Russell brand has figured largely in the recent debate about voting. In an interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, Brand admitted that he had never actually been to the ballot-box because of “absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class”. Not being a great fan of Russell Brand, I winced a bit, because I too feel the same about the vote. Paxman later admitted that he did not vote in a recent election “because I thought the choice so unappetising”.
I am a great deal older than Brand, but my conversion came about 10 years ago, largely because of the voto en blanco in Spain, which is a similar tactic used on politicians there that are not respected and who the general public suspect of being on a carousel of corruption, just as a growing number of people here believe that the relationship between Parliament and big business is simply too cosy.
Nick Clegg waded in on his LBC radio show, saying that “we know that politics is not perfect, but at the end of the day it is the way that we decide how you pay your taxes, how we support our hospitals, our schools, whether we are going to war or not, how we deal with climate change. Of course it’s sometimes unedifying but this idea that you can sneer at the whole thing, dismiss everybody as somehow being rogues and charlatans and say, ‘Well, therefore I’m going to wash my hands of the whole thing,’ I think is a total abdication of responsibility.”
There are two basic flaws to Clegg’s argument: The first is that he argues his case on the basis of voting on a mandate, which neither the Tories nor the Libdems had when they came into power as everything was up for an unseeemly grab because the Conservative mandate ended up being blended with the Libdem mandate. His second was to preach about what he believes would be “a total abdication of responsibility”.
As a politician, Nick Clegg is acutely aware that the turnout at the general election must be kept as far above 50% as possible. Since 1945 the turnout has varied between 83.9% and 59.4%. Having a respectable minority winning share of the vote is deemed to be acceptable, but if the turnout were to slip significantly below 50%, the politicians would unquestionably lose the argument, as they would have no mandate to govern.
Let’s be clear about this: what happened during the vote for Police and Crime Commissioners last year, where the turnout was estimated at an average of about 14.5%, could not be allowed to happen at a general election because the ballot – and the mandate won by whichever party – would lose all credibility.
On BBC Radio 4’s PM, comedian Ken Dodd was asked what he thought of Brand’s stance, replying: “It’s stupid. To be able to vote is a great privilege.” The problem with Dodd’s assertion is that it takes no account of why voting is such a privilege. Surely it is because there is something worth voting for? Wouldn’t voting for someone largely on the basis that voting is a privilege play into the hands of politicians like Nick Clegg, who knows that the voting system would crumble to dust if the majority shunned it? Go on, give it a try in 2015!