On Monday our popular columnist Alex Kane revealed that he plans to spoil his ballot paper in the general election, after last year saying he would not vote at all in the 2014 elections.
Alex is always a good read, but this week the only part of his article I agreed with was his comment that Russell Brand “pumps out ... bunkum”.
Alex went on to say that it is fair for the comedian to imply that voting is of little use.
Alex opens his own case against voting by saying that the five parties will continue to form the Executive, and that a third of Ulster MPs do not take their seats. But anyone who finds Sinn Fein’s abstentionism objectionable has all the more reason to back one of the many candidates from multiple parties who would take their seats.
Alex suggests that the DUP “won’t be power brokers on May 8”.
The weakness of that point is betrayed by its uncertainty — it is his “instinct”.
The odds are indeed against that specific outcome but it is a plausible scenario, given the tightness of the arithmetic.
This undermines his more general point: that a vote makes little difference.
Imagine that was true, and follow through on the logic.
Tens of millions of Americans take part in US presidential elections. John F Kennedy’s 100,000 victory margin in 1960 (out of 68 million votes) was considered wafer slim. Not even the 2000 near-tie came down to a single vote.
No single American can feasibly affect the outcome, so if that was a reason not to vote there would be no point in any one of them voting.
Even if that was sound logic, it wouldn’t apply in elections where a vote might be decisive.
If ever there was a general election where small numbers of votes might be so, this is it.
Each MP will be a swing vote in the coming parliament, in which no party is expected to win an overall majority. Some of those MPs will be decided by a handful of votes: the outgoing Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP won by four votes last time. In 1997 Winchester was decided by two votes.
Conservative and Labour are “much the same”, Alex says.
It is true that in office they would not be as different as they pretend to be. But there are differences in their approaches to key matters such as the deficit, educational standards and welfare that presumably matter to Alex, a one-time Thatcherite.
He says that “the EU will continue to interfere in every aspect of our lives and neither Miliband nor Cameron will give us a clear, unambiguous in/out referendum”.
It is true that moderate establishment Tories are reluctant to hold such a plebiscite, but the prime minister will have to honour his commitment to an In-Out by 2017 if he wins an overall majority. He would be swiftly ousted if not.
Alex says that “even if UKIP pulls in a few million votes, our First-Past-The-Post system will limit them to a few seats and no influence”.
I happen to think it is a constitutional scandal that our electoral system can allow a party — Lib Dems, Ukip or anyone — to get so few seats from a vote of millions.
In 2011, Alex opposed proportional representation, which would have resolved that representation shortfall. But even that handful of Ukip seats could be key on May 8.
Alex didn’t vote in the Euro election because he opposes EU membership but that is like a Sinn Fein supporter allowing unionists to get all the Westminster votes because they want a united Ireland.
Last year even millions of Ukip voters turned out, and sent the largest number of UK MEPs to Strasbourg — a sharp signal to the Euro elite.
It is not inconsistent to vote en masse to send secessionists to a parliament you want to quit — think 1918 Ireland.
Alex felt that the new councils were “mini-Stormonts — complete with the vetoes and stalemates”, but voting is the way out of such an impasse.
There have been many attempts at new groups, from UPNI to Women’s Coalition to NI21. All fail without votes.
A common argument against voting is that there is no-one to vote for. But in Northern Ireland many seats have Orange, Green, left, right and environmental options, and some have cannabis activists.
There are 10 candidates in North Down and nine in several constituencies including my own of South Belfast.
Most voters will at least find someone who is markedly more palatable than someone else. Alex pre-empts that by saying that he won’t vote for the “least worst option”.
He thinks that “the people who are disengaging are, in fact, interested in politics”.
Perhaps that is true in safe seats. One reason I think Naomi Long has a chance is that people who never thought she could win might now vote.
Generally, I think non-voters are apathetic and next to nothing will bring them out. Across the UK, marginal seats or seats with large candidate lists (sometimes including mavericks such as ‘Death Off Roads Freight On Rail’) often still have low turnouts.
Apathy can be a form of selfishness, in someone who is comfortable with the world as it is and sees no need to engage with it (while perhaps bemoaning ‘no-one to vote for’).
Such apathy plainly does not apply to Alex, which makes it unfathomable to me that he should not vote (spoiling his vote is little different).