Not-voting isn’t wrong in itself
Back in 2013 a friend of mine received their local election postal ballot but found that the only two candidates were a Tory (part of the coalition government they despised) and a Lib-Dem (part of the coalition government that they despised). I think their choice to tear the ballot paper into little pieces and send them off in the return envelope was perfectly justifiable.
The problem I have is with people who utter sub-Brandian platitudes like “if only everyone stopped voting then …” because the huge glaring fault with this kind of assertion is that it’s an exercise in extremely juvenile wishful thinking.
It’s profoundly annoying that so many people keep repeating this kind of ludicrous appeal for everyone to “stop voting” based on the idea that revolutionary political change can be achieved through a vague hope that the powers that be will suddenly take notice if we all begin protesting against them by … err … doing nothing.
The PCC elections
A look at the results of the utterly farcical 2012 PCC elections in England demonstrate why this idle wish for mass non-participation doesn’t have a hope of succeeding.
The average turnout for these ludicrous elections across the whole of England was just 15%, yet not a single one of the “winning” candidates refused to take up their cushy £65-£95,000 per year salaries because of their appalling lack of a democratic mandate. Several of the PCCs actually took up their positions with the backing of less than 5% of the eligible electorate in their constituencies!
The 2012 PCC elections were absolute proof that a lack of mandate from over 95% of the electorate still wasn’t enough to prevent politicians from taking up their jobs. This leaves us with the question of how anyone thinks that wishfully appealing for everyone to just stop voting could ever result in revolutionary social change?
Even in the extraordinarily unlikely scenario that 99% of people refused to vote, it’s still certain that the politicians themselves and their inner-circles of supporters would just cast a few dozen votes to “win” the election for themselves.
Not-voting is not revolutionary
There’s nothing clever, or contrarian, or heroic about telling other people not to vote as if it’s a revolutionary thing to do. It’s a stupid stance that is literally indistinguishable from outright apathy when the voting statistics are compiled.
Revolutionary social change certainly doesn’t come about by taking the exact same non-action as the hopelessly apathetic. It comes about through direct action.
Social progress has always been achieved when people have come together in solidarity to demand change from the powerful, when people educate themselves and educate each other, and when they cause enough economic disruption to cause the powerful and wealthy to give in to some of their demands (one of the best ways to frighten the wealthy and powerful is by threatening to hit them in the pocket).
A look at the demographics from the 2017 General Election reveals a lot of interesting information about those who did and didn’t vote. Old people are an awful lot more likely to vote Tory than young people, and they’re also a lot more likely to actually vote too. The very wealthy are a lot more likely to vote than the very poor, and a lot more likely to actually vote Tory too.
Given these demographic trends is it any wonder that we ended up getting stuck with Tory governments that endlessly panders to the very wealthy and shield pensioners from the most brutal of their austerity measures, while they deliberately load the burden of their economic attacks on the poor, the young and the disabled?
If just a small fraction of the 31.2% of people who didn’t bother to vote at all (either through apathy or disillusionment with the system) had’ve voted for anyone but the Tories, this extremely malicious and desperately incompetent government wouldn’t have even been able to cling onto power by bribing the DUP bigots with £1 billion in taxpayers’ cash for the support of their 10 MPs. They would have been unable to continue their long-term project of tearing up long-standing British values and turning the UK into one of the most right-wing authoritarian state in the developed world. And they would have been unable to continue imposing their ruinous hard-right austerity fanaticism or their policy of deliberately repressing workers’ wages.
I’m sceptical that revolutionary political change can be achieved through voting alone. Politics is about far more than scrawling a mark on a piece of paper every few years and then sitting back and waiting for the next paper scrawling exercise. The best way to effect political change is undoubtedly to demand it outside of the ballot box.
The system is a mess, but not-voting won’t fix it
Under the ludicrously unrepresentative Westminster voting system we suffer from, the sheer number of non-voters meant that the Tory party only needed 24% of the registered electorate to vote for them in order to gain a majority government in 2015!
Sticking a bit of paper in a box every few years is extremely unlikely to lead to revolutionary change, but it can help to ensure that things aren’t quite as bad as they could be while we build solidarity and take the direct action that is needed to promote the actual changes that we want to see.
If anyone thinks I’m wrong about not-voting doing nothing more than transferring more political power to those who do vote, I’d really like to see someone attempt to explain the exact mechanism by which an individual not-voting supposedly achieves revolutionary political change.