bad for any of our members who live in them (whatever their background). As a result we for some years tried to help in the dissemination to the wider community of information about what the BNP actually stand for.

    We want to encourage students to use their vote for a number of reasons, the most practical probably being that if students vote then elected representatives are more likely to take account of student needs. Less practical reasons include educating (and educating students is defined as one of the Union's aims within our Consitution) people about why they might want to be more involved in the way decisions are taken in our society and in doing so encouraging them to vote.

    If you personally have considered voting in detail and decided for whatever reason not to, then we have less reason to reach you. However, I would still say that who you vote for can make a difference and as long as there is a single candidate you would prefer to the others I would be inclined to vote for them. It's also true that in a democracy it's often thought to be the duty of every voter to educate themselves about the issues involved in voting, you may dissagree with this but I'd say more chance of democracy working if such a duty exists and was undertaken.

    02 May 2006, 10:02

  3. Doug

    The BNP are racist and when they have stood and won before, there has been a huge increase in racial and homophobic hatecrime in those areas. With 35% international students, many living on Campus or in Coventry, 12% gay students and a huge Islamic community at Warwick, it would be very irresponsible of the Union not to inform its members of the dangers to these people should the BNP win any seats.

    Michael, where do you live? If you live in Leamington, Kenilworth or in Hurst, Redfern, Cryfield, Herronbank or Lakeside, then you don’t have any elections happening in your area this time round, and that might be why you haven’t received any publicity.

    Everyone else (either the Coventry side of campus or in Coventry itself or Birmingham), you’ll have elections. Campus Polling Station is in Ramphel building on Thursday. Otherwise, you should get something through the post saying where your closest polling station is.

    02 May 2006, 10:12

  4. There's a certain irony to all this, in that the BNP has many policies which play on people's fears but the most popular way of discrediting the BNP seems to be to spread fear about the BNP.

    Saying "don't vote for x because of this, this and this" just spreads curiosity. If you play to peoples fears then they will be more open to others playing to their fears. The only way to beat the BNP is to acknowledge people's concerns which make them vote BNP and to achieve some of the things they hope for which are less radical.

    02 May 2006, 11:27

  5. If you wish your lack of voting to be taken as intended, you should spoil your ballot rather than not bothering to turn up. As you say, the latter would be regarded as apathy, whereas spoiling your ballot will actually send the message you want – that you are unable to make an informed decision based on lack of information.

    02 May 2006, 12:15

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    John: I would hope that no student, or indeed anyone else, is a "sheep" as you describe it. There are some issues on which I agree with the Union's official stance and there are others on which I don't, although I won't go into those here. I'm not going to vote for/against any candidate just because the Union tells me I should, but neither am I going to vote for/against any candidate just because the Union tells me I shouldn't. The Union can provide me with information, as can (but generally don't) any other organisation or individual, and I can choose to take this into account if I wish to, but ultimately it's my vote to cast (or not) as I wish. I agree with you that there are strong parallels between the BNP and NSDAP. Two snippets from the BNP website:

    "Feeling ignored, abandoned and forgotten by Blair's regime?"
    "Increasingly [sic] numbers of voters are expressing apathy and discontent with the endless incompetence, lies, false promises and sleaze coming from the three parties that make up the Old Gang."

    Dead right. People are disillusioned with the main political parties and are prepared to turn to anyone whom they think can address their immediate concerns – guaranteeing them secure jobs, a decent education and health service and a community in which they can feel safe – and they're not too worried about the cost to anyone else at which this comes. The BNP, as they see it, is pledging to address the concerns of the majority; the fact that this comes at the expense of the minority is, apparently, of no consequence to them.

    Nic: yes, who I vote for could make a difference, but until or unless they provide me with a bit more information I won't know what difference that would be. I'm told that I could obtain a list of candidates from Coventry City Council, and if I spent long enough trawling through party websites I could find out their policies, but I still think it should be up to them to make the information available rather than up to me to go out and look for it. If by "to educate myself about the issues involved in voting" you mean to find out enough about them to be able to form a reasonably informed opinion, then, at least on the issues that affect me directly, I'd like to think that I've done that, but I still don't know which candidate or party best represents those opinions.

    Doug: I live in Whitefields, and thus in the area covered by Cov CC. The only publicity I've had was a few minutes of airy–fairy platitudes from David Cameron which I chanced to catch at the end of the news. He was totally unconvincing, tried, as far as I could make out, to avoid stating a definite opinion wherever possible, and I'm certainly not going to vote for his party solely on the basis of that.

    Yes, the BNP are racist. They want to preserve English, Welsh and Scottish culture: that's laudable. They want to do so at the expensive of the cultures of anyone who's moved here more recently than the Saxons: that's certainly not.

    "While accepting the right of law–abiding minorities, in our country because they or their ancestors came here legally, to remain here and to enjoy the full protection of the law against any form of harassment or hostility, we will also seek to emphasise the importance of the prior status of the aboriginal people. This would be a national extension of the ‘Sons and Daughters' policy in priority on housing and school places lists which BNP councils seek to implement at local level."

    Awarding privileged status to white Europeans and treating all others as inferior. That reeks very strongly of Aryanism as far as I can tell.

    02 May 2006, 16:17

  7. One policy which is not racist, but is certainly discriminatory:

    "The compulsory National Service system discussed elsewhere in this Manifesto would begin at the age of 18 with a period of basic training in the army. This would include full training with the citizens' assault rifle. Conscientious objectors who refuse to undertake military service would be allocated other constructive work for the community, but would not receive the citizen's right to be armed, or the right to vote.

    Individuals would be free to refuse to undertake any form of National Service, but such a refusal to serve the community for the common good would result in their not being entitled to free places at university, on training courses or self–employment schemes. Whereas some other politicians mouth platitudes about there being 'no rights without responsibilities', we mean it. "

    I happen to be opposed to war, and also to the notion that a citizen has a right to be armed. Whilst I would be perfectly willing to undertake "constructive work for the community" in lieu of military service, I do not see why this should result in my being disenfranchised. Are they working on the basis that anyone opposed to war is likely also to be opposed to racism, and thus by denying such people the right to vote they are getting rid of a number of people who would be likely to vote against them? The second paragraph has echoes of Animal Farm: "These extra hours of work are purely voluntary, but anyone not turning up for them will have his rations halved.".

    Colin: I can confirm that it spreads curiosity, since that was what drove me to have a look at their website to see what they claim to stand for; the policies mentioned above are a sample of what I found. They don't hide the fact that they are racist under a bushel: they shout it from the rooftops. Now I have a reasonably clear idea of what the BNP stand for (which I wouldn't have had if the Union had kept completely quiet about it), which has merely served to confirm that I'm not going to vote for them. Now I might go and have a look at the other parties' websites too, except that I might be wasting my time since I don't know which of them will be represented. I presume that the main three parties will have candidates, but what about the Greens, UKIP, OMRLP? Haven't a clue.

    Catherine – good idea, I might well do that.

    Incidentally, I have it on good authority that the main parties are concentrating on winning seats in London, and aren't too bothered about the rest of the country; if this is true, I can understand people getting disillusioned with them, although still not why the turn to extremist parties as the alternative. Are whichever candidates get elected going to start caring about us then?

    02 May 2006, 16:18

  8. If you live on campus on the Coventry side of Gibbet Hill Road, you will be in the Wainbody ward with the following candidates (copied from the Coventry City Council website ):

    • CROOKES, Gary Edward: The Conservative Party Candidate;
    • IJOMA, Joseph Akpati: The Labour Party Candidate;
    • PENLINGTON, Gilbert Napier: Liberal Democrat.

    02 May 2006, 16:49

  9. Christopher Rossdale

    Which makes it very hard to vote against BNP! :P

    02 May 2006, 17:09

  10. Andrew John

    The union should not be telling us who we can and cant vote for. They are ment to be representing our views and not telling us what to think. Kat Stark obviously believes none of us can think for ourselves if she is trying to tell us how to vote.

    If the union was to say "dont vote labour/tory/lib dem" then everyone would be up in arms and i dont think anyone would approve of them doing so. However since its the BNP the union feels it can say whatever it wants.

    What would be more useful would be for the union to find a copy or the candidates names and/or manifestoes and allow us to make up our own mind.

    02 May 2006, 17:32

  11. Another sensible discussion hijacked by pointless Stark–bashing. I'm no stooge of the Union but it seems a bit silly.

    Doug made the point that the BNP threatens the safety of Union members and therefore has an obligation to take action which would be beneficial to its members. The worst the other parties might do is leave a few students out of pocket in tax rises or cuts to welfare services they might require. I think a lot of people would be outraged if the Union didn't ask for action against a threat, so it's anti–BNP stance is completely within its remit and is necessary.

    Also is the Union really telling anyone what to think? If there are any students here who would vote BNP then I don't want to know them as there's clearly been a breakdown in their education somewhere if they cannot see that the BNP is just a thinly veiled racist party. Also Nich is a rep of the Union and has kindly supplied us with the names of the candidates. Job done, I'd say.

    02 May 2006, 18:16

  12. One the reasons I'm going to vote in the council elections is so that I can exercise my right to vote twice while I can still do it legally.

    02 May 2006, 18:29

  13. Thank you Nich; that raises the question of why the Union is devoting so much effort to the campaign against the BNP if those on campus don't have the option to vote for it, and those in Ken/Leam aren't voting at all? Are Earlsdon, Tile Hill and wherever else in Cov Warwick students live, in a ward which does have a BNP candidate? (I can't access your link; Warwick site is working at the moment but external ones apparently aren't)

    I also was slightly surprised to receive a poll card, given that I am still a registered voter at my home address – but not quite as surprised as I was to find that there was also one for someone who left at the end of last term and currently resides in Genoa. Maybe I should have asked her if she wanted a postal vote.

    Defending Kat Stark is not a position I find myself in very frequently, but on this occasion I feel obliged to point out that, as President, she, along with all other Union officers, implements Union policy, but does not make it – at least, she, like any other Union member, can propose or second a policy, but needs the support of Council, a General Meeting or a referendum for it to be passed. In this particular instance, policy 587 "Campaign against the BNP", which mandates the current anti–BNP activity, was passed at Council in November 2004 – before Kat became president. It was also before I came here, so I have no idea who proposed it, but it probably wasn't her. The policy resolves to organise a "Don't vote Nazi" campaign, and that's what she's doing, if not necessarily putting it in exactly those terms. If you feel that the Union shouldn't be running such a campaign, feel free to submit a motion saying so and resolving to lapse 587.

    This is the first time my blog has appeared on the blogs homepage. I feel honoured.

    02 May 2006, 19:22

  14. Doug

    Michael – well done for getting it on the front page.
    If you live in Tile Hill and some parts of canly you may have BNP candidates in your ward. Also, anyone on campus has been automatically registered to vote, so that’s why you have one here and in your home address. You are allowed to vote in both.

    Andrew – The Union doesn’t control who you can and cant vote for. We are encouraging people to vote and informing them that if the BNP get in, it will make life worse for a lot of people in the area, quiet a few of them Students at Warwick.

    02 May 2006, 19:52

  15. Being slightly interested in local politics I understand the hard work a competent councillor has to undertake. It's not asking much for citizens to get off their backside and vote.

    One of the striking features of the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930's was the large vote they got from the politically naive. It's easy enough to vote against the BNP now, they won't allow anybody that privilege if they took over government.

    02 May 2006, 21:29

  16. My point exactly – their pledge to disenfranchise anyone who refused to do military service. It took several centuries and numerous deaths to reach a situation in which every adult in this country (except peers, prisoners, lunatics etc.) had a vote, and the BNP wish to reverse this situation in one go.

    As I've said, I'm fully prepared to get off my backside and vote – if one of the candidates convinced me that he deserved my vote, which, thus far, none of them has even attempted to do.

    02 May 2006, 21:51

  17. Earlsdon for those interested: Wholberly ward has a Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Socialist candidate.

    02 May 2006, 23:16

  18. I agree with Michael that making a decision not to vote can be just as informed as voting. In fact moreso.

    However, I would say that voting against somebody can be as informed as both voting for someone or not voting at all.

    I live in Canley and wouldn't have registered to vote had it not been for the Union noting the presence of the BNP.

    It was perhaps unfortunate that the Union appeared to be giving us only one reason to vote rather than a number, not least, for more conventional reasons.

    But the BNP issue is a legitimate one and indeed part of Union policy.

    Whether you vote for someone, against someone or not at all is not significant. Each of these courses of action, so long as it is properly considered, has equal merit because you are exercising your right to choose.

    03 May 2006, 00:03

  19. I think parliamentary and council elections should do as the Union does, and have the option of abstention or RON (for those not in the know, RON is Re–Open Nominations – what you put your cross against if you don't think any of those standing is up to the job). It would be interesting to see how many people are attracted by the option of being able to register the fact that they don't support any of the candidates, rather than having to do so implicitly by not voting at all, and thus being counted among the apathetic. As Catherine mentioned, there's the option of spoiling the ballot paper, but if I recall correctly from hearing results announced, usually only a couple of dozen or so people in each constituency do so (at least, I assume they're doing so on purpose, and they're not daft enough to fail to work out how to fill it in correctly), so it evidently hasn't really caught on as a method of registering an abstention.

    There's also the possibility, which as far as I know no–one's suggested before, of allowing people the option of voting either for or against a candidate. RON is a vote against all the candidates, but if you only wish to vote against one, without voting for any of the others, you could do so. The result would be decided on net total of votes for minus votes against, and if any candidate ended up with a negative total that would send out a fairly clear message (if every candidate ended up with a negative total it would be even clearer…). It's a thought.

    03 May 2006, 00:30

  20. Christopher Rossdale

    I think parliamentary and council elections should do as the Union does, and have the option of abstention or RON

    Yeah – I want to vote – but I support none of the candidates – so I'm stuck: at least RON would give me some vague outside option.

    03 May 2006, 00:36

  21. Just for info: The BNP are fielding 7 candidates across Coventry. The wards where they are standing are Binley & Willenhall; Cheylesmore; Foleshill; Holbrook; Radford; Westwood; Woodlands.

    03 May 2006, 09:34

  22. If nominations hadn't been open long enough or barriers had been constructed to prevent people standing, a call for RON would be justified. But this hasn't occurred. If people don't like the choice they have been given, they should stand themselves. Then we'd see how good a job they'd do!

    In Coventry, the Socialist Party is standing in St. Micheals, Whoberley, Lower Stoke, Henley & Sherbourne. With a realistic chance of re–taking St Micheals link

    03 May 2006, 09:46

  23. Catherine Fenn

    I don't think I have many student neighbours but for information…

    Sherbourne Ward link

    1 – David Arrowsmith (Conservative)

    2 – Howard Peter Lacy (Labour)

    3 – Arthur Hugh Thomas (Liberal Democrats)

    4 – Jason Arnold Toynbee (Socialist Alternative)

    Surprised by lack of political leaflets through the door – perhaps they are all going green and saving paper this year?

    Full details of Coventry Candidate nominations can be found at link

    03 May 2006, 14:34

  24. Thanks Andrea. I'm guessing that those students residing in Westwood would be registered in the ward of the same name, unless anyone wants to correct me on this?

    George – I would be perfectly willing to take you up on that offer (and if I bothered to distribute any publicity around campus I would, as already mentioned, have gone further than any of the existing candidates), but for two slight complications: firstly, it might interfere with my degree just slightly (although having said that, a student on the council would not be without precedent: link), and secondly, I'm not yet 21 and consequently not eligible to stand.

    03 May 2006, 14:37

  25. I believe that the part of the University known as Westwood is actually in the Wainbody ward; if you go a little further into Canley/Tile Hill you enter the Westwood ward.

    We have actually had students at Warwick stand in local elections in the fairly recent past, but I don't recall any cases of students standing in wards where the party for which they were standing had a chance of winning.

    03 May 2006, 16:24

  26. Personally, I think it's a disgrace that voting Conservative isn't attacked by the union with equal vitriol. In fact, it's disgraceful that it's allowed at all.

    If it's the three parties only, I'm spoiling it!!!!

    04 May 2006, 00:26

  27. Michael Jones

    Vincent, always the voice of reason in any discussion… even if the reasoning may not be entirely sound.

    Well, I've had a look round the party websites to see what I can find. The Lib Dems have a two page summary of the main policies on which they're fighting the local elections, which is more or less what I'd expect; Labour have uploaded their entire manifesto, which is good but at over 100 pages I've neither the time nor the inclination to read it; the Conservatives have a lot of waffle about the "key areas" they will be targeting, but don't say what they actually intend to do in those areas.

    Just for comparison, the Greens, OMRLP, the "swivel–eyed loons" (if you don't know what I mean, Google that and see what comes up) and indeed the BNP also clearly state their main policies on their websites. The two largest parties (as well as Veritas, whose policies are apparently in the process of being overhauled and thus temporarily unavailable for viewing) are, apparently, the only ones which don't see the need.

    04 May 2006, 09:21

  28. James

    And Vincent called me stupid for equivocating hard core communist parties with the BNP … Yes I know you're joking V, but you always implore us to take you seriously so I'm doing my best …. currently you're advocating just the sort of thing Stalin and Hitler enjoyed – banning anyone with whom you happen to disagree.

    The BNP will never get a foothold here; I suspect however that banning them or for groups such as student unions to be seen opposing them will give them better publicity than their own efforts. They are best ignored, just as with the likes of David Irving and Abu Hamsa.

    04 May 2006, 16:47

  29. Doug

    election results for coventry:

    link

    Thanks to everyone who voted.

    05 May 2006, 10:58

  30. Significant points from the Coventry results are:

    • Very close Conservative win in Foleshill (1847 votes compared to Labour's 1841) – amid strong accusations of ballot rigging. Both candidates have a strong south Asian heritage

    • The ex–Labour councillor for Longford lost against the official labour candidate.

    • Socialists win back the third St Micheal's seat from Labour

    • Labour win back the third Upper Stoke seat from Lib Dems

    With the Conservatives now having a more comfortable lead over New Labour, can we expect to see local New Labour shifting to the left and opposing the Conservatives when they implement national New Labour policy?

    05 May 2006, 11:16

  31. Interesting to see the Socialist Alternatives fielded five candidtates of which 3 were elected compared with the BNP who achieved nothing from 7.

    No–one seems to talk about a rise in old school socialism yet we are constantly reminded of the threat of the BNP. It appears that, as James has indicated, the threat is overrated.
    Although Barking is a different matter.

    Did I waste my vote? Probably not as I have gained some satisfaction that I neutured the effect of one person who voted for the BNP. As for the other candidates i'm not that fussed who won to be honest.

    Nice to see New Labour losing its grip though.

    06 May 2006, 15:27

  32. 06 May 2006, 17:39

  33. Michael Jones

    So, despite winning no seats, the BNP polled the fourth highest number of votes. Although it could be worse, that's still quite worrying.

    06 May 2006, 20:12

  34. I don't think it is when you consider who they were up against and think about the mentality of voting.

    Actually, 1 in 20 people voting for the BNP. Yeah, that's quite worrying.

    11 May 2006, 13:08

  35. Christopher Rossdale

    Yeah, but when you work that out as %–per–candidate, it's not so bad. The BNP votes are purely reactionary – the media all but presented them as the official party of discontentment.

    12 May 2006, 14:22

  36. As a postscript, and in an attempt to return this discussion to its original topic rather than the BNP debate it's become, I happened to be walking past the noticeboards in Union North the other day and observed that there was, affixed to the board for Warwick Labour, a "Vote Joe Ijoma" pamphlet. So it appears that at least one of the candidates did have some publicity produced, but for some reason chose only to distribute it to those who were members of the same party as him, and therefore presumably almost certain to vote for him anway, rather than to make any attempt to sway any voters who may have been undecided, and prepared to listen to him if he'd bothered to say anything.

    22 May 2006, 12:34


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