Ain't Democracy Appealing?
As we all know, the next election will probably not be decided by you or me.
That’s because for the vast majority of us, we live in a constituency that is almost certain to deliver the same result as it always has done.
In my case, it will be Labour. It has been Labour for some time… though – and this almost blows my argument apart before I even start – it was once a Tory seat.
But what gets me back on track is that the change was down to demographics, as the fortunate middle class or the working class who succeeded moved out, leaving behind the classic Labour voter.
Demographics is always the most tedious of electoral explanations. It basically means people have moved. Or favourable things have happened in the birth or migration rates for certain populations. Hardly a principled sign that people have thought carefully about the alternatives presented to them and made a positive choice for one party over another…
Anyway – these safe seats mean that any election bypasses most of us by. Some of us may be fortunate enough to experience the clamour of a by-election. But, again, they are the lucky few.
Ferdinand Mount, a name I’d rather forgot from my politics degree, estimated that there are around 800,000 people in the marginal seats across the UK who decide which party gets elected to power. Hardly a sign of a burgeoning, flourishing democracy.
The rest of us have to be content with our vote merely showing up in the popular vote figures as Jeremy Vine dances in front of the new laser-powered swingometer. And, as the Americans will tell you, the national popular vote doesn’t really count for much.
In some ways, all of this rather shines a revealing light on the pointlessness of democracy. Rational choice theory would suggest that for the average, rational, self-interested Joe or Joeina, the costs of voting far outweigh the benefits. The chances of being the one who casts the decisive vote in an election are as close to zero as they possibly can be. Results are rarely tied, or go one either way, so there’s no incentive for a voter to think “If I hadn’t voted… X would have won”.
And yet most of us still vote. And not just the lucky 800,000. I will still be there casting my ballot, no matter how futile the whole operation. No matter how obvious it is that the useless Labour clown will win.
Part of the problem is, of course, the electoral system. First Past The Post gives us all of these safe seats in the first place. Genuine electoral reform – using the Single Transferable Vote – would give us a chance to make some progress. It would give more of the people the chance to influence the result, rather than simply focusing on the narrow whims of the elite band who matter in the marginal seats: seats which do not reflect the full diversity of Britain today.
But even with that, genuine democratic choice will still remain the preserve of the few. After all, the necessary evil of the party system, and the nature of our Westminster-centric democracy are two of the greatest barriers which keep people out of the loop.
And then there will always remain the stubborn, and growing, ranks of the non-voter. Those who just don’t care either way but will moan all the same.
All of this adds up to a rather unsatisfactory outcome. Democracy is our best bet, in spite of all its flaws, all its failings, and the willingness of the people who live under it to become apathetic and unappreciative of the benefits it brings.
Democracy: the least-worst option.