Monday, 26 April 2010

The unsettling seas of the floating voter

I've got my ballot paper.  It's a postal vote, because we won't be here on 6th May, for obvious reasons.  So I've got it.  Ready for my cross... 

And I'd actually, if the truth be told, rather not have to use it.  In fact, I'm rather hoping it might get lost in the move. Last election I was disenfranchised (long story involving another house move and general incompetence) and I was actually entirely happy about it.  If nothing else, it was a great way of getting canvassers off the doorstep.

But this is awful. And bad. And irresponsible.  And just plainly, simply, wrong.  And I know it.  Women didn't chain themselves to lampposts or fling themselves in front of horses so that I could sit here with a ballot paper wishing it away.

But it's hard isn't it?  I can't help but notice that the blog posts I've read urging me to vote, and impressing on me the importance of exercising my democratic right have mostly been from those who are out of the country; or are here, but aren't from here, so can't vote.   British-born-and-based bloggers (of the non-overtly political variety clearly - and I can't say I read many of those) have been remarkably silent on the event that is taking up all the news space and I can't help but wonder if that's because it's not just me that is rather wishing that none of this was happening.  Which is interesting given that this is allegedly the "mumsnet election".

Is this apathy?  I had a post in my head when the election was called that was going to be entitled "Apathetic and ashamed".  But the thing is I don't think I am apathetic. I'm not indifferent to the result of the election.  I know how important this is.  And that's why it scares me.

Because there isn't a party that will do what I want it to do.  There isn't a party that can do what I want it to do.  Because I want everything to be fair, and equal, and innocently sweetness and light and skip through the daisies...

Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that this is the "mumsnet election" and that the only issue that matters is the work/stay at home question.  Now clearly, I think mothers should have the right to work.  I think it's important that women should have time off to have babies and should then be able to go back to work and have the support of their employers in doing so.  I think that employers should have to make allowances for the impossible juggling act that is being a working mum.  This is, to me, so obvious as almost to not need saying.  So clearly I'm going to vote for a party that makes this possible.

But then I also have friends who run small businesses.  I have friends who run charities.  Who employ working mothers and women on maternity leave.  And I therefore understand that the issue isn't utterly clear cut.  To be honest, I'm not sure I'd have been very happy employing me over the last three years - although clearly I'm glad they had to...

So how do you square that circle?  You can't.  Because you can't make everything fair for everyone.  Because, as my granny, and my mum, and doubtless me just as soon as my girls are old enough to complain about it, would say: life isn't fair.  And wishing won't make it so; and political parties, however well intentioned (and that assumes that you think they are) certainly can't.

Or what about education?  The three main parties have lots of interesting options on education.  But what none of them is saying is "We're going to make all the schools excellent.  We're not going to give you a choice, because you won't need it. Your local school will be excellent, with excellent facilities and spaces for all the local children, whether born here or recently arrived."   Because they can't.  There isn't the money.

And those are just two of the impossible things I want the party who wins the election to do.  And if I accept that the party who can do those things doesn't exist, who then do I vote for?  Because I have to vote, and not just because it is my civic, and female, duty.  If I, educated (once upon a time) and intelligent (ditto), don't vote, then I'm giving more weight to the vote of someone who might not be either of those things.  And who might vote for someone I really don't like.

Clearly what I should do is to download all the manifestos, read them and make an excel spreadsheet (or something) of what they're all going to do, and then weigh up my decision carefully, probably using a ratings system to rank the importance of each issue.  With graphs.   But I'm not going to.  I've got a house move to organise and three children to entertain throughout it. It's not going to happen. Let's be honest, I haven't even watched either of the debates yet (they're taped...what's the betting we won't actually get round to watching them until after the election?!).   Even if I could create a lovely spreadsheet, how do I decide whether education is more important to me than health, or the environment more important than flexible working rights? 

Anyway, isn't it all about the economy, stupid?   But when it comes to the economy, I am stupid.  And surely in order to analyse who I think is going to be best for the economy, I'd need to know what I think is going to be best for the economy.  And if I could do that, I'd be standing for election myself, and then the decision on who to vote for would be easy.
So my decision will inevitably end up being framed by my perceptions of the parties and what they stand for (almost certainly out of date), the paper that I pretend to read at the weekend (woolly liberal, and anyway, I'm not sure how much help the magazine and the family section are going to be on this one), and a quick skim through the leaflets that drop through my door (mostly local, and therefore pretty irrelevant for someone who is going to be living 400 miles away by the time the election comes round).

And on that basis I stand a pretty good chance of voting for a party who doesn't actually stand for anything I care about.  And is that not worse than not voting at all?

Addendum (in order to give credit where it's due) .... the bloggers in question were Heather at Notes from Lapland, Iota Manhattan, and Heather at Eggs, Cream and Honey. Fascinating posts, and awesome bloggers all.


  1. An excellent post! I think you've hit the nail on the head for many, i know I'm one of those that lives abroad, but I totally get where you are coming form here. I want the same things, for life to be fair and logical and be good to everyone, but we all know that's not going to happen. Like you say, it can't be fair for everyone because everyone has different priorities and wants in life.

    Is it worse to vote for someone that you don't believe in, or really want in power, than not to vote at all? Crikey, I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that would violently disagree with me, but you know, i think it might be. when you put it like that, voting for something you don't really want, because what you want isn't available,could well be worse than just not voting at all.

  2. You can always go to vote and then deliberately spoil your paper, saying I choose to vote for none of the above as none of them represents what I wish to vote for. Then you have voted, you have excercised your democratic right. A deliberate choosing of not to vote is not the same as not voting.

  3. I think that voting is more important this time because it really is that close a race - whereas voting is typically along the lines of "oh yes, you should vote else you can't complain" now it's along the lines of "blimey, every vote really does count." I suppose as well people want a say in the mess that is going to become a hung parliament. I think the election is huge, but confess you rang a bell with me with regards to the liberal paper and the family section. I like my manifesto to be in toddler-manageable chunks, not the solid thwap it'll have on the doormat.

    Also, I think I just felt a shudder of horror at the idea of a mumsnet election.

    -Everyday Stranger

  4. Mrs Thatcher (not that one)27 April 2010 at 18:35

    Can't abide mumsnet. I think the whole mumsnet election thing is patronising at best. That aside I think you'll find does your clever spreadsheet thing. I'd be interested to hear which way it points you...

  5. Mrs Thatcher (not that one)27 April 2010 at 18:49

    Whoops. Posted too soon. I firmly believe you should vote (as does a mutual friend of ours who will be MOST cross if you don't ;-) ). Spoiling the ballot is all very noble but in my view its a cop out. You're still leaving the decision to everyone else and you don't have a leg to stand on if you don't like the outcome.

    You'll be surprised to know that I've not decided which way to go yet. gave me a lot to think about.

    And by the way. Mumsnet. Eurgh.

  6. I know exactly how you feel. I'm using the fact that I'm in the US as an excuse not to vote this time around (OK I could, but I've left it far too late and don't really know how). I've gone from ardent Labour voter to 'don't really want Gordon Brown to continue but don't really want to vote for anyone else'. Which is pathetic, I know. I'm just hoping it'll all be much clearer next time around, when I'm back in the UK.....

  7. Briefly because I have about a million loads of washing to sort and a house to pre-pack before the actual packers arrive at 8.30 am... but interesting... will let you know how I get on with that website...

  8. very interesting. And then there's the complication of whether to vote on the national or local level - do you vote for the party you want(if/when you decide) or the individual who you think will be best for you locally?

    Good luck with the packers!

  9. You're so right. It's so hard, politically, in the UK because none of the parties can do what they're promising and none of them are promising what I want.

    I'll vote, but I do wish it would just go away.


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