Tomorrow we will be voting.
If I lived a few hundred yards North, just over the river, I could cast my vote for Dr Evan Harris.
I envy my neighbours. They have a real choice in candidate and their vote will count. The constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon is a marginal where it is not clear cut who will win. My own constituency is a pretty safe seat and my vote is, therefore, unlikely to influence the result.
Evan Harris is a candidate I could vote for wholeheartedly. We need not get party political to understand why. He brings passions and expertise, and a commitment to reason and evidence. Such attributes are uncomfortably rare in British politics. Instead, we see convictions and commitment to dogma as being heralded as desirable traits. We also see ignorance of science as being no bar to becoming a parliamentary representative. Evan has championed many causes that are important and he has done so with a constant integrity and intelligence.
But his stance on such issues as the funding of homeopathy, scientific research with animals, womens abortion rights and the legalisation of assisted dying for the suffering terminally ill of sound mind have created many enemies. Indeed, his constituency has been heavily leafleted by Christian right wingers and animal rights extremists. He is standing against Nicola Blackwood, a young Conservative candidate who is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, an organisation that seeks to put prayer at the heart of government.
As I say, this constituency is lucky. Thinking voters, who live in the real world and not one occupied by magic pills and sky fairies, have a chance of electing a rational and committed individual and not someone who will be consulting their invisible friend before inflicting their warped sense of morality upon us.
But, for most people in the UK, our votes will not count. We will not be able to find a candidate who we believe will be outstanding and hard working and, even if we did, our vote would mean nothing.
The Liberal Democrats, if they have influence in the new government, have long held a commitment to change the voting system so that votes can no longer be wasted in safe seats. Proportional representation holds fears for many. We like being able to put our vote against a specific name so that we can have the chance to bypass party politics, if we so wish, and vote in individuals who are exceptional and will enrich parliament in their own way. The problem is that for most, this ideal is just a fantasy. Our candidates are chosen by party bureaucracies and we end up with apparatchics and dullards who have been good party players. Our parliament ends up, on the whole, with occupants who are good at playing politics and not being free thinking politicians. We rarely end up with people who understand science, technology, education and health – but with lawyers, union leaders and those born with silver spoons in their mouths.
I attended Evan’s campaign kick off in Oxford recently and was sat next to an American physician who described herself as an “allopath” and was a big supporter of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. We had a good chat. I am not sure if she liked all Evan had to say but was so impressed with the informality of the hustings, its humour and the obvious intelligence of debates. It would be nice to think that if she could vote in the UK, she would feel a vote for Evan would be positive, despite their differences of opinions on the merits of alternative medicine. It is a shame that more people do not take part in such political events and get to see their politicians for who they are. But we have been put off politics by self-serving politicians who cheat their expenses and then retire to a fat director’s salary. And again, for most people, there is nothing we can do about it.
Politics would be reborn if our votes counted. If our votes could be placed against names that meant something to us. If our votes could help oust the lazy, ignorant, bigoted or corrupt. And that is why I feel the most important result from tomorrow’s election would be a parliament that was committed to a fairer electoral system. Proportional representation need not remove the intimacy of voting for local people we can meet on the street – there are many forms. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, I believe, favour a form of Single Transferable Vote in multiple MP constituencies, and this would be a good balance and achieve these aims. It could help ensure quality candidates persisted and thrived whilst the ineffective suffer.
I am not confident, that even in the event of a hung parliament, such an outcome would be easy. There are too many vested interests who will want to stop this. The main two parties themselves could no longer assume all political control despite only achieving minority support. The press could no longer connive and scheme to enrich their proprietors coffers. The power shift from the political elite and the billionaire party backers to individual MPs and voters would be huge and we could expect massive resistance.
But the prize would be a richer parliament with most voters having a say in its make up. I would hope we would see more candidates like Evan Harris – albeit many you would not agree with. But the scrutiny of our governments could only be improved, the likelihood of corruption diminished and the quality of our candidates enhanced.
I know which way I will be voting tomorrow – even if it counts for nothing. I hope, however, your vote counts.