Who are you voting for?

Most people in answer to that question would probably name a party: “I always vote Conservative”, or they name the leader of a party: “I’m going to vote for Gordon Brown”. However, what we are really voting for is someone who is representing our constituency. Technically, unless you live in Gordon Brown’s / David Cameron’s / Nick Clegg’s constituency it is impossible to vote for these people.

And so I’m wondering whether we should spend more time considering who would be best at representing us (as constituents) rather than which party we would most like to see in Government. This, I suggest, might be a way out of the disillusionment that we currently feel about politics. Everything seems to take place in those closed corridors of power in Westminster. It is easy to feel forgotten when you live in the rural provinces of Britain.

Indeed, sometimes constituents do get stirred up into voting for a person rather than a party, as has been the case with the election of Independent MPs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough. The first past the post system admittedly isn’t the fairest (since a person can be elected by only a small minority of the population) but at least with the constituency system we do have someone that is supposed to represent us – a specific and designated population. This means we are able to hold our MPs to account – it would have been interesting to see how many MPs that were subject to scandal over their expenses who are now standing down would have been returned (think of Neil Hamilton in Tatton).

So I’m urging those of you who are disillusioned with Party politics not to throw away your vote and lose your voice but rather to find out who would best represent you and your constituency. Here are some questions worth asking about your candidates:

  • Do they have good local knowledge? – too many Parties are just parachuting in career seeking candidates who have no local knowledge of their area and no real interest in the community they represent.
  • Are they passionate and reasoned in their values and principles? – All Parties have different ideas as to what makes a fair and just society but it is important that your MP really believes in making a difference to the lives of the people they represent.
  • Do they have experience outside politics? – Experience will always be limited to a set of specific arenas or cultures (no-one can have knowledge of every sphere of society)  but with experience and reflection upon this experience comes wisdom.
  • Are they honest and hard-working? – the expenses scandal has shown many MPs were neither of these. Look for a candidate with a virtuous character – I’d rather have someone who was straight-talking and admitted to making mistakes and learning from them rather than someone who falls back on sound-bites and stubbornly refuse to say that they were wrong.

If we all voted this way, rather than along Party lines, what would our House of Commons look like? Arguably, it would be a much better, more collegiate, more productive place. Unstable Government? I doubt it. Alex Salmond recently made a very good argument on the benefits of a hung parliament as has been seen in Scotland. People have to make compromises, he said, and this means that there is more reasoned and rational discussion which ultimately leads to better governance.

My final remark is to say that we all need to get out and actually find out about our candidates. We need to vote from an informed position as to who would be represent us and our values, not from one of ignorance and laziness. This is our duty as the electorate.


Political tendencies

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to keep up with the party conferences. I’m not a member of any political party although have been a member of the Liberal Democrats in the past. To be honest, I left after Nick Clegg became leader. I have met Nick in person and he seemed like a genuinely good guy. But he certainly hasn’t convinced me on the national stage. He seems slightly too egotistical and there is far too much rhetoric coming out of his mouth. In contrast, Vince Cable appears knowledgable, eloquent, honest and has a genuine desire to provide solutions rather than simply scoring political points.

I feel sorry for the Labour party as they seem to be fighting an inevitable battle against historical precedent. Britain seems to get fed up with Governments relatively quickly and despite the Conservatives eighteen years in power in the 80s and 90s, they were certainly going to be ousted sooner or later by a disillusioned electorate. It goes without saying that Governments of whatever colour are never going to solve all the problems they are faced with so their reign will always come to an end. I don’t dislike Gordon Brown. Again, I think he’s in politics for the right reasons and I find his seeming discomfort in the media spotlight quite an endearing quality. Although I’ve never voted Labour, I thought about all the good changes that have happened since they came to office (minimum wage, civil partnerships, investment in schools and hospitals) and I believe they genuinely want to create a more equal and fair society (okay, so in some respects they’ve failed miserably but I think this is more to do with the financial clout of big businesses and their lobbyists). I remember what life was like under eighteen years of Conservative government and I feel sick at the thought of returning to it.

Which brings me on to the Conservative party conference. There are characters in the Conservative party that I really like; David Davis and Ken Clarke for instance. But David Cameron really worries me. I’m currently writing a book on critical thinking and yesterday was writing a section on assessing the credibility of a source. One of the criteria was background experience and knowledge. I’m thinking in relation to Cameron’s experience and knowledge of what it is like to be the average citizen of this country, to have had to take out student loans, work for a low wage, and provide for a family on it. When his world view is so fundamentally different to that of the ‘average’ person, how can he possibly make decisions that will benefit them rather than big businesses and their rich directors. What really incensed me this week was that the Conservatives are aiming to cut the wages of public sector workers in response to the immense damage caused by the greed of investment bankers which was bailed out by the taxpayer and these public sector workers. This, more than anything else, seems totally unfair and unjustifiable. It might be possible to argue that  Governments only really have control over their own employees, but for the Conservatives to capitulate to multi-national corporations and banks and punish the public sector instead is very troubling indeed.

There’s part of me that thinks no-one could possibly vote for the Conservatives next year and I wonder who is making up all these polls saying they’ve got a double points lead. But then I remember that at least two of my housemates say they’d vote Conservative and a good friend of mine has recently joined the Party so perhaps it’s me that’s out of sync with the general mood.