Thoughts of an undecided voter (and how to persuade me to your side)

With about a month left until the general election it seems right to have a little bit of thinking out loud about how to vote. At present, I’ve not firmly decided which way I will vote, but the hope is that by writing down the thinking process and opening it up to critique that there may come a sharpening of these slightly blunt thoughts. The interested reader may wish to refer to the Voter’s Manifesto I published last autumn for specific areas of policy:

Part 1 – Democratic reform, Debt, Deficit & Austerity
Part 2 – Environment, Employment, Inflation, Transport and Healthcare
Part 3 – Company Law, Corporate Tax, Personal Tax, Loan Sharks and Regionalisation
Part 4 – Welfare, Europe, International Aid, Housing and Utility Costs
Part 5 – Education, Immigration, Tobacco & Gambling, Culture and Defence

Here I will make a few comments on each of the parties standing in my constituency. Consequently, I will not be making extensive comment on any of the regionalist/nationalist or minor parties that I cannot vote for. I shall deal with them in the order of the size of their current parliamentary parties.

The Conservative Party

Nationally

I am not a natural conservative and have been highly critical of the evils perpetrated under the current leadership. They try to make much of their economic record with buzzphrases such as the “the mess we inherited” and “our long term economic plan”. What they fail to ever mention is that they inherited a recovering economy. Not only that, but they have been consistently dishonest in their appraisal of the causes, only attributing it to the previous Labour administration, failing to mention that the Conservatives supported Labour in the bail out of the banks, the single act that pushed up the deficit and increased the debt. Still further, as any reasonably educated and economically literate person could tell you, the causes of the banking crash was a lack of regulation and oversight, sparked by the deregulation of the markets in the late 80s. Successive governments, Tory and Labour, oversaw the growing problem, with ineffective regulation, though it was always the Tories who called for less and less regulation. In the last 5 years, the coalition’s economic record can be summed up by the fact that nearly a million people have had to use foodbanks between 2013 & 2014.

Their attacks on the disabled have been, and I do not use the word flippantly or in ignorance of its implication, immoral.

Locally

With this being a safe Labour seat, the Conservative candidate is something of a sacrificial lamb. The fact that she put herself forward for selection must have come to a great relief to the local party that someone had bitten this particular bullet. Her main campaign thus far has been a mixture of parroting the party line and having a petition against the ridiculous management of London Bridge station, where many of the residents of the constituency commute through.

I am led to understand that she has not been well lately, so most of the campaigning has been done by the local party on her behalf. I hope she recovers to good health soon.

The Labour Party

Nationally

I have voted for Labour in the past, but I did not in the last elections to be held, the European elections. Part of the reason for that is that is the different electoral process there. You may recall that I am no great fan of the first past the post system. But for a general election, it’s what we’re stuck with, not least due to Labour’s campaigning against the introduction of a more democratic method. This means we remain with voters having to consider tactical voting.

My biggest concern is that Labour are just too far to the political right and as such are almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. When looking at what a Labour cabinet might look like, one has to assume that the current shadow cabinet will, by and large, be the cabinet of government. I have particular issues with some of the cabinet. For example, I still do not find Ed Balls to be a credible candidate for chancellor; Margaret Hodge would be a far better candidate. When it comes to education, Tristram Hunt just seems as though he is in the wrong party, just as Robert Halfon’s campaigning for the disabled has been most un-Conservative like. The recent comments by Rachel Reeves to the effect that Labour are not the party of the unemployed does little to make me think that her ideology is vastly different from that of Iain Duncan Smith – probably the most heartless person on the Conservative front bench.

I have also heard very little about reversing the damage the current government has inflicted. So while they make a lot of noise about the NHS, they do not go far enough by way of banning the privatisation of the NHS or repealing the Health and Social Care Bill.

Locally

The incumbent MP, a former minister, is stepping down this election. Her successor has been curiously quiet. The most notable campaign has been one about the overcrowding at London Bridge, in parallel (but seemingly not in cooperation) with the Tory candidate. Secondary to this has been about the small businesses based in railway arches, particularly those near Herne Hill and Brixton stations. As yet, though, my only encounter with a Labour activist in the area was a gentle door-to-door enquiry when the gentleman couldn’t remember the candidate’s name.

The Liberal Democrat Party

Nationally

The Lib Dems are another party I have voted for in the past. Not the recent past, I might add. For whatever they may claim they stand for, they are tainted by the Faustian pact they entered into 5 years ago.

They have, though, been behind some of the better measures made by the coalition, such as increasing the personal allowance. As the minor part of a coalition government, it was almost inevitable that they would make compromises. The question to consider is whether those compromises were reasonable or whether the Lib Dems violated their principles in order to ensure they occupied, if not the corridors of power, the broom cupboards that lie just off the corridors. Their biggest own goal was to back the Conservative’s plans to make higher education unaffordable for many, in spite of having promised to not raise tuition fees.

Because of this, it seems meaningless to ask what their policies are, as their voting patterns will be dictated to them by whoever they may end up in coalition with, if they even retain a large enough parliamentary party to be the kingmakers as they were in 2010. The last projection I saw had them down to 17 MPS, making them the 4th largest party, behind the SNP.

Locally

The Lib Dem candidate has climbed the ladder through local politics and is by far the most recognisable of the candidates, having been a local councillor. He was also the first to get his leaflets through the door. This, though was where they lost any chance of my vote. There was a misleading graph on the front of the leaflet which exaggerated the Lib Dem share of the vote. This was a dishonest measure and when I confronted the candidate about it, he failed to acknowledge that it was wrong, trying to somehow argue that to graphically represent the share of the votes fairly would be misleading. I will not vote for a candidate that seeks to mislead the electorate.

LD poster

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Nationally

Where does one start with UKIP? From one perspective, their recent increase in popularity (due in no small part to the exposure afforded to them by the BBC, Daily Mail and other bastions of the right wing media) is quite interesting, but in many aspects it is also deeply worrying. Their rhetoric of hatred directed at the migrant population, blaming all the countries ills on the European Union, is built upon a paranoid delusion.

The rate of embarrassments they have had over the racism of members, their cavalier attitude towards to expenses and their whole far-right ethos go completely against what I, and many others, see as good about British values of multiculturalism, tolerance and reasonableness.

Locally

I heard nothing from the local candidate. Just as the electorate here are too intelligent and well-informed to vote en masse for the Conservatives it seems highly unlikely that UKIP be a significant force here. At the European elections, their poster in the area was defaced with an message saying that their politics of division and fear was not welcome here.

The Green Party

Nationally

I have for some time been more inclined to the Greens than any other party. As a scientifically educated person, though, I do not agree with their objection to nuclear power. Their lone MP, Caroline Lucas, is one of the few members of Parliament who is genuinely deserving of the title “honourable”. She has consistently spoken good sense in the Commons and been a thorn in the side of the coalition. Natalie Bennett, though, has had a massive crisis of credibility lately. It began with an interview on the Daily Politics which was followed up with an infamous radio interview when she came completely unstuck over some rather gentle questioning on their economic policy.

I regard their “citizens’ income” policy as nuts and any time they have been given an opportunity to explain how it will be funded they have completely failed to do so.

Locally

The local candidate is the biggest reason to not vote for them. For starters, he doesn’t seem to be very aware of where the constituency is. His rhetoric is nearly all based around Brixton. Yet only a tiny bit of the constituency is in Brixton; furthermore, only a tiny bit of Brixton is in the constituency.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

Nationally

This is a minority party with no realistic prospect of gaining any candidates. Founded by the late Bob Crow, they are ostensibly a party that stands against things, not for them. On their website, under a heading entitled ‘What we stand for’ they say:

“TUSC will oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions. Reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts. Vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services.”

One of the puzzles is that if they really are a trade unionist party, why is it that the trade unions, on the whole, back the Labour party and not TUSC? That’s a question I don’t know the answer to. I could speculate, but that will be of little help.

Reading through their policies, it is clear that they are a left wing party and probably most aligned with my own thinking. While my own manifesto was (and I hope it was clear) a sketch, theirs seems even more simplistic. For example their entire tax policy is “Tax the rich. For progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals and an end to tax avoidance.” – there are no proposals as to how this will be done, how much it will raise or even what thresholds will be used to determine “rich”.

Locally

The local candidate comes across as the antithesis of a typical politician. In this respect, he very much like the other left-of-centre candidate, the Green Party’s candidate. He is clearly a passionate man who has put himself up for election more because of what he believes and less because of party loyalty. This makes him quite different from the other candidates, where I think the weightings of the motivations may be quite different.

I do not believe he stands a real chance of being elected, but I am tempted to vote for him, if only so that he does not lose his deposit.


After enunciating those thoughts, am I any closer to a decision? Closer, certainly; decided, no.

How to persuade me to vote for you

If you’re allied to a particular cause and you wish to persuade me to vote for you, here’s how to go about it:

1) Have good policies. Without these, you’re a non starter. They must be well thought through, overall financially viable (allowing that some areas will be net spends and others net gains, e.g. funding the spending of the NHS through taxation) and must leave no group left behind. See my voter’s manifesto (links above) for what I consider to be “good”. Others will differ to a greater or lesser extent.

2) Spend more effort speaking about your own policies than you do of others. There is nothing more offputting than trying to portray your cause as the only viable one, dismissing all other alternatives as “chaos”. As a corollary to this, I would also ask that you not make promises on behalf of another. By all means, critique a manifesto promise that one of your opponents has made or point out failures to meet promises, but do not make assumptions about what another party will do unless they have stated it. It makes you look as though you lack the conviction to back your own policies and are relying on voters to make you the default option of “not them”.

3) Don’t be a sycophant. Anyone who wholeheartedly and uncritically supports every policy of their own party is a person who falls into one of two categories: a) the gullible, believing everything they hear with a slavish devotion to the party line; or b) the dishonest, who advocate views they do not hold for fear of seeming to be disloyal. The former is a fool whose opinion is valueless as it is swayed and tossed by the wind, devoid of a firm foundation. The latter is a schemer who cannot be trusted as it impossible to tell what they truly believe and what they are saying because it serves an ulterior motive.

Advertisements

6 responses to “Thoughts of an undecided voter (and how to persuade me to your side)

  1. Pam Smith

    Really interesting blog, thanks.

    As a Labour voter in a Labour held seat, with an MP who is very conscientious in answering any correspondence I send him, I have no reason not to vote Labour this time. I’m largely impressed by the Shadow Cabinet and, having looked carefully at Ed Miliband, believe he would be a good prime minister. I’m very concerned about the war that is being waged on the poor and I would be very surprised if this continued under Labour. I base this not just on public statements but on the contact I have with several Labour MPs and councillors on Twitter, including my sister’s MP, who went out of his way to help her when she lost her job. If I was in a safe Tory seat I might be more inclined to vote strategically or simply in order to register a vote for a party whose policies I supported the most, but on reflection I think that would be Labour again.

    I might have voted for the LibDems in that position in previous elections, but after their performance in government I wouldn’t do that now. I’m thinking particularly not so much of their voting record, or even of their policy reversal on tuition fees, but more on the eagerness with which they took on Tory rhetoric at the start. David Laws, in his brief spell in office, was only too happy to take on the ‘benefit bashing’ mantra.

    I’ve voted Green in the past but I don’t think they have a coherent set of policies and while I agree that Caroline Lucas is impressive, as an MP for a minority party she has a lot more freedom to be impressive than someone who has to put their policies into action. There has been a lot of adverse publicity about the Green led council in Brighton, and if I was considering a Green vote I’d have to look into that in more detail to see what had actually been going on.

    I would not consider voting for Ukip, apart from whether I agree with what policies they have announced, I predicted a while ago that their party organisation would fall to pieces under the pressure of a general election and unless they suddenly pull themselves together I seem to have been right.

    • It is interesting how correspondence with an incumbent can make a difference. When I lived in a Tory marginal, the local MP did help me once and also sent me a long document detailing the party line when I made representation to him on a particular matter. My current MP (as I said, in a safe Labour seat) has never acknowledged any correspondence, which has done her no favours in my view. For me, Labour would be a much more appealing option if Margaret Hodge, Chris Bryant and Tom Watson were promoted to the front bench.

      • Pam Smith

        That’s certainly true – I think politics is still about people, despite the media convincing us it’s all about whatever stories they think are newsworthy. Ukip’s appeal seems to be built entirely on Farage’s personality. The only time I’ve ever voted Tory was when our local Tory councillor had helped me over a work issue – it seemed only fair to give her my vote when she’d proved that she did the job of local councillor well. And, having once seen Tony Blair in person when he came to an event at Coventry Cathedral, I understood his electoral success – nobody was too ‘small’ for him to talk to, whereas the other party leaders (Haigh and Kennedy at the time) disappeared straight after the service. I would genuinely have liked to meet both of them.

  2. “Just as the electorate here are too intelligent and well-informed to vote en masse for the Conservatives”

    Just one example but don’t you feel that this undermines your piece here? I’m willing to bet I know many people far brighter than yourself who would vote for the Conservatives; equally or better informed. And the same can be said for almost any of the mainstream parties. In an otherwise intelligent piece, especially in respect to tone, I do find an extract like the above to be bewildering and I feel (or hope) that this would ring alarm bells for any other ‘intelligent and well-informed’ people who might chance upon this post.

    • Nobody’s perfect. I’ll think it over.

      It’s certainly my honest view and I know that my area has a significantly higher proportion of educated people in (according to http://www.streetcheck.co.uk 59% of the residents are qualified to at least degree level, compared to a national average of 27%). Of course, others may differ in their view and I would not want it taken from my piece that well-informed necessarily implies non-Conservative. Rather, those who I know who are well-informed politically tend to lean more to the left. An obvious counter example would be Mark Wallace, who I knew at university as we were both involved student politics at the time. He’s gone on to become executive editor of Conservative Home (and formerly spokesperson for the TaxPayers’ Alliance).

      My contention is that people like him are in the minority of the Conservative support. Much more common, in my experience at least, is that their support comes from those who, to paraphrase Kennedy, “[ask what the government will do for them]” with less regard for what the government will do for others. So when it comes to the coalition’s reforms on welfare, those who are pro-Conservative see it as a minor peccadillo when families rely on foodbanks or others die shortly after being assessed as fit to work. If their personal taxes are coming down by £100 a year, then it’s worth it.

      The attitude that bugs me is when people will rant against the existence of unions when there’s a tube strike on, but shrug their shoulders in indifference when a fellow human being dies. I find that that attitude is far more common amongst those who are on the political right than on the left.

      • “Rather, those who I know who are well-informed politically tend to lean more to the left.”

        “… in my experience at least…”

        “My contention is”

        These were important caveats missing from parts of your piece. I’m sure you’re aware of the dangers of anecdotal evidence as evidence and just wanted to flag this.

        “I know that my area has a significantly higher proportion of educated people in (according to http://www.streetcheck.co.uk the 59% of the residents are qualified to at least degree level, compared to a national average of 27%). Of course, others may differ in their view and I would not want it taken from my piece that well-informed necessarily implies non-Conservative.”

        My concern was that I feel you do imply this in your piece but I am reassured by the fact that you don’t want it to be taken in this way. According to your site, my area is 72% qualified at least to degree level and the split is almost exactly 50:50 between Labour and the Conservatives (Out of the 30,000+ who voted, Labour prevailed by less than 50 votes and so I think this is a fair assessment) . Would I therefore argue that I’m right in saying intelligent people are equally divided on the two main parties? Even if it were to transpire that my area had the highest percentage of ‘intelligent’ people? I should hope not.