They're not voting because...
- Here is what I wrote to my MP...
Here is what I wrote to my MP Labour's Alan Whitehead outling why I'm not planning to vote:
Dear Dr. Whitehead,
Thank you for your reply of the 16th March. This correspondence may be rather irrelevant at this stage, as I decided not to register to vote in the forthcoming election, prior to your reply arriving. But I thought I should write some more measured words, my original letter coming from a feeling of being at the end of my tether with the current political situation and feeling that I'm going to have to live with it all my life.
As an engineer and now a science student, I wouldn't describe myself as having any strong political affiliations. This would have been the third election I would be able to vote in, having voted labour in the last two elections, but I just cannot support any of the parties. There doesn't seem any way to register my dissent with the political system other than to not vote at all. I'd personally like a None of the Above box, and I'm sure many of my contemporaries would agree. As I'm certain you will get another term this letter will have to do in lieu.
It's difficult in a few words to explain how I arrived at this position, but it does begin with the system itself. So when I say none of the important issues have really been addressed it is because the starting point seems wrong to begin with. So much power seems to have been ceded to business, either national or multinational, who are therefore unaccountable or not very accountable. And what's left resides in a government system that seems to have been centralising power recently having begun with devolution eight years ago, and is built upon some medieval adversarial system and frankly odd second chamber.
I don't know enough to say what should replace it, but the present system should go. There ought to be some way to ensure a genuinely representative group of people in both houses, instead of lots of law graduates, and people who actually discuss and make decisions based on evidence and can engage with the public at large. When I look back, at least there were people who had business or armed forces experiences making decisions at the top levels of government, which much have at least tempered political expediency.
(As a suggestion from a position of ignorance, a second chamber picked like a jury would be my choice for that part of government. Randomly selected individuals for a set term. We'd really see how much people trust their fellows to discuss the affairs of state! Not very much would be my cynical guess.)
As for the issues themselves, well just off the top of my head: pensions, land reform, transport policy, the tax system, common agricultural policy and free trade, energy provision all seem as much of a mess as eight years ago on a purely subjective summation.
My last girlfriend was a nurse, who because of pen and paper record keeping, regularly ran out of saline and bandages on what is supposed to be a top cancer ward. I can't imagine Tescos experiencing those kinds of logistic problems and seems remarkable that this situation should exist in 2005. I still had a two week wait to see my GP when I was living in London in one of the poorest boroughs in the country.
The latest popular story is the school dinners one, and again I'm amazed that the situation should exist. How has it become possible to feed children such rubbish and put vending machines in schools?
On a brutally pragmatic level, even if there was a terrorist atrocity it would effect far fewer people than the health effects of years of a generation eating foods that lead to diabetes and other illnesses and the costs of then treating them.
To me, it seems as though I'm always hearing about how I should be afraid of other people, foreigners, youths etc. and that creates a climate of fear. Then money is spent going to war and giving more powers to the security services to control these others instead of thinking about how we are all going to get along as a species, as there really is no other choice.
For example, securing an energy supply based on oil is pretty short term thinking and to do so at other peoples expense is not clever either, if it creates lots of angry humans ready to continue the cycle of violence. Or how about taxes, if there is an ageing population and low birth rate, without immigration, who is going to pay for the services we all take for granted?
The list is endless, but at the root is an archaic system that hasn't evolved to meet the needs of society it is supposed to serve. In science, old theories get amended or replaced by refinement or new, more successful hypotheses and the job is never finished. In politics, it seems you call old ideas tradition and keep things the same in defiance of any evidence to the contrary of their use. I would guess this is because once you have it, power is too nice a thing to share or trust someone else with!
My personal area of interest that I am studying to work in is water. We still live in a world where the UNHCR estimate, Some 1.4 billion people today have no access to drinking water and almost 4 billion do without adequate sanitation services. This is a fundamental for life and is the root of my belief that the basics have to be right to build the rest i.e. you have to be alive first to have the chance to make a decision.
Issues of national security and everything else stem from these roots and I appreciate what is being done to address the global debt problems at present. I really hope they succeed for everyone's sake.
Looking into this area though is one of the things that has made me so leery of national politics. That the water situation still exists is an indictment of politics globally and demonstrates how narrow and short term most thinking is. In my life time I'm not expecting a lot of progress, but I am actually optimistic about human ability to overcome problems in the long term i.e. over hundreds of years. But I do feel for all those millions that will die unnecessarily along the way because of what I consider stupidity.
I don't buy the argument about having to vote because my ancestors fought for the right to have it. It's knowledge more than politics that has made my life more comfortable than theirs. And if the leaders I have available to us are not going to use their powers sensibly, we just have to survive despite them and pursue better knowledge for our descendants.
Your principle remark about voting for a government over a single issue is fair enough, and I like to follow evidence rather than supposition, but on a purely anecdotal level, I and all my friends seem to feel the similarly. We grew up with Mrs. Thatcher and although the leader has changed and the party has changed, it feels to me as if everything else had continued as if she is still in charge.written 27th Apr 2005
And everyone I know just seems resigned to the the Iraq fiasco. Why protest when the powerful will just do what they want anyway?
No one I know will vote Tory, but who is there to vote for, who is going to do some good? Some of my friends are more pessimistic and agree with the Royal Astronomer Martin Rees, that this may well be humans last century one way or another. That disease or disaster, external or self induced will see us off the planet in the next few years . Maybe they are right and it's too late already. Cutting 60% of our carbon emissions by 2050 will be nothing if the EU sell a load of Airbuses to China so they can travel like we do. It may create jobs in the short term, but just hasten another problem.
I keep hearing about trust and choice from politicians, but I haven't got any trust right now and it doesn't seem like there is much choice under the current system. Tony Blair hasn't, to my eye, taken any responsibility for the mistakes he's made over Iraq and I suspect he's be telling fibs too, which is worse. I can't with a clear conscience vote for any party led by a liar whatever your personal merits.
ChrisC replies: The control of the Middle East isn't just about the current price of oil; as access to a cheap market. Its the leverage on the rest of the world; that NATO members can and will use military force to secure energy markets either for themselves, or more importantly to deny them to others.written 27th Apr 2005
Gavin replies: Roll on the apocalypse...
It is kind of depressing, isn't it? One day, it would be good to make a real difference.written 27th Apr 2005
. replies: I also cannot vote for a party led by a liar, so thats the big three not getting my vote then!written 28th Apr 2005
Alistair replies: Like I say in my letter, I am actually optimisitc about the long term, say 500 years!written 28th Apr 2005
Looking at human history we have come a long way, the very fact that there are 6 billion or so of us alive today in testement to that. I'm just doubtful about how much of that progress is the result of quality leadership.
It is depressing on an individual level, especially if one lives in Africa and has little food or water, the chances of a long and happy life are tiny.
As for myself I'm lucky to be one of the least oppressed people on the planet and my only way to look at things is to try and do something directly, however small, to improve the lot of everyone and ignore the static of politics.
It's a long term incremental process that will continue way beyond the life of anyone reading this. And what I mean by directly is getting the knowledge and skills to help.
Beliefs and wishful thinking are not very useful in my view. Evidence and rationality is where I position myself as the way to solve problems. But then that's why I'm a scientist!