Wednesday, 2 May 2012

If Voting Doesn't Change Anything, Why Did Hitler Abolish It?

"I don't vote, you're all the same..."; "Voting never changed anything..."; "I'd vote for you, but Corrie's on..."

Tomorrow is local elections day across the UK, as well as the election for the London Mayor. It is difficult to be sure, but turnout will almost certainly be well below 50%, and probably far below 40%. This is in spite of the country being in the grip of official recession and austerity economics driving a coach and horses through the social and economic fabric of the nation. It is in spite of the assault on education, health services and welfare by this most perniciously right wing of governments.

Nazi election poster March 1933
It doesn't mean that people reckon the Government is doing ok. Few governments have ever been so unpopular. In one poll this week, the two Coalition parties could barely muster 40% of the potential vote share between them, and the "others" column keeps nudging up to record highs in opinion polls - with the right wing UKIP doing particularly well in recent weeks; but also with growth for the Greens, Nationalists and a smattering for left wing Respect. The moribund BNP is the only one clearly out the running now.

But the real crisis is the loss of faith in voting changing anything. It is pointless, so many argue. And it is often hard to disagree, especially for local elections, if you look at how local government remains so emasculated and governed by national diktat even after the Localism Act supposedly devolved power to communities. Add on top the virtually identical agenda of the three main parties and a voting system which squashes challenges and a media that pretends they don't exist, and yes, you can sympathise with the "voting is a waste of time" argument.

Or you can, for about a minute.

Because the bottom line is that voting can change things. It might not happen overnight, and it might not provide exactly what you want, but voting can make a huge difference:
- between austerity and investment economics in the face of recession
- between a welfare state and "every man for himself" greedonomics (women and children perish)
- between war on Iran and diplomacy with Iran
- between nuclear power and renewable energy
- between public services and privatisation
- between developing land endlessly and protecting greenbelt
- the difference between Adolf Hitler and Otto Wells

Even locally, having served on a Parish Council and seeing the work now of District Councillors in my own area, Greens and others, making a difference to their communities, I readily choose voting over sitting at home complaining. Sure, there isn't always a good choice - but who makes the choices, who are the choices? We can leave it to big business, to the powers-that-be. Or the choices can be made by ordinary people - you, me, the woman down the street, the retired joiner. Any and all of us.

We do not live in a democracy - the combination of voting system, media ownership and a host of other controls prevent this. Likewise, the tragic subversion of the Labour Party by revisionist "third way" Blairites and the co-option of the Lib Dems into the free market magic circle much reduces any immediately obvious choice of different directions voters can opt for. But we do live at a time, unusual in historical terms, where enough of us working and voting together can make a difference.

I make a huge distinction between those who argue for the politics of resistance beyond the ballot box alone - through strike action, public demonstration and peaceful resistance/civil action: all these have a big role to play in driving change forward. But it is essential to elect radical new politicians and parties to lever the power of the state into truly democratic hands and to oversee the function of social and economic programmes beyond the local community. Otherwise, protest and dissent will be suppressed by the continuing control of the organs of the capitalist state by reactionaries - and any change will take longer and come about more violently, with all the awful consequences of such a path.

As for those who prefer to sit and watch Corrie and see the height of public participation being the tele-vote for X-Factor or Celebrity Undertaker or whatever passing pseudo-reality show has grasped the public's attention, I can say only wake up for God's sake and stop wasting this most precious of opportunities to make your life count beyond the numbers on the lottery balls. Voting can make a difference; but only if you get off your backside long enough to go and do it.

So, tomorrow, please...go and vote. For real change - for compassion and community.

Homer Simpson tries to vote for Obama from on Vimeo.

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