“The only wasted vote is a vote you don’t believe in.”
The First Past the Post (FPTP) system is irredeemably flawed, but perhaps the greatest harmful impact it has on our democracy is that it forces voters to abandon their positive convictions and vote against a result they despise. The result is an arrangement that favours the status quo and a combative two-party system. It also takes longer before the policies you believe in to make their way from the manifestos of the smaller parties to the bigger ones, a dangerous prospect for urgent issues.
So what do we do? Well, replacing FPTP is a good first step – or it seems that way – but neither of the two leading parties in the UK seem interested in doing that, so we end up in a difficult Catch-22 scenario.
The real question is: how do we vote? There are instances where strategic voting can be of benefit; however, it is worth being cautious both of the data that is used in those scenarios and the effect that repeated strategic voting can have on an area.
Every vote does – in fact – count. Not, perhaps, to the question of who wins the seat in that constituency in that election, and that is of course important (which is why strategic voting, alliances, etc do have a place). Just to focus on this narrow outcome of an election, however, misses the wider effects of a vote to a party, especially a traditionally smaller one:
(1) Finances their campaigns
Parties must pay a £500 deposit to put a candidate on the ballot paper. For smaller parties, this sometimes means taking out a loan, or taking money earmarked for local council campaigns. They receive this £500 deposit back if they get 5% of the vote share in the election. That will support an entire local campaign in some areas. Choosing to support a larger party, which has only some of the policies you believe in, and often watered down, means the party you believe in might not be able to ballot a candidate the next time around, or support a candidate in the local elections.
(2) Builds momentum for future elections
When it comes to strategic voting, no one votes for parties unless people have (previously) voted for those parties. That’s why bar graphs are so popular on the election literature that comes through your doors – parties need to show that they have a shot at getting the seat (and they’ll do all sorts of data wrangling to make it look like they do!). Voting for the party you believe in, even if they might not win this time, means that in the next election they might be in contention to win the seat.
(3) Demonstrates that those issues matter to the electorate
All sorts of factors determine why a policy is adopted by a party, but one of those factors is how popular it is going to be with the electorate (for instance the Conservatives suddenly banning fracking!). Casting your vote for a party means casting a vote for a set of policies. Even if that party doesn’t get in, you have shown that those policies are important to you, the voter, making it far more likely that they will be implemented.
Don’t waste your vote by voting for a party, for policies or for a person you don’t believe in. If we want to keep our democracy democratic, we need to vote for what we believe is best for our community, country and planet.
Your vote counts.