18 March 2015

I once watched a man realise, during a conversation, that his vote was his own to cast - not his father's, and not his grandfather's. It was a humbling moment. This May, he will choose how he votes, perhaps for the first time, not on the basis of the politicians of thirty or fifty years ago, and not on the colour of anyone's banner, but on the basis of conscience, and who best represents the principles he holds dear.

I know that very many people still vote, as I call it, 'tribally' – a sort of inherited allegiance, in some cases, as deeply felt as any fealty to a mediaeval overlord, or perhaps as rooted as one's preference as to a football or rugby team, or to 'your' Doctor Who. Loyalty is a fine thing. It goes both ways, however; we are allowed to examine whether it is still properly held.

Besides that, although some elements of the media rightly reference the full variety and choice of parties and candidates available, in other quarters, the whole election is portrayed simplistically as a straight-up choice between Leader A and Leader B.

Your vote, in your constituency, isn't really for a Prime Minister, after all. It should be for the person you think will do a good job of representing you and your community in Parliament. However, under the system we have, many people will vote for the person who happens to be a member of the party whose current leader they happen to think has the right qualities to be Prime Minister – irrespective, sometimes, of their individual local candidate's own qualities, personality and principles. This leaves some folk wanting to support a good local candidate but having no faith in their party, and others supporting a party whilst acknowledging that the local candidate is not at all to their taste or standard as a representative.

It's an odd system, and serves to reduce the grandeur of our democracy to a 'heads or tails' choice.

When we vote, do we think that we are we choosing a local representative, or the party they decided to join? Did they join because they share that party's principles? Does the party offer 'safe seats' to its favoured candidates, wherever they live or work, or do local people stand to represent their neighbours? If we are thinking purely in terms of their party leader, are we choosing the person we consider the strongest, or the smartest, or the fairest? Are we choosing the person who can impose their will on the rest of their party and thereby run the country according to their own personal principles? Do we actually share those principles? Are they perhaps the loudest, or the best television performer? And does that matter?

When the choices of millions of voters appears to feed in this way into fewer and fewer alternatives, until we end up with 'What Leader A wants' or 'What Leader B wants', then our democracy is surely not working as it should. A political party should be very much more than its leader, or else our choice is no more than selecting which autocrat will hold the reins of power.

At the Green Party conference last weekend, members raised and voted on matters of policy in a fully democratic way. There is no pulling of policies out of thin air, in the Green Party, according to the way the electoral wind is blowing. Nor are there very many 'career' Green politicians; after all, there are no safe Green seats. What there are, instead, are a great many principled Green-minded people who have decided that they can no longer sit by and watch bad decisions being made by those who hold the privilege of representing their constituents.

If you have ever looked at the choices on a ballot paper and thought 'none of the above, thank you very much', you'll understand the motivation that has driven Green-minded people from all walks of life to stand as candidates themselves. We didn't like the choices on offer, so we're creating a better one. 

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