diamond geezer

 Friday, April 09, 2010

Vote2010: Why bother?
The Electoral Reform Society claim that 25 million voters in 382 safe seats are wasting their time because their constituency will never ever change hands. Live in Beaconsfield, Birkenhead or Belfast and you already know who's going to be your MP, and the next four weeks of campaigning are but a pointless charade. As I discovered when I lived in rural East Anglia, the only way to change your MP in these circumstances is to move house.

» Blimey, I now live in a genuine marginal constituency. It's only marginal because of George Galloway, but Bethnal Green and Bow may be Labour's only gain of the entire election if votes cast follow potential form.
» Read more about Britain's "Safe Parliament", or download the full spreadsheet here.

But it's actually far worse than that. In the 2005 General Election Tony Blair secured a majority of just 66 seats, and yours probably wasn't one of those which made the difference. Had only 33 seats fallen the other way, to the Conservatives rather than Labour, we'd have been in hung parliament territory five years ago. I've added up the majorities in the 33 tightest Lab/Con marginals and I've worked out that as few as 13500 electors made the difference. Their last minute decisions to vote Blair rather than Howard changed the election, and they form only 0.05% of those who turned out and voted.

» Take Crawley, for example. With a Labour majority of just 37, it would have taken only 19 voters swinging rightwards to turn the seat blue. The flaw in this logic, of course, is that nobody could have predicted in advance who those 19 voters might be. But the other 41954 needn't have bothered.
» As for Bethnal Green and Bow, with a relatively tiny majority of 823, it was George's ability to get a few hundred extra supporters into the polling booths which earned him a five-year East End platform. Sometimes it doesn't take much.

But it's actually far worse than that. Not everybody bothers to vote, and indeed the proportion of the electorate who bother to exercise their franchise has been tumbling steadily. There's not a single UK constituency where the MP commands the support of at least 50% of the electorate. Even Tony Blair's last mini-landslide earned the trust of less than a quarter of UK over 18s.

» Bethnal Green and Bow turns out to be a true rotten borough, one of only six in the UK where less than 20% of the electorate voted for their MP. Least representative of all was neighbouring Poplar and Canning Town, at 18.4%, so it seems we Tower Hamlets folk are plain apathetic about our politics.

But it's actually rather better than that. Politicians may moan and whinge about proportional representation and single transferable votes, but our first past the post system tends to deliver satisfaction to most. Safe seats give the majority the MP they want, even if those MPs don't then go ahead and form a government. Tot up the votes cast for all the sitting MPs in the House and it turns out that 50% of the UK's voters voted for them. I may never have managed to vote for my MP, yet, but half of you do every time.

And it's actually rather more important than that. Never assume that your vote will be wasted, because your vote might always cancel out the X cast by some misguided extremist bigot. So no, your vote won't be wasted at all. It'll only look like that afterwards.

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