Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Is a Fascist Dictatorship really that Bad?

This week’s blog is entirely about the thorny subject of voting and democracy, I tried to write this in time for the London mayoral elections a fortnight ago, but failed. Voter apathy there, in action.

Two weeks ago many of you across the country will have been lucky enough to vote in one or more elections to choose councillors for your local area. Those of us in London were lucky enough to have three votes we didn’t care about – London Mayor, London Mayoral Assembly Members and our own local councillors. In fact in London there was more box ticking than in a United Colours of Benetton advert, well there would have been if we hadn’t been crossing boxes – but the gag about more box crossing than at a Noughts and Crosses convention didn’t seem as funny.

Fortunately for the BBC, exactly the same three main candidates ran for London Mayor, as in 2008. And the voters were kind enough to generate exactly the same result, so the Beeb were able to just put on a repeat of the election coverage from four years ago. While someone explained to Boris Johnson what “second term” meant, Ken Livingstone vowed never to return to politics (whilst plotting his 2016 election campaign) and Brian Paddick sweetly presumed his electoral demise was down to the unpopularity of Liberal Democrat coalition policies – no Brian, we’ve haven’t forgotten I’m A Celebrity… an appearance that puts you in a category alongside just George Galloway, though at least you weren’t meowing in a Lycra cat suit.

One of the big comments on modern elections is the poor voter turnout – according to some statistics I just googled now in a highly checked piece of research voter turnout was 31.8%, meaning just under seven in ten people didn’t vote. Commentators say this is a bad thing, but is it?

You see in my opinion, what is held up as the guiding principal of democracy is its biggest weakness – the fact everyone can vote. I’ll let that earth-shattering statement sink in as you judge me entirely. I should point out I don’t have a problem with allowing everyone to vote in principal, in a perfect world everyone casts a well-thought out vote for the party whose principals they truly believe in. However in the real world you allow people who have no idea what they are voting for a vote and you allow people to vote on spurious reasons. No one has to justify to anyone why they vote, so you can based your opinion on who has the best haircut, who seems like a nice person, or whose face doesn’t clash with your curtains.

I consider myself the perfect example, whilst I had a vague idea of the effect my box crossing would have in the London Mayoral vote (based largely on a significant proportion of the main candidates having already had a go), I had no idea what the other two ballot papers do. I couldn’t tell you what the position I was electing actually did, I knew nothing about the candidates, other than the party name scrawled next to them. Though as anyone with a passing familiarity with politics will know, a group of people representing one party is less unified mass with one vision, more bickering crowd of infighters who resemble a group of friends trying to decide which take-out menu to order. Despite all of this and my lack of background knowledge, I still diligently filled out each ballot paper, following the dictatorial anti-origami ruling and posting them in the voting box. I didn’t really know who or what I was voting for, but I did anyway, I voted on what felt right.

And that’s the problem with democracy anyone can vote without really thinking about it just based on image. It might sound draconian, but wouldn’t it arguably be a lot better to let the 10% of people who can be bothered to engage in politics to vote on our behalf and choose the best outcome. Why let the ignorant masses, who let’s be honest don’t really understand the minutia of fiscal policy, have an uneducated say? We certainly should react to the claims that the only way to counter poor voter turnout is to force everyone to vote. Forcing those who know nothing to choose a box at random in some kind of political lottery would be awful and inefficient. Surely best to have people pass a small politics quiz before they were allowed to enter the ballot box and have a say in who runs the country – it is after all an important decision.

Politics nowadays has reacted to the fact that most people aren’t properly scrutinising their actions, the main parties fighting not to give you any substance or policy but to just leave that instinctive feeling that you should vote for them. So that when average Matt public (i.e. me) heads to the polling station he feels the need to put the cross in the right box because it feels right. Not because he’s examined in depth the range of party lines and policies and knows it’s the right decision.

Image now for politicians is everything; take the last general election in 2010. Now while I’m not saying you couldn’t find potential fault in the previous Labour government’s policy, a lot of fault finding was taking place with the image of Gordon Brown. Admittedly the man’s smile looked like it had been generated via the use of strategically placed electrodes, but is this reason he shouldn’t be Prime Minister? I know I look awful when I pose for a smile in any photo – my Facebook album looks like a collection of Barbara Cartland’s death masks, but is that reason enough for me to lose my job? Shouldn’t we should be judging our politicians on slightly tougher criteria than facial expressions?

And then there’s the inevitable gaffs. Remember when Gordon Brown infamously left his microphone on as he left an interview and describing voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman”? OK a P.R. disaster, but there was something about the incident that made him ultimately more human. We saw fully through the (admittedly cracked) politician’s veneer and saw someone who ultimately makes the same mistakes we do. I know I say awful things when I think people have left the room, or when I’m reading something someone’s written. You’re probably reading this thinking “What an absolute t**t? Why do I give a toss what this needy spiky haired pillock is thinking about politics?” And that’s ok, you’re allowed to think this, because I guarantee I am thinking far worse about you dear reader as I type J

My point, and there is one in case you’re thinking that this is the literary equivalent of Where’s Wally?, is that surely for politicians ability is more important than both image, and even their own moral standards. If it’s a choice between, for example, a chancellor who is rubbish at running at the economy but who lives a squeaky clean life, or a chancellor who is excellent at the numbers stuff but routinely cheats on his wife with animals, then I know who I’m voting for. It’s Mr Goat-Shagger for office here. What?! Really you have a problem with that? Why would I be bothered? After all I’m neither his wife, nor a goat, just a citizen looking for a well-run economy.

So there we go let’s make a stand here, politicians should be elected on substance not style, by the 10% of people who have done their homework and know what they’re voting about. Not by people who know nothing like me. And certainly not by the same tedious people who consider “engaging with politics” to be e-mailing into BBC Breakfast. Outlining their pointless opinions on matters which are of no concern to them, like should NASA be dumping sofas on the Moon? Because stupid people always have an opinion, a stupid opinion. Stop asking for it, and certainly don’t let them choose the leader of the country.

Failing that we could always go for a fascist dictatorship. Don’t get me wrong the invasion of Poland was awful, but at least Hitler was able to get on do things. Under a democracy he’d be too busy worrying about which side to part his hair for his appearance on the Nazi equivalent of The One Show to get any conquering done. And that surely is a bad thing? I think.