By Thomas G. Clark
May 7, 2015
Of the most commonly recurring themes that keeps popping up in the comments sections beneath my work is the "if only everyone stopped voting ..." type is probably the most infuriating. The reason that I find these appeals for people to "just stop voting" so infuriating is that not voting is just about the most blatantly ineffective form of political protest imaginable.
The first and most obvious reason that not voting is such a feeble form of protest is that the result is totally indistinguishable from total apathy. If the opponent of the political status quo does exactly the same form of non-action as the hopelessly apathetic fool who doesn't care a jot about who rules over their lives or how the political system is structured, then how is it even possible to tell how many of those non-votes are ill-conceived protests and how many are manifestations of sheer apathy?The "just stop voting" advocate will often try to claim that if enough of us stopped voting then the election results would become illegitimate through lack of participation. Without explaining the mechanism by which the Westminster establishment parties would be removed from power after a mass non-vote, and without explaining what the system would be replaced with in the short-term, the "just stop voting" advocate is promoting a sheer fantasy. If they want us to believe that not voting is a sensible form of protest, the onus is on them to explain the mechanism by which the government is replaced with something better as a result of simply not voting.
The idea that the Westminster establishment would just give up their grip on power if enough of us refused to vote is hopelessly naive because not only does it fail to explain the actual mechanism by which the election results would be rendered void, it also ignores the very real precedent set by the farcical 2012 PCC elections, which had an average turnout of just 15%, and in several regions (Hampshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Surrey, Norfolk, Humberside, Cumbria & Lincolnshire) the winning candidate garnered less than 5% of the eligible vote! Did any of these new PCCs refuse to accept their £65,000 - £85,000 per year jobs because of a lack of political mandate? Of course they bloody didn't!
If 99.2% of us stopped voting, then it's absolutely clear that the 0.8% of us who are actually members of the three Westminster establishment parties would continue voting for themselves, and the rest of us would simply be dismissed as not caring about politics enough to even bother.
It is also obvious that not voting is an ineffective protest because it simply increases the political power of those who do choose to vote. If the majority of people who oppose the system choose to not vote, those who support the system will be at an obvious electoral advantage. Some 40% of the electorate are political tribalists who will always vote for their favoured Westminster establishment party, so if 35% of the public refuse to vote then it's obvious that they are essentially condemning the rest of us to perpetual Westminster establishment rule.
Not voting is also a very good way of ensuring that unpopular extremists manage to get into power. A good example of this is the way that UKIP managed to become the biggest UK party in the European parliament after winning just 9% of the eligible vote. The remarkable thing about this victory for UKIP is that for every person who voted UKIP another seven didn't bother to vote at all! If just one in six of the non-voters had voted for a genuine political alternative, then the election wouldn't have been won by a Tory Trojan Horse political party pushing a "more-of-the-same, but even harder" right-wing economic agenda.
It turns out that people who go around telling others to "just stop voting" are actually useful idiots who are of great use to the Westminster establishment parties (and to extremists like UKIP) because without this propaganda war against political participation, far more politically disillusioned people would actually vote against the Westminster establishment rather than implicitly supporting them through non-participation.
If we despise the current political system, then surely it is better to find a political party that is proposing to change the system, than to simply abstain and actually increase the chances that things will stay pretty much exactly as they are.
If we want change, we've got to do like the Scottish, and actually vote against the Westminster establishment parties. However it is possible that there are simply no decent candidates in our particular constituency offering a better alternative than the status quo. In this kind of case it's really important that people at least turn out on polling day in order to submit a blank or spoiled ballot paper so that their protests are actually distinguishable from outright political apathy.
Whether you want to oppose the Westminster establishment by supporting a smaller political party that wants to reform the political system, or oppose the political system by voting "none of the above" by submitting a spoiled ballot paper, it's really important that you make sure that you are registered to vote. If you don't even bother to register to vote, your ill-conceived protest is going to be totally indistinguishable from complete political apathy.
Follow this link to register to vote. It only takes a few minutes.