Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Compulsory Voting

The new proposal from the ippr, which is attracting support from some ministers, to make voting compulsory is a dreadful infringement of liberty. Basic rights such as the freedom of thought and conscience are infringed by forcing people to endorse the political system by voting. Even with an option of none of the above the powerful signal that people simply do not care about politics is an important message and one they should be free to send by ignoring the polls. If local politics really is less important to most people than Big Brother (it currently isn't... the statistic that more votes are cast in Big Brother relies on that system allowing multiple votes where elections do not) then something has to be done to reform local government to make it relevant rather than forcing people to cast a meaningless vote on an issue where they do not care a jot. Election day is the time to be really careful about infringements of liberty.

If politicians want to combat falling turnout they should be working at explaining to voters why their party is worthy of the effort of a vote. To remove this responsibility can only lead to a reduced effort at keeping the attention and loyalty of voters and a less responsive electoral system. It is relevant that this proposal is being supported by ministers in a government which is clearly failing to enthuse the electorate and only being elected thanks to the prolonged crisis of the Conservative Party, thankfully this finally appears to be coming to an end. If Labour's crisis of imagination and talent means that the most positive reason to vote for them is Dave the Chameleon that does not suggest that turnout in their favour deserves the defence of the legal system. As the parties become more worthy of public support it seems entirely possible the decline in participation will cease.

I also have a problem with the philosophical premise of this report. By introducing a fine for failing to vote this move would remove the one element of sacrifice, a small amount of time, that is still involved in voting. Given the amount that has been sacrificed in order to uphold our right to vote and the gravity of the decision we are contributing to the idea of forcing anyone to take part seems morally indefensible. If someone does not wish to be involved in the electoral decision then they can accept the judgement of the wiser souls who are willing to do their part. I can't find my copy of the book in order to quote properly but the rough substitute used from the film Starship Troopers is enough "When you vote, you're exercising political authority. You're using force. And force, my friends, is violence, the supreme authority from which all other authority derives." What kind of society would force people to exercise such authority?

My MP, Oliver Heald, is opposing this report. Good work; he doesn't need to force me to vote for him.

1 comment:

Oliver Heald MP said...

All good points! I completely agree with what you are saying.

It is only right, in a democracy, to give people the choice of not voting. That includes exercising their right not to engage in the process of voting. However I was pleased to read in your blog that not only are you going to be voting Conservative on May 4th, but you are actually commuting from London to vote! That’s real commitment!

On a separate note I wish you all the best with your Masters degree and hope your blog goes from strength to strength!