I was all set to write an angry account of why I recently decided not to vote any more. Or rather why I won't be voting until there is a magical combination of a candidate/party that represents my views and a system that allows them the power to implement their policies. If that ever happens I'll be voting again.
Actually I'll probably vote again if just the first part becomes true. Better that someone who I believe in gets to try and change things. Even if they fail.
Of course if things severely change and the options become the BNP verses the Tories then I'll be voting Conservative and breaking my long standing belief that tactical voting is anti democratic and just maintains the status quo. But if we get to that stage I may have already left the country.
The other thing that would bring me back to voting is a none of the above box. A box that does exist on the ballot papers of some democracies where they offer the option for a vote of no confidence in the system. Look at where we are nationally and globally, can you really claim to have confidence in the system? Maybe you can. That's fine too. I'm sure you have good and intelligent reasons and all that. But can't we put it to a democratic vote and see what most people think?
So where has the angry rant gone?
Well I had a number of Facebook exchanges about it and I've currently used up all my energy for angry ranting. But it isn't just that. Voting is something I was brought up to value. I have followed politics closely since I was a child. In the 1997 election I wasn't old enough to vote but I was old enough to care. I stayed up all night with my dad watching the results, cheering as Portillo lost his seat, drinking whiskey and feeling like a bright new day was coming. Surely things could only get better? The next day I went into my Cardiff Comprehensive school (still drunk) and the teachers were jubilant, there was such a feeling of hope and possibility.
I think it only took a week or so for that to dissipate as Old Labour voters began to understand fully what the New Labour Project was. Not that I was or am Old Labour. When I was 15 I was in the political party Militant Labour. I left when they'd just changed their name to the Socialist Party, but that wasn't why I left. I left because listening to the older members of the party explain things to me I'd come to realise that they weren't anti-capitalist as such. They agreed with a financial system but they seemed to want to replace the market with the state as the thing that controls it.
I am not saying that socialists are Stalinists. Or even that the views of these middle aged working class Cardiffians in the mid 90's represents the pinnacle of socialist theory. Some of my best friends are socialists! In fact my parents are socialists. I was brought up in this tradition. It's sort of my religion. Which makes turning my back on it a bit like turning your back on a religion. Apart from my parents aren't fundamentalist, they accept the complexities and ambiguities of life, and they aren't dogmatic socialists, they aren't even the same kind of socialists. But the people in Militant Labour were dogmatic. And they really believed in the power of the state.
Socialists think that a state can be fair and can be run for the greater good. I'd like that to be the case. But I think that power corrupts and that systems themselves when they are too big and unwieldy will trap people into doing things that are against the greater good. I don't think human nature lends itself to wielding power well, especially when it's through the filter of an abstract and distant system. After all deep down we are just apes who have lost most of their hair.
Systems seek to keep themselves going. This's what happened in Soviet Russia in many ways, Communism never got tried because it mutated into something else before it had a chance to be tested. I fear that Communism can never be tried on a mass scale because it will get distorted on the way up. I'm an anarchist. I think our only hope is to get rid of large scale systems, to try our best to remove the things that see us wrong, hierarchical systems for example, redistribution of wealth and resources for example, have smaller communities who are answerable directly to each other for example, make do with less stuff but with more freedom. I'm against violence as a way of achieving change however; apart from it being a terrible thing in itself, I don't think it's a means to the ends we need. Violence creates violence. Violent revolutions create violent regimes.
I'm pragmatic. I don't think we can pull the system down tomorrow. I'd rather have, for example, Old Labour in power than New Labour despite not standing for either. I do think it's important to push for small changes. Ultimately I'd remove the state but in our current situation, immersed in the present system, I will defend the wellfare state against the ideological attacks it is receiving. Which isn't to say that I don't accept that there are reforms that would be in everyone's best interest.
A member of my extended family said to me the other day, as I pontificated about my views late at night, that I would be Stalin if I ended up in his position. (This person is a rich economist by the way, who is definitely not an anarchist or a communist!). He's right. Most people would be, and I definitely would be, I have plenty of insecurity, frustration, rage and self righteousness boiling in my soul. That's why I think our only hope is to find a situation where there aren't people at the top making decisions. The Occupy Movement and things like that give me more hope than any election promise (or lie as I prefer to call them) ever has. UK Uncut is an example of how you can make your voice heard regardless of whether you vote.
These are the sort of responses you get when you say you won't be voting:
If you don't like any of the options why don't you stand yourself?
If you don't vote then you can't complain.
People died and fought for the vote. How dare you cast such a privilege aside?
You have to vote or X will get in and his policies are much much worse that Ys!
Voting is your responsibility, don't be so irresponsible!
If you really believe that then you should campaign for a none of the above box.
I disagree with most of them, apart from the ones that suggest I should do more, to those I say: Sorry, I'm a flawed and selfish person, who does some political actions but not enough, and is most of the time just trying to be happy. The 15 year old version of me would have hated this 30 year old version. But then he was pretty self-righteous, even worse than me! I find it hard to attack anyone for not doing enough. The world is pretty overpowering in its size and scale and we are all just tiny insignificant things in relation to the world. In relation to the universe our world itself is minuscule. Rationalisation? Probably.
As for standing for political office I don't have the capital to do so, nor do I have the time. Nor would it make sense for someone who disagrees with power structures to stand for office! I was going to stand on an honesty platform once. Say things like: "Vote for me, if I win I will have no power to affect any real change." Or "I don't really have any answers" Or "I don't know if this will work but let's try it anyway." But that would have just been a publicity stunt/ art project and probably a waste of everyone's time.
What I really don't accept are the arguments that you can't complain/your opinion is invalid if you don't vote. That's nonsense. I've always respected non-voters opinions, or at least considered them as as valid as mine. I would hope people will give me the same respect now I've jumped ship. People make choices and people have lives, dividing us all up by these strange lines of validity is a way of covering up reality, of marginalising people from the debate, often the people most effected by politics.
At the moment I see no real difference between the three main parties. The greens in Brighton either lack the power or deep down the intention, to challenge the dominant "we must cut everyone to shit" policy. (Here are two links to show you what I'm talking about: Link 1 / Link 2) If there is no real difference between your options why should you carry on voting? Voting is only relevant if you have alternatives to vote for! You can disagree with my take on it, that's fine, you can argue/educate me in the ways that the parties are different, but you cannot tell me that I can't moan or object to what I see. Minimising and dismissing dissent is something that happens in dictatorships and if you are advocating democracy by using the tactics of dictatorships you really need to take a good look at yourself.
I'm afraid I just don't believe in voting enough anymore. I don't think it will change anything significantly. I don't think my vote has ever really counted. And if it has then it has led to unintended consequences such as a coalition government that is attacking this country and its people with its policies. That is on my hands because I voted for the Lib Dems because they promised proportional representation and had other policies I approved of. Sure, I generally don't agree with them but I thought I was being pragmatic, going for the least worst option. But I was actually just being naive.
It makes me sad that I feel this way. And I understand why others would choose to vote. I don't judge anyone for their choices. We're all just trying to make sense of things. To do what we feel is best. Or not. Either way everyone is getting through life in whatever way they can. Vote Boris. Vote Ken. Believe that your vote matters. Maybe you're right. Maybe things will get better. Maybe our electoral system is fit for purpose. Maybe one party is mildly better than another. Maybe one party is massively better than another. Maybe the underdog will win the race. Maybe an independent will be able to change things. Who can say. Not me.
But my gut tells me it's all pointless. And I don't want to engage with it anymore. Casting my vote makes me feel dirty. I don't like touching this thing that doesn't seem about choice or ideology. It just maintains the power structure. It just keeps the rich rich. It just keeps on.
I'll carry on my (pathetically rare) activism. Maybe I'll get big enough balls someday to fight consistently for my principals rather than letting making art and trying to enjoy life get in the way. Or maybe the situation will become so dire that I will no longer have a choice. Fight for change or live in tyranny and all that. I'm not saying I'm a good person. I should do more.
But whatever I should do, one thing I won't do, is vote.