Voting on the 5th May – What Difference Will It Make?

By Hamid Chaudry- Local elections are looming once more, on this occasion being quite unique as people pass judgement on the first coalition government since WWII. Also taking place is a referendum on the voting process, with AV being touted as an alternative to the current electoral process. This, the first of two articles, takes a broad look at some of the issues surrounding voting and elections in the UK.

Feel- good’ Factor

Well, in the run up to voting day itself, the UK has enjoyed a pleasant Easter break, an extended Bank Holiday weekend, and St Georges Day celebrations, sandwiched by another Royal Wedding  (we all remember Charles & Di), and the opportunity for some indulgence in street parties amidst a flutter of Union Jacks…or perhaps another flag for those of differing heritage.  All this excitement, with the economy and tourism boost of the Olympics still to come to the UK in 2012…anyone would think we had never had it so good


Celebrity Endorsements

Local campaigns are well under way, as the race for votes heats up. The impressive Sadiq Khan visited Blackburn in support of his local Labour colleague Iftikhar Hussain, with a clear message not to vote for Iftikhar in his capacity as a friend, or cousin, or if he was from the same caste, or from the same town in Pakistan. But rather support him if you felt he would make a change. I don’t doubt Mr Khan’s sincerity, but it’s quite telling that both main political parties now actively pursue the endorsement of celebrities to reach the electorate….as opposed to a manifesto or policies. A study by the University of Bath revealed that celebrity endorsements were effective….especially in times when the electorate is ‘less well informed’ about politics generally.

So people are more inclined to be influenced by Eddie Izzards or Jonathan Ross’ politics rather than Ed Milliband’s; the opposition hope voters will trust Darren Gough or David Gower more than David Cameron in rejecting AV..

Will the UK see the day when an X-Factor winner will poll more than the PM himself – as American Idol did in 2006, which received 63m votes against Ronald Reagan’s 53m votes when voted President of US!


AV or not AV…

Strange then, given the gap between the political elite and the electorate, voters are now being asked to decide whether the voting system is due an overhaul. This is an electorate where around 30% turned out to vote on the crucial issue of the future of the EU; and the average turn-out at General Elections has fallen from over 80% in the 1950’s to around 60% in the last decade. Surely, the disillusionment of the electorate is all too obvious without the need for the novelty of an Alternative Voting fiasco to detract from the real issues at hand. Simple maths shows that, in 2010, 35% of the electorate voted against the current electoral process or political parties.

So why not take AV to its logical conclusion and add an extra box onto the ballot paper, where voters can chose to reject the electoral process / candidates altogether, as a show of loss of confidence in a system that is now detached from the ordinary man’s life and problems?


Has it ever been so Bad?

In reality, there is a need for politicians to make us feel good only because things are so bad.

Depending on who you ask, the UK National Debt now stands at anywhere between £1trillion and £4trillion…so that’s anywhere between £40k and £160k of debt per household!  The fact that estimates of this magnitude vary so widely demonstrate the mess the UK economy is.

Student fees are set to rise to £9000 per annum in 2012 for a decent degree course…which will put a university education out of reach for many, or saddle them with a pseudo- mortgage even before they start work, while graduate job prospects decline.

As 44 different tax changes come into effect, households will be worse off this year, and the fear that the next generation will be worse off than their parents is all too real. Together with a society in which permanent debt is now the third certainty in life, (joining death and taxes), and the picture is all too gloomy.


Is it a surprise that the electorate are disillusioned with the political elite, with the banks, who got us into the mess, are now paying out billions in bonuses to their staff, while people are resigned to generations of austerity and debt?

Does it really matter who we vote for in the local elections, or even in the next General Election? The Labour Party blame the LibCon, and the Conservatives blame the previous Labour government…a convenient merry-go-round that avoids addressing the crux of the problem…the capitalist system itself?

The second article will look at some wider global issues in relation to elections and political systems – the revolutions taking place in the Middle East, the wave of strong protests underway in Europe and America, the forms of democracy that are posed as an alternative, as well as an Islamic perspective on voting and a view on the real nature of change that is required.

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