Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teaching us how to vote

For those who don't live in the UK, you may be unaware that we go to the polls on 6 May.

I'm very conscious of the fact that mine is the only vote our family gets. It's somewhat ironic that I need a permit to live in this country, but I get to vote in the national elections. On the other hand, my husband and sons are EU citizens and need no such permit to live here, but they can only vote in local and EU elections.

Be that as it may, it's been quite interesting to see the methods being used to try to help me decide how to cast my vote.

For the first time ever, there have been presidential type TV debates featuring the leaders of the three main parties. Since we're not voting in a leader but a party, this is fairly odd, because it panders to the personality brigade. I tend not to watch the debates themselves, but to read up on the summaries afterwards.

There are also several quizzes online, where I can identify my stance on a series of issues, and discover which party's policies most closely match my own.

Then the Christian Institute has provided listings of how each MP has voted on a series of moral issues, so that I can decide whether I'm happy that my views are being represented in Parliament (whether or not you agree with the CI's estimation of what constitutes morally right and wrong decisions, it still helps to provide a sense of where your MP stands on sensitive issues).

Yet in spite of all this, apparently only one in three first time voters will go to the polls. Apathy is a real issue, here. Fewer than two in three voters overall are likely to cast their vote. So, chances are that the party that gets in will in fact represent about 20% of the country's eligible voters. That's hardly a strong platform on which to lead a recession-ridden country into an uncertain future.


rlubensky said...

The problem is the "democratic deficit", whereby the leaders and institutions of governance have failed to measure up to the ideal expectations of them, leaving citizens cynical about the value of their participation. See the Power Inquiry report.

V Yonkers said...

I find those countries with a long history of democracy tend to take it for granted. I have always voted, even in local and school district elections.

However, I took my voting privileges much more seriously after a number of people invited me to accompany them to the Presidential Polls in Costa Rica. They had a relatively new history of democracy (since the 1950's) with examples of neighboring countries with even more recent lack of democracy (e.g. Panama during the Norega years). I realized, after seeing the pride and responsibility they took in their voting, how important the process was.

To this day, I say, "if you don't vote, don't complain; and the most important elections are the local ones because national policy comes from local leaders."