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Why I’m going to spoil my ballot Each of the main parties is woefully inadequate; I'm voting for none of the above

Credit: Oli Scarff Li/AFP/Getty

December 4, 2019   5 mins

I nearly missed the deadline to register to vote last week, despite the countless exhortations from the great and the good on social media. Eddie Izzard for one was banging on about it on Twitter “To all young people – please do register to vote by end of tomorrow (26th) and use your vote on 12th December.”

I had just moved house — which is a pretty poor excuse. Particularly since I’m a journalist, and so should be on top of most of the goings on in British politics. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: it’s easily done!

Many of these democracy-loving activists go further than Izzard, though, and equate the act of voting itself with civic virtue. When they demand that we “use our vote” next week, they are, in fact, asking us to line up faithfully behind a particular party. And they imply that anyone who chooses not to “use” their vote is somehow abdicating their civic duties — and insulting those who died for universal suffrage.

Frankly I’m getting a bit tired of it. In fact, I might not vote at all. Not because I’m lazy or apathetic, but because each of the three main parties is so woefully inadequate when it comes to meeting the challenges facing modern Britain. It shames the whole democratic process that the system has propelled such a broad sweep of mediocrity to the frontline of politics. The thought of voting for any of them fills me with disgust.

Sure, I understand that people died for my right to vote. But what many don’t seem to grasp is that the right not to vote is part and parcel of the democratic system those brave people fought for. Indeed, as anyone living in a country where people are bused to polling stations (with the threat of losing their liberty if they do not comply) to vote for a single candidate will tell you, not voting can itself be a revolutionary act.

But many of my friends, who are equally repulsed by the politicians offered up by our political system, are slowly being guilt-tripped into falling into line as the general election draws near. They now tell me — scold me, in fact — that I should vote for the “lesser evil”. This would, presumably, result in less evil, which is no bad thing. But what happens if I look at several very different evils and am unable to decide which is worse?

Until this year, I was a member of the Labour Party. I had been for 15 years. It wasn’t one single incident which led me to leave, but rather the darkening penumbra of conspiratorial anti-Semitism which seemed to emanate from much of the newly enthused party membership. I didn’t want to be around it. I didn’t want to be infected by it. And so I left.

When I look at Jeremy Corbyn, a person his fanatical supporters like to call a “man of principle”, all I see is a hypocrite. He is against “all forms of racism” except the form of racism most commonly deployed by the Left. He is for human rights, except for in those countries where nominally Left-wing governments hold power. He is against war and imperialism, yet can barely bring himself to condemn the Russian bombing of civilians in Syria. Hypocrites of this stripe are ten a penny in his party and they do not enthuse me one bit.

One of the most dispiriting things about Labour’s anti-Semitism scandal is the speed at which nearly all the party’s MPs, many of whom were previously critical of the leader, have lined up faithfully behind Jeremy Corbyn now that an election is upon us. Purported anti-racists are currently campaigning to put the man responsible for the return of anti-Semitism to mainstream politics into No 10. Their ‘principles’ turned out to be entirely dependent on electoral expediency. This is the very definition of virtue signalling. Clinging to a cushy job in parliament takes precedence over the fears of Britain’s Jews.

The Tories, meanwhile, have their own problems with anti-Muslim bigotry; and Boris Johnson is a self-serving chancer. Besides, temperamentally, I am not a conservative. I wrote about the consequences of Conservative-imposed austerity at length in my book Hired. I saw some shocking things during the research for that book (which you can read about on UnHerd) and have no intention of voting for a party which helped to foster the dark world of squalor, precarity and quiet desperation that exists behind the façade of bourgeois affluence.

That leaves the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is far less objectionable than Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson — even if she is a charisma-free zone. However, in terms of austerity, her party is almost as culpable for the mess the country is in as the Conservatives. Moreover, the party’s stance on Brexit, in which it would effectively overturn the result of the 2016 referendum, is profoundly undemocratic and would result in a further erosion of trust in democracy.

I think I’ll pass on all of them.

Many won’t of course, even though they share my concerns. Their blind-loyalty is such that they will put their misgivings aside and dutifully turn out to vote. As an old aphorism goes, you could pin a red/blue/yellow rosette on a dog in certain parts of the country and many would still place a cross by its name. It’s why around half the parliamentary seats in the UK are safe seats: places where thousands of people vote reliably and consistently at any given opportunity.

I resent this dull-headed tribalism. It’s one of the reasons I became a journalist instead of going into politics, which I briefly considered once upon a time. I’ve no interest in standing on a stump and trotting out my party’s ‘line’, if it means acquiescing in institutional anti-Semitism. And perhaps most important, I’ve no interest in lying to myself in order to preserve some ideological house of cards. Why bother? Any gains a Labour government might bring to the poorest in society will eventually be poisoned by the maggot eating away at its rotten core. It’ll take the party down with it. We must not allow it to infect wider society.

Unfortunately, it is the tribalists of both sides who are on the march at present. Is this is a consequence of social media? Or are the fanatics are filling the spaces vacated by religion. Either way, a lot of people seem desperately to want something and someone to believe in. Intolerance is a by-product of this rigid in and out group dichotomy. Anti-Semitism and racism apparently acceptable prices to pay.

When the day of the vote arrives, I will probably spoil my ballot paper. I hope that others will do the same, a collective protest of sorts. I hope many more will stay at home. I don’t want the anti-Semites, the anti-Muslim bigots and the conspiracy theorists to turn out next Thursday. I would also prefer it if the unthinking, the blindly loyal and the bullied into it stayed home too — even if such sentiments are out of step with the ubiquitous online exhortations from do-gooders to “use your vote”. Though I recognise this is probably a forlorn hope in the current climate, when each day seems to reaffirm Yeats’s line about the worst being “full of passionate intensity”.

James Bloodworth is a journalist and author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, which was longlisted for the Orwell Prize 2019.


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