For Tomorrow (VIII) – Arrows with a very bad aim


I’m sick of meta-campaigning and dark warnings about unintended consequences, and I don’t want to vote for entirely negative reasons, so I’m going to vote for the idea that’s been shoved before the public that I happen to like best. That happens to be the citizens basic income idea, which commits me to the Greens. Actually, it probably doesn’t because Blackley isn’t crusty-friendly territory.

Well never mind. Blood & Treasure says: vote crusty. They could do with a few more meat eaters.

How about you lot, then?

Actually Existing says: what Jamie said, including the bit about the meat-eaters. Although Manchester Central hasn’t got any more actual Green candidates than Blackley, so it looks as if I’ll end up voting Lib Dem.

I’ve been thinking about reasons to vote for parties, and in particular about reasons not to. This is, in part, a reaction to an anti-Respect post by Nick which irritated me greatly, and an anti-Lib Dem post from Meaders which irritated me almost as much. I rate both Nick and Meaders highly – they’re two of my favourite bloggers – but on this one they’re both wrong.

So, there you have it. Right then. Any other business?

Maybe I’ll go into it in a bit more depth. You could start with Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which (in one of its formulations) says:

Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature.

Don’t do anything, in other words, unless you’d be happy for everyone to act the same way all the time. Taken neat as an absolute principle, it’s a bit difficult to live up to – I think I’d just never get out of bed. Watered down and made relative, it makes quite a good tool to think with.

With regard to deciding who to vote for – and who not to vote for – the question is how far your reasons for choosing or avoiding a particular party can be generalised. Imagine that you explain your voting preferences to a friend, who is sufficiently impressed by your reasoning to pass them on to a visitor from another country. Parties have different names in the visitor’s country, of course, but your friend thinks that your choices are good enough to pass on anyway. You said, “I don’t vote BNP because they’re a racist party”; your friend passes on the general recommendation, don’t vote for racist parties. You said, “We’re a Labour family – my dad always voted Labour”; your friend says, “vote for whichever party your father supported”. What I’m getting at is that there’s a difference between reasons which can be generalised and those that can’t. For simplicity, I’ll call the first kind Good Reasons and the second kind Bad Reasons.

A few common reasons for not voting for a party:

$PARTY are a bunch of lying, unprincipled scumbags who would make a deal with the Devil if it would gain them a few extra votes
Bad reason. Show me a party that isn’t – or, to be less polemical, show me a party that hasn’t been accused of this by its opponents.

$CANDIDATE is an untrustworthy sleazebag with a long record of [coat-turning|idleness|drunkenness|dodgy property deals|sexual harassment|all of the above]
Bad reason. Even if your candidate’s a bad lot, you can’t hope to make a consistent choice between parties on the basis of avoiding people like that.

$CANDIDATE is a lickspittle power-worshipper
Bad reason, obviously. Very much the same reason as the previous.

$LEFT_WING_PARTY is crawling with Trots
Bad reason. Show me one that isn’t. Apart from the Greens, obviously.

The point isn’t that you should never make a choice on the basis of Bad reasons, just that you should be aware of what you’re doing. Personally, I have a deep distrust of anything the SWP are involved in, and an equally deep personal dislike of George Galloway, so if I lived in Bethnal Green I’d find it very difficult to vote for Respect. But I see those as Bad reasons, and I wouldn’t urge them on anyone else. (And they certainly wouldn’t outweigh my reasons for not voting Labour.)

When you get right down to it, it seems to me, there are only two Good reasons for not voting for a party.

It’s a bad project.
There is nothing good to say about the New Labour project. There is nothing good to say about the project of the Conservative Party or UKIP or Veritas: voting for these parties could conceivably help break the New Labour log-jam, but breaking it on their terms would be far too high a price. (As an aside, I’m not an enthusiast for the European project & have a definite soft spot for the Sked/Booker UKIP of old, but those days and that party are long gone.)

The only other Good reason is

It might be a good project, but it hasn’t got a hope
Which is why I’m not intending to vote for the only true Left candidate in my constituency, who is standing for the Socialist Labour Party. I’m not advising anyone not to vote Respect; I wouldn’t advise against voting for the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Green Socialism, the SSP, Forward Wales or the SPGB, either, and I’d be all in favour of voting for the IWCA or the SADP. But I would advise anyone who will listen to give up on the Socialist Labour Party. (Or, as the leaflet that came through our door says (twice), “the Socialist Labour Party – Arthur Scargill”. Maybe it’s a toast.) Not because they’re Stalinists; I tend to prefer Trots to Stalinists (and I’m not very keen on Trots), but that would be a Bad reason. Just because the SLP, after all these years, urgently needs to give up and let its activists get on with their lives – and perhaps contribute to a political project which has got a future.

(You could say that the one about the Trots is in fact a Good reason, because any party that’s run by Trots by definition has no future. But I think you’d be wrong; at the moment I’m willing to give Respect, in particular, the benefit of the doubt. Apart from anything else, their activists are doing a great deal of work on the ground, which is a damn sight more than I am. I salute their indefatigability.)

(Sorry. Couldn’t resist it.)

What does all that add up to? What it adds up to, for me, is a choice between the Lib Dems and a spoilt ballot. Parliamentary democracy is hard, says Barbie.

[Update (29/4): Jamie (see comments) is right; I’ll have the choice of voting Green after all. Phew.]


  1. Meaders
    Posted 29 April 2005 at 12:29 | Permalink | Reply

    My boo hiss to Lib Dems reasons don’t seem to be covered above – though they are wild, delirious opportunists, they have a certain method. Fundamentally, this is a party of the right, and gearing itself up to head further rightwards. They stand even more wholeheartedly for neoliberalism than do New Labour. That’s why I won’t vote for them, quite apart from slipperiness over Iraq, tuition fees, civil liberties and ID cards.

    The sooner we can break out of system in which this shower appear to be the least worst option, the better. We won’t get to that happy state of affairs through tactical voting.

  2. Phil
    Posted 29 April 2005 at 14:10 | Permalink | Reply

    Fundamentally, this is a party of the right, and gearing itself up to head further rightwards. They stand even more wholeheartedly for neoliberalism than do New Labour.

    I don’t agree with your analysis, but if I did I’d certainly agree with your conclusion! You haven’t persuaded me not to vote for ’em next week (and I really don’t like the idea of spoiling my ballot paper), but I will be reading the small print a bit more attentively from now on.

  3. jamie
    Posted 29 April 2005 at 14:26 | Permalink | Reply

    hang on Phil, surely there’s a Green standing in Central? It’s there best chance in the North West of saving their deposit.

    Oh, and ta for the plug…

  4. Anonymous
    Posted 29 April 2005 at 19:49 | Permalink | Reply

    Don’t call it a spoilt ballot. Call it a vote for World Socialism.

    I’m resisting the temptation to vote for Respect’s Sister Yvonne (as she describes herself). It’s down to Green vs ‘SPGB by proxy’ as far as I’m concerned.

    Things are getting serious round here – I’ve just seen a Labour leaflet showing that the candidate has got a bike exactly the same as mine. Bugger – that just about trebles my chances of getting my tyres slashed next time I leave it unattended.

    I’m with Meaders on the LibDems – note Kettle’s article a couple of days ago in the Grauniad. Precis: ‘They might even get into power by 2010 – of course, they’ll have to drop the radial shit first.’

    Chris ‘without illusions’ W

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