Tomorrow, we go to the polls to elect our Members of the European Parliament (and for those out in the sticks, County Councils, too).
Politicians and indeed politics have certainly been getting something of a drubbing lately but between all the talk of toilet seats, duck islands, moats and soft-porn cable downloads, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are lucky to be able to vote at all.
In our country, over a period approaching a thousand years, there was a steady (very steady) rise to democracy. And – although our system may not be perfect – that we are able to choose who governs us and how they do it is a cherished right.
For this reason, I become very upset at people who don’t vote. It always feels to me a betrayal of the struggle by those that went before us: the Chartists meeting at the foot of Newhall Hill in Birmingham; the Suffragettes (and their many male allies) in their varied protests; the introduction of secret ballots; and not least the military and civilian sacrifices necessary in the last century to preserve our freedom and independence. The least we can do is vote to participate in the system. Voting is compulsory in Australia and Belgium and the UK would be a better place for it, too.
All this misty-eyed admiration does not absolve politicians from their wrongdoings, though, which is why I have always had a healthy disrespect for them. I never lose sight of the fact that they are there to serve us, not the other way around. I often feel the need to point this out when some puffed up little prick (sorry but they really can be) is preening himself as though he were God when in fact he is a “Cabinet Lead Member for Paper Clips” in the Metropolitan Borough of Nowhere-that-matters-very-much. And it’ll have “Beacon Status” you can be sure.
I am also a believer in single-member constituencies and first-past-the-post voting because I believe it concentrates responsibility and service in one individual. Yes, I know that the make-up of councils and indeed Parliament does not in such circumstances reflect the proportion of votes cast. I also know that the smaller parties would like PR…….basically because it makes them more powerful.
For the European elections we have these vast constituencies covering whole regions and where no-one feels that their MEP is in any way “theirs”.
But I believe that the party system is not the root of our democracy, whatever the parties like to think. Our elected members are. We should look to our individual representative, not think in terms of voting for his or her party or indeed his or her leader. This is not a Presidential country and should not be. I feel that I elect an individual to represent me, not to toe the party line. To this end, I believe that ballot papers should only list candidates’ names, not their parties. Furthermore, in exchange for forcing people to vote, I also want an additional box on the bottom of the ballot paper marked “None of the Above”.
If they did that this week, I suspect that the None of the Above Party might well have a working majority.