Marginal No More; Reflections on the 2017 UK General Election and Polling

I was supposed to have voted yesterday in a high priority Tory-target marginal. Instead I voted yesterday as part of a majority of over 13,000. I watched as seat after seat was moved from a Labour held marginal to a Labour majority; from a Labour target marginal to a Labour gain; from a Conservative safe seat to a Conservative held marginal including seats held by prominent ministers, and in particular the case of Canterbury moving from a very safe Conservative hold to a shock Labour gain. Something big happened – in the short election campaign leftist messages cut through a hostile press, and voting turnout was up, especially amongst an engaged Corbyn-loving youth.

I was not expecting such a positive swell, even being the most optimistic of my friends. I entered the election hoping that there would be a pump in the Labour vote from 18-24 year olds yet ultimately believed that the parties would stay at roughly the same level, switching a few seats between them but with no substantial change. I did not think Corbyn would alienate Labour seats, but suspected he may not win over many people outside these areas. Still I appreciated politics done from a position of principle over likeability and thought that it was unfortunate that Labour’s internal politics had likely done some damage.

Having done work with Survation, and so knowing how they conduct their interviewing and knowing their 2015 fatal decision to not release their last “rogue” poll, I did not react with complete dismissal to their polling or final call like some. However I was nervous about whether the clear boost they were showing in young people’s intention to vote would actually transfer into reality and flipped seats. Instead of having more trust that the result could be better than I anticipated, I fell into the cynical trap of assuming hope always equals a profound naivety.

It’s a huge problem on the left, but also just with politics in general the we think optimism is the sign of stupidity. We don’t want to get hurt and then mocked for thinking the future is a great place. To enable us to put on an intellectual veneer we act as if banality is common sense, and as if common sense is the supreme dictator of how politics works. Our logic says that if Corbyn is passionate and states more divisive positions he can’t be electable, ergo there will be a Tory supermajority, ergo everyone who says otherwise is a deluded fanboy.

Survation’s bet was an intriguing one – they knew they messed up last time and decided to stake their reputation on what seemed to be the one huge outlier of all the polling organisations, having changed very little overall in their polling methodology since 2015. Unlike YouGov whose tweaking lead to them wavering in their final poll back to a prediction of a 7% Conservative lead, Survation called the hung parliament. It suggests that what happened in 2015, aside from some places suppressing polls that didn’t fit the general trend, was one of analysis. Rather than assuming that people’s views were in flux, we assume the polls were just plain wrong. It is entirely possible that every poll from 2015 was an accurate picture of a nation that changed its mind. With Brexit the margins were so narrow that pundits calling it for Remain was generally down to the “common-sense” assumption that referenda will always favour the status quo. In effect this general election people were picking the most “common-sense” option and then assessing the validity of the polls based on what would lead to that answer.

If this election shows anything, it is that cynical posturing no longer applies. Hope is not utopian, and if we have a fear of appearing naive then our problem is a lack of imagination. People don’t want a country where there is no true opposition, and are willing to transform themselves into voters when given a party that can offer them that coupled with a strong chance at creating a large parliamentary group. The opportunities now that we can see politics is no longer a game of just appealing with bland centrism to a sliver of floating voters are ones I relish. I was wrong to be so fatalistic this election; next time I’ll try to be better.

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An Election Abroad: GE2017

This year I get the particular privilege of organising my general election vote via proxy as my Masters thesis means there will not be time to go back to London to cast it in person. The functioning of a proxy has amused a lot of my colleagues, many hailing from countries where you simply go and vote in your embassy, who find it a hard concept that you would trust someone else with your ballot. Fortunately I do have trust in my proxy – it is the broader public that I worry about making their own choices in the polling booth.

Watching your country’s election from abroad is an interesting experience. So much of the minutiae of campaigning is lost, – no flyers stuffed through letterboxes, or vote canvassers, or – you only get the headline news. This, coupled with late night viewings of the debates, has given me a surface view of what is happening without the fluff that tends to go with it.

As a result the stuff which cuts through generates more intrigue since you feel more assured that this is likely the same messages that are reaching those who don’t really follow politics on a daily basis. Unfortunately this has utilised by terrorists – the dominant message the past few weeks has been pushing out is one of fear, and of the need for more securitisation which over time will help to erode a lot of the liberties I think are vital for us to continue to grow into a proper democracy.

It is no secret that I will be voting for Labour. I want priorities to be focused on the NHS, on a Brexit that does not alienate us from Europe, and I want governments that are committed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and the privileges that a lot of us, including myself, take for granted. Combating extremism requires a more holistic approach than just treating symptoms, and part of that is creating a society where everyone feels like a valued member able to succeed within its bounds.

This is not to say I am an uncritical voter, even with the change in leadership since my last discussion on voting for the least wrong lizard in the race. As it stands the mess of both the PLP and the Leadership these past few years has just continued my disappointment in Labour. Labour are the party I desperately want to love, and instead I’ve consistently found myself just viewing them as the best of the bad lot as a result of their inability to put aside petty differences and work to create a cohesive impression, especially at politically opportune times. Their policies, especially on universalism, align to a large degree with my own beliefs but I continue to have doubts on the ability of everyone there to carry them out.

Sitting down to watch the debates has cheered me a little. For once we had demonstration that there would be a strong defence of positions. When Corbyn answers a business owner who queried Labour over rises to minimum wage and taxes on private schools he appeals to the importance of tax funding to support the broader society, the needs of low income workers and the priority of caring for one’s neighbour over individualism. This is a significant departure from most politician’s tendency when posed difficult questions to just opt for the safety of “the customer is always right”, never wanting to be seen telling a member of the public that they have a full ideological disagreement.

For voters in a lot of areas Labour are the party that will offer meaningful change focused in a positive direction. Ultimately it becomes the first step to a reformed system, included a reformed voting system, that we desperately need. It’s an unfortunate truth that in our political system the link between your vote and impact is quite tenuous. Move a few streets one way and you might go from being one of an 8,000 lead to a crucial decision maker in a marginal constituency where a win was a mere 27 votes. I am fortunate that my vote is in a more significant constituency where I feel that I can actually shape the course of the next parliament.

So now we are here, waiting to find out which polling companies adjustments (or lack thereof) are the most suited to this moment in time. Whatever happens though I am content with my choices and the values I defend. If you share these values make sure you vote in defence of them too.

Watching the Dutch Vote

One of the weirdest set of descriptions one finds when arriving in the Netherlands is allochtoon and autochtoon. These terms were used officially until November 2016 by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Loosely translated as “coming from another soil” versus “coming from this soil”, the category of allochtoon is sometimes further split into western and non-western. It seems to clash with the Dutch stated value of tolerance, by marking out some as almost fake Dutch.

It makes sense though, in a country that up until relatively recently followed an ideal of pillarisation. This posed that the Netherlands was built on a variety of pillars (Protestant, Catholic, Socialist), and each pillar had its own self-contained world of schools, universities, newspapers, and political parties. In general the Netherlands was primarily a mosaic model, rather than a melting pot.

Allochtoon as a word is fascinating because it reveals the inherent structure that you can find in most countries – where those who do not look like the majority are not perceived as true citizens in a lot of ways. These categories effectively serve to render non-white Dutch as never fully becoming Dutch, regardless of if they were born and socialised in the country.

It has been a week since the Dutch elections, and as it stands Rutte’s VVD will continue to lead in coalition, likely with D66, CDA, and an undetermined fourth party. In international media there has been much celebration over the fact that Geert Wilders’ PVV only became the second largest party, which is taken as proof that a populist ethnonationalist-tinged wave in Europe may be over.

Yet the celebrations mask the real threat that was always posed by the election; VVD victory. Or more specifically VVD victory when Rutte has specifically tapped into Wilders’ and others’ ideas of allochtoon with the VVD’s election campaign. The slogan became “Act normal” – normal being like native Dutch – with the implied “or go home” made explicit in his letter to voters. One of the most intriguing parts of the letter was the inclusion of calling ordinary Dutch racist in the list of undesirable behaviour, as if racism could not be a genuine concern within the wider society.

Wilders may have come second but, as I mentioned in my last post, the issue with those like him is that he succeeds in dragging the fight around cultural matters to more far-right perspective. Ethnic identities become subtle indicators of whether or not someone is worthy of being in a country automatically, or has to prove themselves. And more damningly some have and will continue to vote for policies which reinforce this.

One of the VVD’s campaign ads featured the term kopvodden, an insulting slur for hijab, as one of the aspects of a non-VVD voter. According to this ad VVD voters also do not put their “head in the sand” (one presumes about these cultural matters) but rather “use their heads”. Though the VVD website seeks to clarify that its use of kopvodden is merely about people who say the term, without the page of information next to it the advert does not come across as such. It instead seemed to be a straightforward dogwhistle campaign that plays on fears around immigration and Islam, whilst having enough leeway to distance themselves from explicit racism.

The Netherlands, much like the UK, poses itself as founded on values of tolerance whilst not engaging as much with how that it supposed to fit with its history as a former empire. The recent elections help with the movement away from dealing with that complexity and reevaluating notions of Dutchness, towards more simplistic narratives which propose that the real Dutch are under threat from outsiders.

How we in Europe can reconcile notions of citizenship with our values at the time when seeming to do so leads to lose of political power may appear difficult, especially when there are genuine cultural conflicts that do sometimes arise. But through acknowledging that these values – tolerance, respect, freedom – must be new in light of the gravity of empire, then we become freed to tackle exclusionary structures which were built up at the same time. Though history is important, demonstrating the possibility of reinvention is more important when you want to make a country that does not see citizens from other origins as permanent impostors.

About June: Talking Brexit in the Land of Nexit

The hand of Fatima offers protection. Mine was an Eid gift from my mother when I was 15, a small silver piece on a simple chain that sits just below the jugular notch. Whenever I am nervous I grip it in my palm, twisting the links into my neck. After the massacre in Pulse I put it on, and again after Jo Cox was murdered. When Pride arrived in the aftermath of a pro-Brexit vote I once more fastened it to me. Those days in what seemed to be ever increasing public violence it seemed to be the first thing my hand stretched to in the morning rush.

I started writing this piece almost four months ago. Each time something else happened until it grew into such an ungainly monster I thought let’s just wait until things settle down, and I’ve finally moved and adjusted to graduate school. In times like these you don’t want to be just adding to the noise, letting your frustration meaninglessly join to all the other frustration in the world without having something more unique to say. I had written my last piece on how using wedge politics to demonise select group should mean you lose a moral right to govern an entire population. At the time I chose to tone down some of the language in the interest of not letting my anxious state seep in since I thought my fears weren’t as physically founded as I emotionally felt they were.

Brexit is not a prospect I supported, but my main concern after June was that it had been reshaped into a debate on something else entirely – on who has worth as a person in this country – rather than the fact that people in deprived areas understandably took the chance on the possibility of a better future (a choice I might have very well made in the same circumstances with similarly limited information). I was thankful for perspectives like this that showed more nuance, mainly because I saw the key danger as allowing the narrative to be “people only voted Leave to get them out”. The issue is not with Leave voters as a whole, even if I think the decision will prove to be a horrendous mistake. Racist attitudes and actions have always been around and though some people are surprised by this higher visibility it is not as if you ever had to look particularly far to find them before. The issue is that when people assume others voted for the same anti-foreigner reasons they do, they become more confident in voicing xenophobic and racist opinions no matter how unsavoury or violent. We are now in a place where these narratives are part of the mainstream political discourse; something ugly that is staying at the surface, at least for a large part of the time being.

Being a British student in the Netherlands nowadays seems to mean constantly discussing Brexit with incredulous fellow Europeans, and accepting our status as the joke country. The conversation becomes repetitive and a little shaming, though never anything undeserved. However in these debates I can see the same incomprehension regarding those who discount the multicultural project that so many of my contemporaries in Britain faced pre-referendum. Britain is seen as exceptional in the level of its fear of the other, since Brexit and its aftermath holds proof, even as a recent study shows these views are widely held across Europe. Geert Wilders, who recently posted on Twitter “They carry our passports but they do not belong to us. They spit on our identity and behave like conquerors” (the they is of course implicitly understood by everyone to definitely not be white, nor Christian) is on track to head the largest party in the Netherlands after the next election, even as he goes back to court yet again on charges of hate speech. Yet we still like to pretend that it is only in other places and not our communities where the worst views are held.

This same rhetoric that now alienates those like me who are assumed an “outsider” on the basis of name or looks should register to them and yet often they aren’t noticed until pointed out. I on the other hand don’t get the luxury; many of the anti-immigrant actions the UK government proposes will reverberate to me anyway so it is something one needs to be hyper-tuned towards. When discussion of a speech by May centres on her apparent ‘parking of the tanks on Labour’s lawn’ we have not learnt.

A large part of my life was spent with an immigrant parent – my mother was white British in Sudan – yet people in the UK will always think my father must have been the interloper, or even me, always asking “but where are you really from?” after I’ve said I’m British for the third time. It’s bound in the way that so many otherwise reasonable people think only of others as fractions of nationalities rather than multiples, and who think there is some definitive Truth of citizenship in borders rather than the nation as an imagined community that we get to define and redefine. Notions of race and religion and immigration are threads tightly bound together and people will use one in lieu of other even though they are not the same.

My fortune is that I can escape if need be – it is a sign of privilege to be relatively assured that you can move most places and be fairly accepted; always the expat and never the immigrant so long as I pick location wisely. In comparison some of the best people I know will now have to spend time in limbo, not knowing what will happen to them in the country they have called home. Others will have to additionally deal with the likely rise of even more open xenophobia and racism from people who will never consider them British. And some of the worst off will likely get an even worse deal, as more parties are tempted to out-xenophobe each other in pursuit of votes, rather than focus on beneficial change.

Last week I had a chance to practice my language skills, but it was Arabic and not Dutch that I spoke to the shopkeeper. I wasn’t surprised, though a little saddened, as the rest of the people in the shop looked momentarily scared when he let out a joyous “Allahu Akbar” at someone he could chat to in one of his native languages. In this environment, where being yourself carries a danger of invalidating your nationality in the eyes of others, we are wrecking chances for expressing a more nuanced identity. We self-monitor because the consequences can be further alienation, and that in turn allows others to ignore that this is happening. In an environment like this why would you not cling to something that gives you a little hope, whether it’s a silver necklace or a foreign move or a conversation with someone in the same boat, and pretend that everything could be okay?

I have little faith that this will be solved in the coming years, because it an undeniable part of our political culture. We know where this road leads and yet here we are again, rumbling towards more exclusionary populism. In the meantime though I am embracing the fact that here – for once – I am just being treated like a foreigner because now I am actually one.

Beyond Scare Tactics

The EU referendum campaign is in full swing, and Turkey is a problem. From Vote Leave a new leaflet highlights not only countries looking to join but spotlights Turkey by shading in the bordering countries of Iraq and Syria. Turkey is a good political pick because of its strong association with both the migrant crisis and the movement of terrorists. This insinuation that if we don’t vote to leave the EU Turkey will overwhelm us with migrants and terrorists from IS has extended to discussing how we’ll become the victims of crime due to a supposed Turkish predisposition. It is a dog-whistle at its finest.

One could argue the reason Turkey is featured in many Vote Leave advertisements is that it is simply one of the EU candidate states – yet one of the intriguing parts about the decision to highlight Turkey is how hard it would be for Turkey to actually become an EU member. To give a brief overview Turkey has been an associate member of the EU since 1963, applied for membership in 1987, got candidate status in 1999, and finally had their (still ongoing) candidate negotiations start in 2005 which – regardless of anything else (such as opponents using vetos, arguments about geographical relevance) – cannot be resolved until Turkey opens its ports to Cyprus. In comparison Croatia applied for membership in 2003, started negations in 2005, and joined in 2013. For many the question is ‘if’ not ‘when’; Turkey joining the EU is a long way off and requires a lot of political manoeuvring. Billboards are using a very distant possibility to drive fears of terrorism and free movement of Turkish people, relying on unfavourable associations being brought to mind.

Watch out, the Muslims are coming.

The campaign run by the Goldsmith team against Khan during the London Mayoral race was another demonstration of scare tactics that rely on this “scary outsider” bias. The absurdity of painting Sadiq Khan – as much a radical Muslim as a plate of custard – as a terrorist sympathiser demonstrates clearly how little interest modern UK politicians have in even pretending to be for all people in their push to exploit wedges in society.

The mayoral race was important because it came down to the Conservatives either genuinely thinking that the political blancmange of Sadiq Khan was a dangerous man and sympathetic to terrorists, or they pointedly decided that public perception of Sadiq Khan and other Muslims by extension as regular Brits with a multitude of opinions is fine to sacrifice for some political gain. When the PM uses fancy footwork to say a man supports IS knowing that people will interpret this as referring to the terrorist group and not just the ideological concept of a state based on Islamic thought to legitimate false criticism of his opponent he loses credibility to govern fairly for all his citizens. With scare tactics you not only say a huge segment of your population are inherently dangerous, but you also say you have no interest in dealing with the divides in society if there is a chance for you to make a personal gain from it.

A calculation was made; Muslims won’t vote for us so it is okay to demonise them in the hopes that we win. And again with the EU Referendum a calculation has been made; let’s just play up these divisive fears to attract those who don’t know the nuances of Turkey and EU politics. Yet this gamble entrenches divisions that have real and harsh consequences to the actual population.

This is not an issue limited to one end of the political spectrum. Most political parties and groups in the UK are only interested in a narrow section of people they feel represent their voting base and frequently throw those deemed outside of this under the bus. Both sides of the EU debate are trying to out terrify the other with what will make us more susceptible to terrorists. I’ve heard someone discuss how “the Jews” don’t vote for Labour anyway so why bother dealing with antisemitism? Scottish voters are demonised for voting SNP and therefore there should not be a solid Scottish policy because they are not on “our” side anyway. Rural and coastal voters don’t get talked about as much as London and other cities. And god forbid the vitriol for those who don’t vote. Huge swathes of people get their needs ignored, or directly worked against in vote chasing, and groups of multitudes are portrayed as monoliths in order to appeal to those opposed to them. In the midst the actual humans of this country are forgotten.

If political groups only existed to win that would be one (still terrible) thing but the policies and words a political group chose not only shape the conversation around an election but become the spectrum for what is possible to be implemented and who gets to be involved. Once something outrageous has been said everyone else has to respond to it, lending it some legitimacy and further exposing it to the public. We need to respect people who wouldn’t ever vote for us and appreciate their needs as citizens even if we disagree with their thoughts. Turning around and using dog-whistles against huge parts of the population only succeeds in spreading both alienation and extreme misinformation.

A lot of people believe it is better to have a chance in power than to remain in opposition and therefore these tactics may be undesirable but ultimately worth it. But opposition – true opposition – is the process of calling that power to heel, and articulating the voice of everyone else. And democratic power is supposed to be about ruling with consideration of everyone, even those who won’t vote for you, rather than just a chance to rule to ensure that you continue to have a chance to rule to ensure that you continue to have a chance to rule ad infinitum. MPs are not there only for the people that voted for them, or even just the people that voted. They are there to represent the whole borough and that thought has to come first.

This is partially the fault of our political system being so heavily tilted to “not them” voting. Voters are either seen as our tribe or our enemies. When the not-we voters start to be generalised in broad descriptors – Muslim, Asian, Jewish, Scottish – it triggers an opportunity to make use scare tactics rather than generating good policies and working towards opening up a political system that will naturally draw in people in a positive way. This obsession with voters is creeping into other aspects which will permanently tilt how politics is played out, with constituency borders based not on the actual amount of people living there but on those who are registered to vote, as if those who don’t could never have concerns in their borough.

Wedge politics pushes people out of having an actual voice as politicians pander to only those whose votes they may win (and frequently ignore “safe” voters concerns). Each time there is a vote people are chastised for not participating (or recently for signing up “too late” to participate, as if becoming engaged is something we have to decide months in advance or else we don’t deserve it) which takes away the responsibility of groups to look at how to appeal to them beyond scare tactics. Politics is meant to be about articulating a vision of the future – the best way to serve everyone in a society. To create a consensus where we abandon that for power is incredibly dangerous. It’s a slow dull trundle to a backwards and unrealistic representation of society and one where soon only an incredibly small sliver of people will be competed for and thus become the only ones who politically matter.

The Strangest of All Hot Takes: #piggate 2015

So a rather explosive reveal has occurred, with Lord Ashcroft – apparently none-too-pleased about not getting a greater position in government – serialising his new biography of David Cameron in the Daily Mail (which the newspaper helpfully reported under the title ‘REVENGE’ in case we were unsure of motives). Of course the allegation that life sometimes veers way too close to a Black Mirror episode has taken over the UK internet.

As it goes I’m cautious about affecting a gun-ho attitude to this because we don’t actually have confirmation of the pig incident. Obviously this type of story is perfect since it captures the imagination (my first reaction upon waking up and seeing it was ‘OH MY GOD, TWITTER WILL BE AMAZING FOR DAYS’), people run with it, denials just draw more attention, and the ‘not dignifying with an answer’ statement makes it seem to many like you’re being evasive. Basically there is no real way of proving you didn’t do something like this even if you actually didn’t.

I say this as someone who is against Cameron and his ideologies; this doesn’t actually change the way I view him. Partially it’s just general low expectations. Cameron was and is part of elitist societies which poorly treat those they view as below them. All allegations seem par for the course.

Still it is quite significant that loads of people can read it and not simply say straight out of hand that it is completely ridiculous. It’s the exact type of story that people instinctively think is true about a certain type of person. It’s the exact type of story which – focused on many other MPs – wouldn’t gain the same kind of traction without concrete proof because it would read like a fantasy.

In essence Cameron, whether or not Lord Ashcroft’s book is true, is a individual who the public can believe would have sex with a dead pig as a drunken jape in university. And, with how the public feels about that sort of thing, that really is a pretty big indictment regardless of anything else.

A Great Fear of the Future

I began writing this essay on the night of the UK 2015 General Election when the Exit Poll came in. I began to wonder where we go from here when everything seems so very gloomy, and it feels like my fate is to be a cliché millennial always wanting more than I deserve. I continued this on the same morning that a friend moved across an ocean and I tried not to cry about the fact that everything is changing very quickly. I am finishing it now as I prepare to move back in with my mother for a short while before I begin my own (altogether shorter) overseas adventure.

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The UK General Election results show that the Conservatives slash and burn policies can not only maintain interest from the public, but even gather them more support. Or theoretically “more support” since the link between seats and votes is quite tenuous in our first-past-the-post system here. Still the Tories are doing well, and more concerning are the millions who voted for UKIP – a number which would surely be greater under a more representative voting system which did not encourage tactical votes. I have never had the opportunity to live under unrestrained Toryism and now I have triggered a sort of inherited fear. It is like a klaxon has been going off in my head since May 7th: BE WARNED, BAD TIDINGS AHEAD!

It’s a bit absurd since I personally won’t be too badly harmed; in a lot of ways the state was always made for people like me. Yes, I do have aspects and circumstances that can be held against me – my name for starters is not ideal – but overall I have access to a lot of privilege that will allow me to avoid some of the most devastating things that will be happening to our communities over the next five years.

Still we as humans get scared when we don’t have that certain security. It’s why, because I was fortunate enough to be able to, I marched on June 20th to #EndAusterityNow. Obviously it will take more than a march to change government policy, especially a majority government, but it was a way for me to plant my feet down and mark out publicly what I value. Part of the reason I have not joined a political party is that none so far close enough reflects what I treasure to speak for me, so I need to take that responsibility to speak myself.

It is now that we have to accept that a lot of personal decisions feed into the bigger political problem. Without active dissent a majority government is a lot more secure in pushing through proposals that damage us. And in a majority conservative government there is a danger that the entire political conversation will drag to the right, and with it more extreme positions seem less dramatic. If I don’t speak out about bigotry I see, aggressively in my day-to-day life, I let people get away with thinking that I don’t really care. So the personal is political.

Too often actions we want to take get watered down by fears of judgement. Start with the simple notion of shaving off body hair as a woman. Expand that into letting slightly offensive jokes slide because you know that the person isn’t bad.  Feel resentful when someone gets angry with you about something you’ve done that has hurt them. I am not immune to this – I bite my tongue on certain things to keep the peace. Months ago I would have said this allowed me to change things in a more subtle way, and though it has had some impact in some areas I’m starting to come to the view that subtly is a poor weapon against the things that I hate and fear. I need to see this dissociation for what it is – inherently harmful to others. Taking as much action as possible, more than I think I can get away with means that even when things are awful I can be happy with my conduct. This is not just about austerity, but about the whole way society conducts itself.

I am not suddenly going to stop being scared, both of possible retributions for speaking out over different things, and of the future that the country seems to be heading for, but I do have the option to decide which scares me more. Sometimes it will be the first, sometimes the latter. Sometimes I will be resistant to doing certain things because of criticism from those to the right of me, and sometimes it will be those from the left I am concerned with. In general though I am trying to move on from letting other people decide how loud I shout about a system that takes the most vulnerable and hurts them more.

We shape the world in the image of our actions. I want my world to care about those who don’t have all of the extra assurances that I do.

The Secret Ballot is Not a Thing: Talking About Voting

In this UK general election I am voting Labour.

I am not voting Labour because I am a member of the Labour party. I do not want to join any party at the moment. I am not voting Labour because I think they have great policies, since I haven’t read all their manifesto, and there are some I am against or undecided on. I am not voting Labour because I think they will be a great change. If anything I doubt things will shift that much – the difference between the Conservatives and Labour is between 5 years of a lot of austerity measures vs. slightly less austerity measures.

For all my jokes about Ed Miliband and being a groupie I am not actually a paid-up member of the #Milifandom, as he is foremost a politician and though I view him as more sincere and idealistic than a lot of politicians (which poses its own problems), he still just wants votes at the end of the day. No politician is a saviour figure, unless we finally get a politician willing to create a long-term cross party plan on essential services (NHS, Education) that cannot be altered or messed up with each election.

I am not even voting because of the local candidate, though I think she will be a very, very good MP. I recently went door-to-door to convince people to cross the box next to Dr. Rupa Huq’s name and I am glad I did so.

The true reason I am voting Labour is because I am a lefty in a Tory-Labour marginal and that is what I see as the best option.

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I dislike the conversation around secret ballots. When conversation veers onto voting and people say they don’t want to reveal their choices I understand it on some level but ultimately I think it harms public debate. Secret ballots are to protect you from the grip of the government, and other possible avenues of intimidation. However if you feel you live in a situation – as we do here – where that is less likely to happen you are entirely free to discuss your voting choice. Secret ballots aren’t even entirely enshrined in our system – both postal and proxy votes don’t really uphold the principle. And whilst polls may give an indication of intention, polls don’t have the same impact or nuance of talking with someone one-on-one.

Without discussing who we are voting for, and more importantly why we have selected them (or even the reasons we are not voting) with as broad a range of people as possible, we perpetuate the idea of loyal solid party voters. Discussion doesn’t need to be proselytising, indeed people may discover they have identical views but the results differ due to tactics that our political system forces. When people are backed into a system they can react in wildly different ways and just looking at the raw data can create the illusion that there is no strong common ground on particular issues since the votes are split between groups with radically different perspectives. As Wail Qasim wrote recently for Vice there is only a limited pool of parties which non-white people may feel represent their interests. The same is true for many other disadvantaged groups in society. This perspective leads to neglect as the main parties that rely on their support feel like they don’t have to offer anything to compel that support – they assume they will always get the votes regardless of how awful they treat people because they are better than the alternative. And so all the turf of political conversation becomes even more narrowly geared for those already in positions of great privilege.

With my Dad and his siblings composed of four mixed-race black kids growing up in the Midlands during the 80s there is a fundamental notion in the family that you absolutely NEVER vote Tory. As a result the choice becomes often tactical – voting for a smaller party may in a roundabout way introduce a Tory to power so instead the focus becomes on blocking them. This is why I will vote the way I do in my first general election.

My ideal is ultimately to reform the voting system so that people can have more faith in the system. On a smaller level I want parties to actively engage people rather than rely on tactical voting, and move beneficial policies to a wider range of people instead of middle-class swing voters. Part of that is opening up the conversation and honestly talking about how we are forced to vote tactically if we choose to participate in the current system.

I am voting Labour but I want to one day feel like it is more of a choice.

#SudanVotes or Rather Not Really (And Other Apathetic Elections)

I remember being in Sudan the last time the general election was held and getting a slight sense of excitement for the opportunity, that rapidly declined to resignation. A few months following there was a referendum that would split the country into two halves and redraw Africa’s colonial boundaries for the first time. First no change, then a big one.

As expected, both general elections produced sweeping victories for the National Congress Party, who have ruled Sudan for decades. It feels so routine I initially wasn’t going to comment.

This time though pictures circulated of sleeping officials at polling stations, policemen queuing to vote in snaking lines, men trying to encourage people off the street, and the entire voting time-frame was extended by a day due to low turn-out. When you know what to expect, why bother?

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When it comes to discussing voter-turnout we often see it framed by the global north-south divide, where in poorer nations ‘not voting’ is allowed to be a radical act. Perhaps, we say, it’s the difference between active apathy (“my vote won’t make a difference due to rigging, therefore I won’t bother.”) and passive apathy (“my vote won’t make a difference because all politicians are the same, so why bother?”). Except it isn’t that clear-cut; low voter turnout due to lack of faith in the system is low voter turnout due to lack of faith in the system regardless of the root cause, even if some root causes do not prevent a free and fair election. Where vote-rigging is common the best way to protest and make an active political choice is to not lend yourself to the charade of freedom. Here in the UK many people feel they cannot determine the differences between politicians, nor if the values they claim to subscribe to will even slightly resemble anything they do. When politics is reduced to a stab in the dark (for example the Lib Dems did not just say in 2010 they would vote against raising tuition fees, but one of the promises in their manifesto was to work towards abolishing them), protest can be a refusal to participate in a charade of choice, even if it is harder to distinguish from apathy.

You have one day in the UK to determine the future of the country, and yet you are left either voting against your worst-case scenario, or live in the fear that an ideological choice you make you will come to regret. Voter registration is low (and with the registration deadline now passed we have a fixed maximum of voters), and on top of that turnout amongst registered voters is low because the system refuses to engage with people by increasing accountability. Yet non-voters themselves are blamed. In Sudan this is not the case, lack of turn-out rightly shines light back on the institutions themselves. The voice of the people in their refusal is more respected.

A few months ago I was completely opposed to those who were actively against not voting in the UK. I still think that this choice allows politicians to ignore large portions of the population and only cater to an increasingly shrinking pool of people who do turn up. In generally free and fair elections spoiling the ballot is preferable because it demonstrates numerically that there is a politically aware population who do not like what is happening, making not casting a vote less likely to be brushed off as laziness. However I can recognise now that this can be impractical, a little soul-sucking, and ultimately shouldn’t have to be done – I was casting the issues of the system and the biases of politicians back onto the public. Patronising people with messages from Nelson Mandela frames voting as if all our problems could be fixed with a simple ‘x’ every five years. The right to vote is certainly hard won but the freedom to vote also carries freedom not to, and that can sometimes be our most important weapon.

Snap View: #BattleForNumber10

I spent this morning sitting down and watching #BattleForNumber10 (because hashtags are so in this season). The joy of not having a TV is being unable to watch things live so instead of joining in the conversation yesterday evening I woke up today, cooked up some pasta, got some work out of the way, then sat down and watched it with a cup of tea.

It’s the first of these leadership debates, and it was certainly interesting watching. I cheered at the aggressive return of Paxman who clearly has been relishing the opportunity to verbally maul people for a while. I noted the more aggressive approach Burley seemed to have taken with Miliband, and definitely concluded that – at least now – I would not make a good impartial moderator.

And I agree with a lot of the analysis – Cameron would probably have fairer slightly better in a head-to-head, but I think that honestly Cameron would have fairer even better without any debates. He has to argue he’ll make things better despite having had an opportunity to do so for the past five years, whilst Miliband’s giant problem is not looking like a leader. The more chances you give him to be on T.V then more chances he gets to break that perspective. I’m not against this – I am no Tory – but as someone interested in tactics it must suck to go into televised debates knowing that in the last election they drove you into a coalition government. In my view the broadcast kept Cameron at a fairly neutral position; if you thought he was terrible you still did, if you thought he was a statesman you still did. He came across as a politician, including the politician’s tendency to try and weasel out of answers, but Miliband came across as engaging, quite frankly spoken, and passionate.

And yet after looking around online I was surprised to see there were a fair amount of people for whom the conclusion was the inverse. I suppose that in the end we strive to find points that shore up our own bias so I must have been picking up things that supported my preferred end result. Perhaps I was being a tad unfair in my assessment – maybe I was just more resistant to Burley going after the left-wing choice (although I don’t think so – I may need to rewatch) and giving Miliband too much of a pass on his lack of stats.

When it comes to elections though, I’m not really the vote that matters. Sure I do vote, but at the end of the day I am one of those people that will tend to vote for defined side of the political spectrum. I’m not going to vote right-wing and likely never will. I’m not part of that swath of uncommitted middle ground voters who could tip either way. So long as I am mobilised to go to the polls the main parties likely won’t waste their time courting me. That’s why I enjoy watching these debates – I get a good sense of what politician’s think the middle ground cares about, and then I get to pretend that I could be better (I totally could).

As it stands we’re looking at another coalition being formed in the days after May 7th. Hopefully the upcoming debates will tilt it to the side that I would prefer, and will shore up a more rational approach to hot button topics such as immigration which are increasingly becoming hysterical. Still, we’ve got a few more weeks to go before then.