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Apathy sends a message

I agree with commenters on the piece I did early this morning, who said that the result of this election is a least worst outcome. All the political people whose opinions I most dislike are weeping and wailing and gnashing whatever remains of their teeth (what with the world-famed past deficiencies of British nationalised dental care). And that’s very good. But, like Rob Fisher, and despite having strong preferences concerning the national outcome, I personally ended up voting for nobody. Nobody will do much of what I want, and nobody will refrain from doing big things that I do not want, so nobody was who I voted for. I considered both the Conservative and the UKIPper, but, as the deadline got nearer and nearer, I could not bring myself to vote for either of them. I presume that the Conservative was and will remain ‘my’ MP. Yes.

But the good news is that, having spent last night and the early hours of the morning watching the story of the election unfold on the telly, I can report that voting for nobody most definitely does send a message. Turnout matters. Does low turnout signify apathy? Maybe so, but apathy is still a message, and not a message that these fanatically political people like to be told. If not voting accomplished nothing, then why all the nagging, which happens before every election, from the sort of people whose political opinions I most dislike that I should be voting? Yes, refusal to select your least unappealing lizard does definitely irk the lizards.

Most of the politicians I heard on the telly overnight just took it in turns to say that since we don’t yet know the result I won’t answer the question, and let’s just wait and see. But the now rather elderly Peter Hain bucked this conversational trend. Hain used to be an MP but is not one anymore. He wasn’t bothered about saying something interesting but off-message, and he actually did say some interesting things. This election result, Hain said, is an anti-Westminster result. In Scotland this expressed itself in the huge breakthrough success of the SNP. In England, it took the form of the impressive pile of votes amassed by UKIP, and everywhere in the relentlessly diminishing votes gained over the longer term by both Labour and the Conservatives, and by the way that the Lib Dem vote fell off a cliff at this election, following their actual participation in government. And, said Hain, this anti-Westminster animus took the form of lots of people just not voting at all, as it has done for quite a while now. We hate you bastards! That was the message, said Hain. In other words, apathy does send a message, and there it was being received loud and clear, on the telly, by a Talking Head. (Hain’s cure for all this protest and apathy is quite different from mine, but that’s a different argument.)

Granted, apathy is a rather vague sentiment (as is protest). Apathetic old me could have been saying, by not voting, that I wanted the politicians to do less. And this of course is what I do think. But apathy is probably more often, these days, rooted in wanting the politicians to do far more, far more successfully, to solve all my problems for me and in regret that the politicians seem unable to accomplish such things, but in a continuing ‘demand’ that they should at least say they are trying to. As soon as someone stands for office who promises me everything I want, without me having to do anything to earn it or even to look after it carefully, then I’ll vote for him! Because I am an idiot who, despite all experience, does not understand what mere politics can and cannot do. That’s what apathy often means nowadays. This kind of apathy is anything but straightforwardly anti-politics. So yes, apathy does send a rather confused signal.

But so, for goodness sakes, does voting for somebody. Had I voted for, say, the young UKIPper whom I nearly did vote for, he would surely have concluded that I agreed with him about far more than I actually do. He is still working away for a political party that is busily engaged in mutating, from something that was once not unlike the UK Libertarian Party but with some political fangs, into something a lot more like the National Front. Would this UKIPper have taken me as totally approving of this change? Well, I do, a bit, because as a result of it, UKIP has badly wounded the Labour Party by taking many votes from it. And I definitely hate the Labour Party far more than I am ever likely to hate UKIP, if only because UKIP will surely never get strong enough to do any serious damage to my country. But would the nuances of my view of UKIP have got through, as a coherent message, had I voted for this UKIP guy? Hardly. Voting is like chucking a dart at a dart board you can hardly see, for the benefit of observers who can only guess which exact part of the board you were aiming at.

Rob Fisher is quite right. A single blog posting accomplishes far more than one vote, because it tells just a few people what you really do think.

I do not, however, favour doing away with democracy, because voting is definitely better than civil war. That is its one huge benefit, which overwhelms all the complaints that everybody levels at democracy – that it is “undemocratic”, for example. Getting rid of democracy would improve nothing and ruin damn near everything, and I am hugely glad to be living in a voting country rather than a civil warring country. But me actually voting isn’t going to change any of that. I have the right not to vote, and yesterday I exercised that right.

Perhaps one day, the inevitable vagueness of the message you send with your vote will cause billions to come around to my opinion, that while voting avoids the horror of civil war by at least settling which particular gang of lunatics will command the political asylum for the next few years, it can accomplish little of a more positive sort. The good stuff has all to be done by free people with their own efforts and skills and wisdoms and clevernesses and voluntary collaborations, and with their own property or with property someone else is willing to provide them with. If people want good stuff and are disillusioned with politics, they should vote for as little politics as possible, not hang about waiting for even more politics and moaning that they don’t get enough of it.

If anyone from this party had been available for me to vote for yesterday, and assuming I had noticed, I would have been down there like a shot, eagerly putting my X next to his name. That would have sent a message, however incompetently run and however doomed to infighting and corruption and institutional explosion this Libertarian Party almost certainly is.

On a happier note, one of the very few parliamentarians that I do truly admire, Steve Baker, continues to be the MP for Wycombe. If I could have voted for him, I would have.

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23 comments to Apathy sends a message

  • Mr Ed

    You sound as if you would have been apathetic in the summer of 1940, thinking: “Oh no, the Nazis on one side of the Channel, the regulations and taxation of the wartime Coalition on this side of it, and on the other side of Poland there are the Soviets. Where is Prester John?”

    The snarling, foul enemies of liberty were at the gate yesterday. They now have to watch their imitators get on with a fairly pale imitation of their plans, for now.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Mr Ed

    Had there been any chance of (e.g.) Labour winning in my constituency, I would have voted tactically against them, either UKIP or Conservative, as per the instructions of the right wing press. Had I been able to choose a marginal constituency to go and vote in, in this exact way, I probably would have. In other words, I would have journeyed to “the gate”, to use your metaphor, and put my shoulder against it to help keep it shut. But voting doesn’t work like that. Satisfied?

    How I might have behaved in 1940, I have no idea.

  • Richard Thomas

    If you really can’t bring yourself to vote for anybody, I encourage you to spoil your ballot. They count those and it is better than being assumed apathetic in my opinion.

  • Richard Thomas

    Mr Ed, “The snarling, foul enemies of liberty were at the gate yesterday”? Correct. Unfortunately, they are inside the gate today.

  • Brian:

    Why is civil war the only alternative to democracy? And, it’s not as if what you or all of us in the West have is democracy anyway – it is in fact civil war, by other means. Plus, thanks mostly to this “democracy” that we all have now, there will be a “hot” civil war anyway – just wait till our “representatives” run out of our money.

  • Mr Ed

    Yes Brian, of course, if I may excuse myself, I am a fan of the futile but heroic gesture, the Polish cavalry charge against Panzers, or “…Socialists, Sir, farsands of ’em…’, after all, Mannerheim ultimately kept the NKVD off the streets of Helsinki, so in his honour, I would go the extra mile to annoy the scum of the Earth.

    In 1940, I know not either. I would just hope to have done something to help.

  • Richard Thomas

    Alisa is correct, democracy is a proxy for civil war. As such, it only works when it produces what would be a similar outcome. As currently enacted, it allows the shiftless to help themselves to the wealth of the productive, a situation that wouldn’t last too long it you handed out rifles to everyone and suggest they do it in person.

  • Richard Thomas

    By which I mean everyone on both sides.

    (And, quick spelling correction: it->if)

  • Kevin B

    My vote for UKIP was in support of four of their policies – EU, Immigration, Energy and killing the nanny state – but it was also a fuck you to Cameron and the local tory MP, who breezed through anyway.

    Was this a wasted vote? Or will Cameron take some notice? If the voters of Thanet had done their duty it might have made a difference.

    Oh well, the intermission is finishing so back to Act 3 of la Traviata live from Madrid on my laptop.

    Some things do get better.

  • Paul Marks

    As I live just outside the ward I am standing for election in, I voted for three council candidates who have kept my Council Tax down and pledge to do so in future – Scot Edwards and Mr and Mrs Henson.

    For Parliament I voted for my Member of Parliament (Philip H.) who opposes the European Union and many of the wild spending schemes of the coalition government (a government that has now ended).

    Would Philip H. go as far as I would in cutting government spending? Of course not – I am a “hatchet man” (as the Labour canvassers, quite correctly, told the people on the doorsteps – in their efforts to get rid of the local councillor they dislike most), but he would go part of the way – and that makes him worth voting for.

    As for apathy sending a message.

    No, actually it does not.

    If someone tells me on the doorstep that they are not voting I nod politely, write the letter “W” on the canvas sheet (for “will not vote”) and then forget about them.

    If the people who have voted against me (and whose votes will be counted tomorrow) had, instead, decided not to vote at all – I would be pleased.

  • mojo

    “Balls Sacked!”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. If it helps, I am a yank.

  • Cal

    >Turnout matters. Does low turnout signify apathy? … And, said Hain, this anti-Westminster animus took the form of lots of people just not voting at all, as it has done for quite a while now.

    But turnout was quite good for recent times – highest since 1997.

    > This election result, Hain said, is an anti-Westminster result.

    To some degree yes, but a lot of people were expecting more of an anti-Westminster vote. The holding up of the Conservative vote was surprising, though possibly due to fear of a rather left-wing-sounding Labour and the SNP getting together.

    So, going by Wikipedia, in 2010 the main three parties got around 26 million votes. That’s now faded back to 23 million, although the losses are entirely due to the Lib Dems, who lost over 4 million voters — the other two increased a little bit, although their share of the vote was similar to last time (in fact the Tories slightly decreased their share of the vote from last time, and Labour improved by 1.4%).

    In 2010 the main smaller parties — UKIP, SNP, BNP and the Greens — got 2 1/4 million votes. This time they got 6.5 million. The majority of that was for UKIP, who increased by 2.9 million (from 0.9 to 3.9). SNP increased from half a mill to one and half mill. Greens from 1/4 mill to 1.15 mill. (The BNP have virtually disappeared.)

    I suppose it could be argued that the ‘anti-Westminster’ vote has stayed the same, it’s just now gone from the Lib Dems to other parties. Apparently some analysts are saying that a lot of ex-LibDem voters have switched to UKIP. It does seem hard to imagine your average LibDem voter being attracted to UKIP, but I suppose they’re not all lentil-weaving sandal-wearers.

  • voting is definitely better than civil war

    Yes. And that is what most people do not get. Voting is the system’s safety valve. It relieves some pressure before things explode. Which in fact allows them to continue.

    As you point out – changing minds is much more effective than voting. To that end:

    Every tax, every regulation comes with it an army of bureaucrats and behind that an army (with guns) of enforcers.

    Pass it on.

  • Paul Marks

    If the turnout in the ward was one vote – and the one vote was for me – that would be fine.

    Alas, I fear the Labour Party supporters were not apathetic.

    As the most hated man on the Council I can tell you they were determined to get out the “hatchet man”.

    Still at least I will not be at the count (I will be at work) to listen to their comments.

  • Cal

    There was one point yesterday where some Labourite said something like “We represent the working people of Britain”, and I just burst out laughing spontaneously, because it just sounded so obviously false in his mouth. It’s now clear that Labour just can’t say that sort of thing any more and be taken seriously. It’s not 1948. “We represent middle class students and their faddish causes” would sound more on the mark. Or “We are the party for people who live off the state”, or “We are the party that protects the opinions of doctors’ wives”. Or even “We are the party for people who couldn’t escape being brought up by evangelical socialist parents”.

  • Regional

    A close mate of mine reckons being a politician would be a good job, I ask him what drugs he’s on?

  • Niall Kilmartin

    If I remember correctly, Tony Blair won on a 56% turnout in the election after he deprived us of our free speech rights; that meant he won an absolute majority in the commons from the votes of 25% of the electorate.

    I never saw any sign that Tony (or anyone in his party, or that many outside it) learned anything from that fact.

    In the Scottish referendum, high turnout areas voted no; low turnout areas voted yes. The correlation between turnout and outcome was quite strong.

  • In the Scottish referendum, high turnout areas voted no; low turnout areas voted yes. The correlation between turnout and outcome was quite strong.

    … which certainly is interesting, I agree. Still not convinced Scotland is salvageable, but I would love to be wrong about that.

  • All of us here, Samizdatistas and (long-term) Commentariat surely do share much, in basic view and at the margin, and all points in between. Despite this, we do disagree from time to time, and I have occasionally disagreed with Brian.

    However, I would never label Brian as apathetic.

    [Aside: I suppose that is another disagreement – on the meaning of the word – but I’d like to be more optimistic.]

    I agree, very strongly, with Richard Thomas’s comment on this thread, at May 8, 2015 at 7:30pm.

    One should vote. One should vote for the best candidate (which is identical, in my somewhat informed opinion, to voting for the least worst). That is unless even that candidate is totally unworthy, in the opinion of the voter. In that case (in the UK) one should write across the voting boxes, NONE OF THESE, or something similar. Even though the ‘official’ treatment of such a vote is of one of the categories of spoilt ballot paper, it has purpose. The representation of a true vote, according to the belief of that member of the electorate.

    If we ever get to the stage of enough such votes, we might obtain better: a count of spoilt papers on that ground alone, a box marked official abstention, or something similar.

    From what Brian has written above, I see such a vote as his true opinion. That difference from not voting at all is surely also supplemented by a good walk in the fresh air, that is probably required in its execution.

    Best regards

  • Cal

    >If I remember correctly, Tony Blair won on a 56% turnout in the election after he deprived us of our free speech rights

    It was 59.4% (2001).

  • Paul Marks

    It was as I expected.

    Now people can have as much local government spending as they like. All to be funded by the magic of “public investment”.

    Paul Marks will not be around any more.

    I suspect there will be open celebration in the Labour Party – and some private celebration among some other people also.

  • bloke in spain

    I wonder what the outcome would be if they brought in compulsory voting? I suspect it wouldn’t be what they’d like.