My national and local voting experience, and who I voted for
So, today is the big day in politics - when the nation gets the opportunity to choose who which political party will govern the land for the next four or five years. Or do they?!
I mean, our current national voting system is badly flawed - when we vote, we have to pick a candidate who we want to get a seat in the House of Commons representing our constituency. Then the party with the most seats, assuming they have an overall majority, gets to run the country. If there isn't a majority, which is looking like the most likely outcome of today's general election, the incumbent Prime Minister continues to rule while the voted MPs decide between them what to do next. Likely options will be that the lower seated of the three main parties, likely to be the Liberal Democrats, form a coalition with one of the other major parties, in order to secure an overall majority and let parliament re-open as quickly as possible - but of course, we don't yet have any real idea about which of the other parties - Labour and Conservative - will get the most seats, and arguably represent the will of the voting population, and give the best indicator for the leader of the LDs which party to side with (Nick Clegg has said that in the 'hung parliament' situation he would like to side with the most popular party). If I were him, I'd be looking to go with Labour in any case, as they have agreed to the notion of electoral reform, whereas the Conservatives have not (knowing that they would likely be worse off with it). Electoral reform would clearly do the LDs a lot of favours in the future, as right now they have about 10% of the seats in parliament, despite getting almost double the share of the popular vote at the last election.
In any case, I am voting for a person, not necessarily a party. Yes, if my vote affects who wins my constituency's seat, that affects who might get control in parliament, but it does not directly relate, and it's not at all fair. Some constituencies have 20,000 eligible voters, some closer to 100,000. The make up of the seats will never represent the party choices of the voters, but then the party choices of the voters are fantasy in the first place as again, we vote for candidates who happen to be members of a party, not the parties themselves.
The general election was announced about a month ago, and around that time I received my polling card for the local elections which are also happening in the borough of London where I live (Tower Hamlets), and then I got my general election polling card about a fortnight later. Over the period I have received leaflets from all the candidates running for the Poplar and Limehouse seat that I can vote for, including the incumbent Jim Fitzpatrick from Labour, George Galloway from the Respect party, and Tim Archer representing the Conservatives. I'm not going to comment on the quality of their websites...
However, only the Conservatives delivered literature regarding their local election candidates (as a voter I get to choose up to 3 of them), so I went to the polling station today with no real idea of who to vote for in this local council election. I tried looking online but the Electoral Commissions website confirmed that there is no official website listing the candidates or information about them. This is a massive failing of the civil service's use of technology, and of course a massive failing of the other candidates and their parties.
I should also point out that no candidates for either of the elections called at my home at any point during the campaign period (and I have been home for over 80% of the time overall), and I apparently live in an important 'swing' constituency.
As you might have guessed from earlier in this post, I am a big supporter of electoral reform. I used this great free tool from Power 2010 to e-mail all of my general election candidates to ask about their policy on it. My MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, replied to the e-mail within 36 hours, saying that Labour are committed to a referendum on electoral reform. The English Democrats candidate for my area, Andrew Osborne, replied after about 4 days, saying they were also all for it, although his initial response wasn't specific to my question and it took a second e-mail to ask for confirmation before I actually got it. The Conservative and Liberal Democrats candidates never replied, and I'm not sure which other candidates, if any of the other 8 in my area, the tool sent mails to.
So, I went to the polling station this afternoon, which is virtually across the road from the building where I live, knowing who I was going to vote for in the general election. It had to be Jim - he had bothered to reply to my e-mail, his party supports electoral reform, and being that he is already the MP, he has a far better chance of staying in power than the English Democrat candidate. He's also been good about communication in the past, I've voted for both him and his party before and am generally happy with the state of the country (I appreciate it's not peachy for everyone but I'm generally fine by my own standards) under the control of his party.
I should state now that I have and will never vote Conservative, not just because of their past history in power in the 80s and 90s, but because I am simply not someone who ever wants a 'conservative' government at any level. I want things in the world to improve, not grow stale. I work for a living as a web developer, and I love new technology - I am not someone who believes in sticking to what they know and not pushing things forward. I want progression, not regression, and you only have to look at their manifesto this year to see that they want the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Someone needs to remind David Cameron, the Conservative party leader, that they can talk about 'change' all they like, but it completely contradicts their core policy of conservatism. Their change would clearly be a step backwards, not forwards, and I can't vote for anyone who aligns themself with that policy.
I would love there to have been a Liberal Democrat option in Poplar and Limehouse, as their agenda appeals to me most, but their candidate failed to communicate with me, and is unlikely to do well in this area, especially when we have George Galloway competing here now too. The worry is that if votes are split between him and Jim, then Tim the Tory could sneak in to power. The Lib Dems don't really stand a chance here, unfortunately, and I'd rather make my vote count for something.
As I approached the polling station, representatives from both the Respect and Labour parties gave me flyers telling me who to vote for in both election, somewhat rudely assuming I didn't have a brain and couldn't decide for myself. Unfortunately the Labour party flyer didn't explain what any of their candidates stood for, or even who they were. The Respect party also wanted me to vote 'Yes' in the referendum for our borough to have its own mayor - I had no knowledge that this referendum was happening, despite reading the leading local newspapers and opening all my post from the council. The Labour party wanted a 'No'.
So, I voted for Jim Fitzpatrick for the Poplar and Limehouse seat in parliament, and then split my three local election votes between the Labour, Lib Dem and Respect candidates (they each had three, as did the Tories), picking the ones that had postcodes that I knew were close to where I live, as they might have a better idea about the local needs of myself and others nearby, with that conveniently resulting in one from each party. I don't remember their names, and there's no easy way for me to look them up (until the results come in at least). For the borough referendum I voted 'Yes', as I'd rather have a voted mayor of the borough handling local issues, than a mayor of the whole 8+ million city who is less likely to represent me well, though there may well be other things about this to consider, which I didn't have the chance to do because I didn't know this issue was up for a vote.
I have no issues about people knowing my political stance or who/how I've voted, and those that are private about this kind of thing I find quite odd. If you believe in something, you don't need to hide it.
I'm going to a friend's election party later tonight, so I expect to be watching the results coming in through the early hours. It's certainly going to be an interesting year...