Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Special - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

Although this post contains sections specific to the Bath and the North East Somerset constituencies, many of the underlying ideas are relevant to other parts of the country. Standing Stone's Blog does not endorse any political party or the current political system. It is not our job to tell you who to vote for or whether or not to vote, but it is our job to talk about it.

We may not endorse parties, but some are clearly worse than others...
(Protest sign from Monday's David Cameron welcome party)
 In the next 24 hours the polls will close and the winners and losers of the election decided. Possibly. This election carries with it more uncertainties than any other election than we can remember (and some members of our team can remember quite a few).

To Vote or Not to Vote

Before we start addressing the issues with the individual parties and candidates, we will first address one of the most fundamental issues of this campaign. While some were turned against voting by Russell Brand before he came out in support of voting for Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Labour everywhere else, this is not a new idea. Many anarchists and revolutionary socialists have been saying this for centuries. Voting gives legitimacy to the government. It takes away our right to govern ourselves and puts it in the hands of others, who have not always acted in the best interests of the majority, or of oppressed minorities. Emma Goldman famously said on the matter 'if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal'.

At the same time, few would argue that Westminster-style representative democracy is not an improvement on a monarchy or a dictatorship - at least we have a say in who runs the country and can vote them out if they aren't any good. People in Britain have fought and died for the right to vote throughout history. There are some differences between the parties, and any one person is likely to agree with the policies of one party more than the others, even if they do not support the current political system itself. By voting for the party you agree with the most, you are in with a chance to have some of your views represented in parliament. But don't expect them to always keep their word.

While there is disagreement amongST our team and comrades on this issue, many of us agree that if there is no-one suitable to represent you, don't stay at home tomorrow. Not turning up to the polling station will not bring down the system, and you will be put in the 'apathetic' camp. Spoiling the ballot shows that you do have an interest in politics, but none of the candidates (or any of them, no matter what their views are) are suitable to be your MP. Maybe one day the spoiled ballots will get a majority somewhere and cause a constitutional crisis.

Deciding who to vote for (if you're that way inclined)

If you are among those who feels that voting can make a difference, then you'll need to carefully consider who to vote for. The first thing you need to be aware of is the whipping system. Essentially, even if your MP agrees with something, if they belong to a party that has whips they can be whipped into voting the other way, and in some cases MPs can lose their position if they rebel. Of the main parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats use whips. The Green Party of England and Wales and UKIP do not use whips. Proponents of the whipping system claim that it helps create strong governments, while opponents claim that it is a barrier to true representative democracy. We agree with the latter. So if you oppose the badger cull and your Tory candidate does also, be aware that it does not necessarily mean that they will vote against it in parliament.

Bearing this in mind, we recommend making a list of key issues that you are concerned about and reading up where candidates (for non-whipped parties and independents) and parties (for all candidates, but especially for whipped parties) stand on these issues. Here's our table for the 5 main parties as they currently stand in this election on the issues that we have covered in this blog over the years:

Green= good, Yellow=intermediate, Red=bad
Notes: Even though UKIP score a yellow, we consider them to be worse than the Tories in general due to their xenophobic policies and popularisation of casual racism. However they are more in favour of referendums and public engagement in politics than some of the other parties. Although we consider the Greens to have the most democratic policies of all 5 parties, they do not go as far as we would like.
Again, please note that even where parties have scored as green, don't expect them to live up to all of their promises - while some things will get through in some form or other, U-turns are not uncommon.

On Tactical Voting

Let's say for instance that you find yourself agreeing with the Greens more than the others and disagree with the Tories more than the others. It's neck and neck between Tories and Labour in your constituency. Do you vote Labour to ensure the Tories don't win, or do you stick to your principles and vote Green?

Tactical voting can help to keep the party you definitely don't want in power out. However, it means that someone else you don't like stands a better chance of getting in. By tactical voting, you are in effect diluting the message that you want to send to parliament. It means that the people you actually like are never going to get a chance. We recommend that if you feel that there is one candidate that you feel is suitable to represent you, then vote for them. They might not get in, but they will be in a better position next time. Here in Bath we've had several leaflets through the door from the Lib Dems saying "Labour and Greens can't win here - only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories!". We say that's nonsense. If people voted for Labour or Green then they would have a better chance of stopping the Tories - and would also be less likely to prop them up in government for 5 years!

So in summary, we recommend that if you think a candidate is suitable to represent you in parliament, then vote for them. But it's your vote - do what you will with it.

In Bath

We report on activism and radical politics in Bath, North East Somerset (and sometimes Bristol and further afield). So we assume that many of our readers would like to know which of the candidates running in Bath have supported causes that matter to us and our comrades.

First, let's talk about the ones who have not publicly stood up and supported any causes given space on these pages (to the best of our knowledge). Ben Howlett (Conservative) and Julian Deverell (UKIP) have not been seen by us on any political event or demonstration that we have covered (although Ben Howlett was seen with David Cameron on Monday, but on the other side of the wall to the demonstrators). Jenny Knight from the far-right English Democrat Party has not been seen anywhere near a demonstration that we have attended. The independent candidate Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst, a former Lib Dem who stuck to her principles and left the party due to their U-turn on tuition fees and supporting the Tories, has also not to our knowledge attended any events that we have covered. Apologies to the candidates if they have been present - and if they are reading this, feel free to comment below.

Steve Bradley (Lib Dem) was present on the recent Reclaim the Night march, but has otherwise been absent. Ollie Middleton (Labour) marched and spoke at the Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts (BSAFC) march in December 2014. We have seen him at various meetings also. Dominic Tristram (Green), and the North East Somerset candidate Katy Boyce (Green) have both attended numerous demonstrations covered on these pages. Dominic is the local NHS governor who was elected due to his anti-privatisation stance, and has been present on union picket lines and BSAFC marches, amongst other things.

As for the council seat candidates, those who have attended events or publicly supported causes that we have covered include Lin Patterson (Green, Lambridge), Jon Lucas (Green, Westmoreland), Rory Lee (Green, Paulton), Joe Rayment (Labour, Twerton), Vicky Drew (Labour, Lambridge), Sarah Huggins (Green, High Littleton), Vipul Patel (Green, Walcot), June Player (Independent, Westmoreland), Pam Richards (Labour, Kingsmead) and Sally Driver (Green, Widcombe). Again, apologies to any candidates not mentioned, we didn't have the pleasure of meeting you - but feel free to leave a comment below.

There are no Class War or Left Unity candidates running for MP in Bath, although there are two LU candidates running for council seats in Southdown.

For more information on candidates and where they stand, visit Democratic Accountability Bath

The Last Word - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

That's almost it from us - the choice of voting or not voting, and who to vote for if you are voting is up to you. Whatever you decide, choose wisely. Electing a government every five years or so is not the end of public engagement in politics. Politics should work from the bottom up. Most good things that politicians have done over the centuries have not been out of the goodness of their hearts, but because of public pressure and targeted campaigns. Direct action works. Whoever wins this election, be they the best or worst on offer, or somewhere in-between, the government will (almost certainly) get in. It is the job of the public to hold them to account, pressure them to work for us and, if necessary, get rid of the lot of them. History has shown that voting is only of limited effectiveness and that power can change people. You can find details of groups and events on these pages and by looking around on the internet, and we strongly suggest that you do. Nothing changes unless people stand up and fight for it.

Whether you are voting or not voting, if you stand for something, don't (just) register to vote - register your protest.

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