We shouldn’t be forced to vote

July 25, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Posted in British Politics, Election Reform | 2 Comments
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If only he hadn’t mentioned the C word.

There’s much in Kevin Penton’s Compass article which is totally agreeable. For a start, he’s right that there are measures Parliament can enact to try and increase the public’s participation in democracy, and he’s right to dismiss weekend voting as a stupid solution which would infringe upon our free time and send us to the ballot box in a foul mood. Of the alternatives he discusses, I’m happy to support fixed-term parliaments, making Election Day a public holiday, ditching first past the post and introducing individual voter registration. In fact, had he only mentioned these measures, he might have sent me skipping through a meadow with delight (well, figuratively speaking – I’m lacking access to a meadow at the moment).

But, as the song goes, then he went and spoiled it all by saying somethin’ stupid like… compulsory voting. Sure, if you want to guarantee high turnout in an election, the easiest way is to make it illegal not to vote, but let’s not pretend that it’s anything other than democracy by force. The main problem I have with advocates of compulsory voting is this: within their arguments is an implication that the problem lies with the voters, and therefore all we need do is introduce a law to shock them from their stupors and do their democratic duty. But this argument completely ignores the possibility that it’s our politicians who are the problem. For nearly over a decade the major parties have squabbled over the same centre ground, spoken to the country in the same stilted managerial speak and bickered over issues which don’t relate to ordinary people. Over the same period of time, we’ve seen turnout plummet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

As contemptuous as I am of first past the post, the current system at least shows that for large swathes of people, politics is broken. Compulsory voting would achieve little more than papering-over the cracks, masking the discontent felt among the electorate and allowing the political status quo to remain unchallenged and unchanged. As libertarian blogger Ian_QT notes:

Compulsory voting provides a smoke-screen for the real reasons for antipathy towards the electoral process, reasons I have gone over many times before – specifically, that the political class is rightfully seen by so many as self-serving, corrupt and contemptuous of the people who elected them.

When there are other, more liberal reforms available to us, couldn’t we try those first, rather than trying to bring people to the ballot box by using a lasso?



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  1. Ask most people I know how they view politics and I am told that “politics are a waste of time, why should I bother”, I don’t agree of course, but I understand their point of view.

    Politics seems to be more about preaching than listening. We have politicians who are so removed from what really matters, telling us what we should do, how we should think and what is important to us. Such arrogance! In addition, everyone seems to be fighting over the same policies, whilst attempting to outdo each other or take the higher moral ground. yet they still argue over issues that affect a minority, rather than the majority.

    Ironically, our politicians spend more time listening to the minority, than they do trying to understand the majority. Whilst the majority are trying to work out why these politicians don’t talk like anyone they know, speak line anyone they know or act like anyone they know.

    Forcing the public to vote is crazy and this type of suggestion is symptomatic of what is wrong with politics today. The public needs to feel that their interests are taken into account, that they are being listened to, that their voice counts. In other words, politicians must engage with the public throughout their tenure, not once every 5 years. Furthermore, our MP’s must start to undertstand that the newspapers do do represent us all and headlines should not determine policy.

    They have the internet at their disposal and they should use it. Fire all the policy advisors, consultants, school chums and businessmen waiting for a honour and engage with the public. In other words, what every businessman knows, unless he add real value, cut out the middleman and go direct.

  2. I love looking through an article that will make men and women think.
    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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