Friday, 12 March 2010

This is very interesting.

I can absolutely understand why many people around my age don't want to vote in the upcoming elections, as long as they can understand why they deserve a smack and a dose of Susan B Anthony: suffrage is the pivotal right. If you opt out of the one effort that makes you a relevant civic entity, you have forfeited your right to complain about anything the government does, and you have betrayed all the other young people who do want the right to be heard. Generations of suffragettes, civil rights protesters and trades unionists did not fight and die so that you could sit on the sofa thinking about how the government never listens to you.

But if you're stil parrotting the line that voting doesn't make a difference and politicians are all the same - implying that you've never actually looked too hard at John Redwood- there is now an alternative. You can give your vote to someone who does care, someone in another country affected by Britain's policies on trade sanctions, climate change and military interventionism, someone who doesn't have a voice in these elections, but who just might deserve one. No, really.

The Give Your Vote campaign is one of the maddest, most mind-boggling, most potentially revolutionary ideas to come out of the internet age in Britain so far. The concept is simple: if you don't see the point of using your vote yourself, as is the case for many Disaffected Yoofs, then you can sign up to recieve notification of how one real person in Ghana, Bangladesh or Afghanistan would vote in your place, if they could. And then you get off your arse and you cast that vote. Due to launch on Monday, this drive to combat voter apathy and build international solidarity has already gained several hundred Facebook followers, many of whom appear to be more than caps-happy flamewar faff-merchants, and several of whom have already pledged to donate their unused votes to people in developing countries whose livelihoods, homes and families have been imperilled by the decisions of British governments.

The scheme seems to be surprisingly thought through, with manifestos and focus groups in each of the target countries and an open-source system based on the efforts of volunteers to co-ordinate the proxy votes on election day. I spoke to the Give Your Vote campaigns organiser, May Abdalla, who is evangelical about creating a climate of global democratic involvement in an age where politics is disconnected from the reality of young people's lives:

"The internet means we can conceptualise communities that aren't just geographical, and start imagining democracy that isn't just limited to within borders," she said. "Young people understand that our 'neighborhood' is now global, but the campaign is aimed at everyone who feels passionately that people should be allowed to be part of the decisions that affect them. And we're not the first to have this idea. During the US election, people started questioning the breadth of US influence; when we see so many so-called international organisations dominated by a few countries, whilst at the same time 'democracy' is held up as something so valuable that our country will fight for another nation to get it, we have to question how there can be real responsibilty in their actions if those they affect can't hold them to account."

"Give Your Vote is the mobilising of a transnational civil society through new media," Abdalla explained. "People in Ghana and Bangladesh have respnded so well to the idea that they can represent themselves, rather than acting through an NGO that has its own objectives or requirements. The internet has a capacity to be used as a democratising force - because we can allow that diversity of opinions without the need for gatekeepers and be active in that process."

All very sweet and utopian. But aren't they worried about being slung in jail for electoral fraud? "It's entirely legal, because we are not forcing anyone to vote in a particular way - jut encouraging them to allow others to use their vote as a platform," explained Abdalla. "Anyway, David Cameron tells us who to vote for all the time."

Most media outlets I've spoken to have dismissed Give Your Vote as a deranged student movement, and that, more than anything, is what excites me about the scheme. As a rule, any idea that makes nice people from both sides of the bourgeois political spectrum immediately and furiously dismiss you as a mental person generally has currency, because it almost always threatens unexamined orthodoxies. Orthodoxies like geography as the sole organising force for solidarity and fellow feeling. Orthodoxies like the inalienable right of the West to operate for its own profit or pride in the third world without being held to account by citizens of developing countries. Orthodoxies like East and West - them and us - rich and poor.

I will not be taking part directly, because I'm already planning to use my own vote to assist one of the liberal PPCs in Leyton and Wanstead. But if you're not planning to vote yourself, I absolutely encourage you to sign up to the Give Your Vote scheme. If you can't be arsed to tick one box once every five years to hold your government to account, you now no longer have the option of whinging that it won't make any difference, because if even a few hundred votes can be cast by proxy in this election by people in countries affected by British policymaking, that will send an important message about international solidarity. I say this as a British patriot - yes, I'm on the left, and I'm a patriot and I'm proud, a patriot who believes in no borders. I love the British, and I also love my planet, and I believe that global thinking and global policymaking are the only paradigms that will count in a world that is increasingly connected, facing more and more problems that cross international borders, and approaching the singularity threshold. I believe in an international struggle for the liberation of workers, of women, of the disposessed. And lots of other young people believe in it, too.

The Give Your Vote scheme is exciting because it's a whole new way of thinking about politics and online democracy, and that's frightening for the old people who are currently sitting on all the power and all the money in this country. It's frightening enough that this time round, Give Your Vote's impact will remain small, and they will doubtless be dismissed by everyone as a bunch of idealistic, utopian, lunatic do-gooders, which is precisely what they are. But so were the first suffragettes; so were the early civil rights activists; so were the Diggers, the Levellers, and all the weirdos and fringe gangs in this country and elsewhere who dared to dream of a freer, fairer world.

Most of the people reading this blog only have rights today because someone, tens or hundreds of years ago, had the crazy idea that we deserved them, and was prepared to be dismissed as crazy and hounded as a dangerous freak because of that powerful, paradigm-bended idea. Someone always has to do it first. And maybe, just maybe, this is another one of those first times.


  1. The scheme sounds completely counter-intuitive. Firstly, I suspect that the majority of people who don't vote would not be sufficiently engaged with socio-political issues to be bothered about the scheme (I can't guess how many people on the Facebook group merely think it's a good idea or are really going to vote now when they wouldn't before), and the minority who dislike voting because of objections to the system are unlikely to be won over by the fact that somebody else is suggesting the voting. Secondly, it arguably doesn't really increase input, it just disperses it, although I'd be interested to see voting figures post-election to figure out whether this was actually the case.

    I'm a little biased here, because the concept bothers me. I don't think people *should* vote if they don't want to, and I'm not in favour of the idea of farming out one's thinking to someone else. I regard voting as a right similar to abortion in this regard - we should all have it, but that doesn't mean we ever need to exercise it if we don't want to. That's not to say it isn't a good idea to vote, because it generally is at least better than the alternative, but that it is neither morally superior nor always useful to do so.

    I dunno, the idea just bugs me.

  2. So are you voting for John Cryer?

  3. Even if I was going to be able to talk my sister into doing this, I'd have to talk her into actually putting herself on the electoral register first... I just can't understand this not-voting mentality!

  4. Question: Are talking about not going to vote or simply not choosing a particular candidate? What if you were to indicate 'None of the above' through a spoiled ballot paper?


  5. I suspect I'm in the demographic this is aimed at - politically engaged, but sick to the teeth with the British political system and political class, so unwilling to give my consent to be governed by any of them. To me, voting occupies a similar emotional space to tax breaks for married couples - a sprinkling of sugar on top of steaming turd (in the first case an attempt to ameliorate the broken and exclusionary UK political system by letting the voter choose which hand they want dipping into their pockets, in the second an attempt to bribe people into accepting the states interference in and observation of their personal relationships). In both cases, I'm pragmatic enough to use them tactically if I think it'll be of some benefit, but I'm not exactly thrilled about my choices.

    I like the idea of donating a vote, to be honest, and can definitely see where the organisers are coming from. If they've managed to set up the infrastructure on the ground to run this in the target countries then they're doing some pretty heroic work and should be commended. Where I have my doubts, however, is whether in this election any vote I donated would make the slightest bit of difference to the recipient. Are any of the parties offering anything substantially different regarding Afghanistan, international trade agreements or other relevant issues? Bear in mind that the most realistic outcomes for the next government are Conservative, Hung Parliament (with Lib dems as a kingmaker) or a crippled Labour party - no need to read to us from the lib dem manifesto of what they'd do if they had unfettered power. Realistically, how useful is this going to be for people?

    (I'm not being rhetorical - I really want to know!)

  6. Although this is an interesting idea with noble intentions I think it is fundamentally flawed as are, unusually I must say, your arguments for supporting it.

    Firstly let us debunk the common line that because people did noble things to achieve the right to vote for marginalised groups in the twentieth century that we have must endorse the current electoral system. The important point is that it is a right to vote and making a case that people who choose not to use that right are abusing it is a dangerous precedent. Rights are securities they do remain active even without your interaction with them. For instance I have the right to have gay sex without any form of discrimination and that right remains in existence even though I choose not to take advantage of it. If you begin to claim that there is any other situation you create a precedent for some form of qualification.

    Furthermore the decision not to vote is a rejection of the lack of choice that exists within the current political system. All three parties seem to accept the neo-liberal economic model, continuing privatization of the public services and a bogus cuts agenda. That is not to say that every politician is a John Redwood but that the policy platforms of the three parties do not provide solutions to the current situation. But you could say, what is wrong with voting for the least painful option and swallowing the fact that none of them are suitable? Doing this is a tacit acceptance of the current situation and will not give the political class a wake up call that they surely need. This could probably be better solved by having a mass effort to spoil ballots to send a direct message that people are unsatisfied with the current choices and not just too lazy to vote.

    Another tired phrase that you use is that people who don't vote lose the right to complain. This is clearly a fallacy because democratic society is not just based upon a electoral principle. The people of North Korea have the right to vote but without the other important rights of a democratic society they live in a tyranny. People do not forfeit their other democratic rights, the rights to freedoms of expression and debate and inquiry, an open and accountable media, economic democracy for the people and equality before the law (at least two of which can be boiled down to the right to complain).

    However this is not ignore the broader point the there is no incentive for politicians to get turnout up generally, in contrast to the clear incentive to get their own voters out. However if we placed a minimum turnout on the general election people desperate for power would have to properly engage with those who were being ignored.

    The other policy that needs to be enacted is the introduction of a voting system where every vote would count. In my own position as a student who could either vote in Nottingham South or Central Suffolk and North Ipswich I have no incentive to vote because they are both safe seats and so however much I take a deep interest in the fight in my local constituency I know that it will be a wasted vote.

    Even if these arguments for not shaming non-voters were not true this does not mean that Give Your Vote is the way to deal with this problem. The issue i see with give your vote is the lack of understanding of the methodology that came to getting these results and so it is difficult to know with certainty how accurately this reflects the desires of the people of Afghanistan, Ghana or Bangladesh. Furthermore, as the above poster pointed out the issues that the campaigners are talking about are not contentious amongst the mainstream parties.

    If we want people to get into politics this is not the right way to do it. Instead the disaffected need to come together a produce a party of the genuinely liberal left that rejects the consensus and come up with a new economic model without rejecting the positives of capitalism and prepare to genuinely compete the next general election campaign in about 2014/5.

  7. If you opt out of the one effort that makes you a relevant civic entity, you have forfeited your right to complain about anything the government does, and you have betrayed all the other young people who do want the right to be heard.

    I don't agree with this at all. Having the right to do something doesn't mean you're obligated to do it. If you feel none of the parties adequately represents you, it's perfectly legitimate to abstain. I only wish there was an option to vote for 'none of the above'.

    With that said, though, I do think that this election is the most important one I've lived through, and I do think that people should vote this time even so, if only so that the inevitable Tory victory is at least tempered by a sizeable opposition. Debate is what this country needs, not any party stomping all over the others - especially if anyone's to prove to doubters that they're not 'all the same'.

  8. Wow. Abdication of individual responsibility taken to new heights (or depths). Coupled with a Third World Cultural Cringe ... it's brilliant !

  9. This is crazy - and brilliant! It's taking me a while to get my head round it, but instinctively I like it. When so many of our problems are global, why should democracy be local?

  10. Interesting concept,utterly flawed.Just how many people who are currently sufficiently apathetic and/or unregistered to vote are going to hear of,let alone register for, this campaign and then vote according to how someone (unversed with the UK political issues, let alone the constituency ones that do come into play a lot)advises?
    Aren't you just better of directly addressing the apathetic and asking them to get engaged,rather than bizarrely asking them to get engaged,but being directed by a third party?
    Oh, and by the way. Political apathy can be a wholly legitimate choice. Apathy on the grounds of plain ignorance/laziness isn't, but if it's apathy borne of disillusionment or disenchantment, then that is a valid position to have.

  11. Mmm but surely it's less effort to just inform yourself about the different parties and vote for one of them... actually, I am not sure it is, since while the second part is just a walk down the shops, the first part takes actual thought and stuff.

  12. Not voting is entirely rational, unless it has significant consumption benefits for you (i.e. you enjoy the process of voting more than the inconvenience bothers you.

    It doesn't matter whether the parties are too similar, too far apart, whatever. The chance of your particular vote changing anything relevant at all are negligible. The chance that your one vote would be the vote that swings it is tiny. Even if your vote did decide your constituency, the chance of that constituency swinging it is again tiny.

    This is something Rousseau understood, and was (one of) his main point(s) for why true democracy was only possible in very small communities. Any given individual is simply swept away in the current system.

    I therefore think there is a further explanation for apathy than the 'ignorance/laziness' and 'disillusionment or disenchantment' the previous commenter mentioned. Rationality.

    This is, in my opinion, a good reason for making voting compulsory (so long as there is a 'None of the above' option) - because it then becomes rational to vote again.

  13. @sinister agent

    "I only wish there was an option to vote for 'none of the above'."

    Spoil your ballot - which is effectively the same thing.

  14. I remember when in the 1980s when lefty parents used to exhort their kids to eat all their dinner because there were kids in Ethiopia who were starving.

    That wasn't necessarily a bad thing but if those parents had actually taken the step of sending half eaten fish fingers and cold chips to Ethiopia in a jiffy bag they would've hit upon the equivalent of this scheme.

    It's quite an interesting idea for an article in a magazine. It's not a sensible or useful thing to actually try and do.

  15. I don't vote because I don't believe in democracy.
    Here's why:

  16. Before I start this, I would like to say that I'm a long-time reader, first-time commenter, and I enjoy your writing. I say this to try and convince you that I'm not a troll, and that I understand you wrote this with the best of intentions, but let me explain why it has made me more angry than more or less anything else I've read.

    Politics is local. General elections are not presidential elections, and we vote in this country for local representatives to represent our interests in Westminster. Let's look at two MPs called Taylor. When Labour's David Taylor, representing North West Leicestershire, died over Christmas, he left behind a rump of voters that local party activists call 'Taylor Tories', ie natural Tory voters who voted for a Labour MP, against all their interests, because he represented their constituency so well.

    Not far from where I'm writing, in the Wyre Forest, another Taylor is represented in Parliament - the independent Dr Richard Taylor. Readers of this blog might well like many of his policies; he voted against the Iraq War, the renewal of Trident and the introduction of foundation hospitals. He voted for an inquiry into Iraq, and protections against climate change. Out of 645 MPs, his expenses ranked 640th. In other words, he is a reliable centre-left MP who is considerably better value for money than any Lib Dem. He is also, I happen to know, a very nice man.

    However, none of these things are why people voted for him. He stood for Parliament on a single-issue promise - keeping open Kidderminster General Hospital's Accident & Emergency department. Despite his very best efforts on the Health Select Committee, the department closed, but he won an unprecedented compromise deal keeping a department, dealing with some emergencies, open.

    He campaigned, and won, on this issue because it mattered greatly to local people, people who care about politics, people who would never participate in this stupid scheme you write about. Generally elderly people, scared that if they had a heart-attack, they wouldn't survive the 45-minute ambulance journey to Worcester A&E.

    I want you to give me one single good reason why the vote of one of his constituents, given in good faith due to serious, potentially life and death concerns, should be wiped out by a vote given away to some random Ghanaian, who would never have heard of the Wyre Forest, and would never give a single solitary shit about Kidderminster Hospital, let alone ever use it (or suffer from its closure). This is the most profoundly anti-democratic idea I have EVER heard of.

    There are more reasons to think this is an outrageous disenfranchisement of people who actually care about politics on this country. It guarantees 2 party dominance, since politics coverage of British affairs abroad never goes beyond the two main parties. This doesn't just hurt the BNP; it would massively hurt the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SWP and any other party of the genuine left, parties who already outrageoudly discriminated against by our electoral system.

    Further, it's completely lacking in accountability. This person could be walking around Ghana telling people that Labour MPs sodomise children and that a vote for the Tories is a vote for God as far as you know, yet you're going ahead and supporting it anyway!

    To think you had the nerve - the chutzpah - to call abstainers anti-democratic. They aren't doing a fraction of the damage to our representative democracy (hard fought for, as you note), that this terrible will.

  17. This person could be walking around Ghana telling people that Labour MPs sodomise children and that a vote for the Tories is a vote for God as far as you know, yet you're going ahead and supporting it anyway!

    Given the complete lack of transparancy of the site/idea, they wouldn't even need to go to that effort. Just set up a mailing list telling everyone that their specific person had voted for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

    I like the concept as an extension of the ideas coming out of the last US election. When our election and our politicans decisions affect their lives to such an extent, it is reasonable and just that they should have a voice in it. But this scheme is a joke, and I think agitating in the wrong direction - if someone is sufficiently engaged with politics to care enough to register their vote (and as someone who has a *huge* problem with forms, I recognise that this effect is not at all trivial for a lot of people), we should be encouraging them to use that vote to engage further with politics. We should never encourage people to let others make their decisions for them. Voting is not some magical act that does good whatever box you tick - it's the decision that is the important bit. Because to make the decision, you have to have thought even on the most trivial level about politics. And where one thought goes, others can follow more easily. Letting someone else make the decision is completely against the point of voting.

  18. Hmm, I agree with some of the points made above that this is impractical, but I like the idea on some level. Not sure I care that much (to be deliberately crass) about people in Ghana or Afghanistan - what about immigrants in the UK?
    I'm a German citizen living in the UK. I really, REALLY fucking care about UK politics because I like this country, I like living here and I care what happens here. But I don't get a vote in the general election. My flatmate, on the other hand, is a UK citizen who, as far as I can tell, doesn't give a toss. He'll probably go and vote, if only to pacify me because I rant at him about politics all day, but he'll still come out with the 'politicians are all the same/it doesn't make a difference' line pretty regularly. And he'll probably vote Tory because his dad's a small business owner and he (the flatmate) has some half-arsed ideas about 'I like having money, so yay capitalism, so boo socialism, so Tory' or something.
    Grrr, apathy (like, say, the famed 'student apathy') really pisses me off.

    Oh, and in case anyone's wondering, I *did* vote in the German parliamentary election in September. I sorta care about what happens in that country, too.

  19. I rather like the idea of this as a means of getting people to think a bit more. The hope would be that if people start to bother to go to the polling station they might go ‘hey, maybe I should think about some of the other issues’. Here’s hoping!

    I, like you, will not be signing up though as my vote is also pledged in fair Leyton & Wanstead… though as a local branch Chair it’ll be for another party.

    Sure we can’t tempt you with an anti-War Trade Unionist? ; )

  20. Not with a Euroskeptic one, you can't! :P

  21. If I can turn Blues into Guardian readers a bit of movement on Europe should be a doddle.

    just give me to the Hustings ; )

  22. Interesting post, but I'd just like to take exception to one particular statement that I hear a lot:

    If you opt out of the one effort that makes you a relevant civic entity, you have forfeited your right to complain about anything the government does...

    I feel that this is a flawed mentality. I'm pretty sure that I've done more for democracy and for the representation of my views by writing to and meeting with politicians than I ever have or could have with my ballot paper. The idea that "if you don't vote, then you have no right to complain" is ludicrous, because it's logical conclusion is that "if you vote, and the candidate you voted for wins, then you have no right to complain either" - after all, this is what you wanted, right?

    The argument is based on the mistaken assumption that non-voters don't care about the result of the election, which isn't necessarily true.

    It's certainly true for some people, some of the time, but these most-likely aren't the people who'll then take the time to give their vote to somebody else!

    Anyway, I agree with you on just about everything else, but this particular mindset really irks me, so I thought I'd call you on it. Thanks for writing!

  23. the proxy votes on election day. I spoke to the Give Your Vote campaigns organiser, May Abdalla, who is evangelical about creating a climate of global democratic involvement in an age where politics is disconnected from the reality of young people's lives. buy facebook fans


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