Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The trouble with general elections

Unless you are dead from the neck up, it can't have escaped your notice that we're counting down to a general election. Media coverage is already ramping up, with every pale-faced, sweaty-palmed political manoeuvre scrutinised to the nth degree. Goodness only knows what it will be like by the time the polls open on 7th May.

In the past I've advocated using sites like voteforpolicies.org.uk to help you decide how to cast your vote; basically, this site asks you to choose which election pledges most closely match your views in a number of key policy areas (economy, environment, education, plus some that don't begin with 'e'). At the end of the survey, you're given a breakdown of how your choices match each party, so you might be 22% Conservative, 44% Green, 11% Labour, and so on. Sounds great, doesn't it? I've taken the survey in previous election years and been unsurprised by the results, which probably indicates there's some truth in it. But... There's always a but, isn't there?

You see, I've taken the survey this year and guess what? I'm a little bit of most things (though not BNP at all, fortunately). And I'm not alone; when I checked earlier today, this is how more than half a million responses averaged out:

Policy fit [source]

When I was a kid, back in the Seventies and early Eighties, politics was easy. Yes, the Liberals were floating about but elections were essentially two horse races. You were red or blue. Left or right. Callaghan/Foot/Kinnock or Thatcher. It was straightforward. These days, when I (and everyone else, it seems) is 22% this, 22% that and 22% the other, well, deciding where you put your X is a lot less straightforward. I fully accept how unlikely it is that any single party would completely align with my personal ideology, but none even gets particularly close - there's no majority party in my Vote For Policies result, and I doubt there is in yours either. Is it any wonder, then, when choosing has become so hard, and the electoral canvas is now so broad, that voter turnout falls and falls and falls: the electorate is paralysed with choice. Take a look at this:

Declining turnout [source]

I predict a mild upturn in turnout this time around, not least because half of everyone you meet these days considers themselves an activist. As if sharing a jpeg of some truism (you know, "Bad things are bad", that kind of thing) on Facebook makes you an activist, rather than just, say, a timeline-pollutant. But anyway. A small upturn, probably. But if you're wondering why the turnout at the Scottish referendum was so high (84.59% [source]) compared to UK general election turnouts, as well as being such an emotive issue I would venture it's partly because it was a straight yes/no choice. A two horse race, again.

You can expect more political posts from me over the next few months, I'm afraid, but don't despair, they'll still be heavily outnumbered by posts about music, film, television, books, the usual. I may even get around to writing my own personal manifesto, so you can all decide that you are 22% like me.

All that remains is to link, as I always do when I write about national votes, to the film Election. It's brilliantly funny and comfortably bears repeated viewing... unlike most of our politicians. It gets my vote, et cetera.

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