In recent statistics published by the Houses of Parliament, voter apathy amongst 18-24-year-olds is a significant problem with only 51.8% turning out to the 2010 election, even more concerning yet is turnout in previous elections dropping to as low as 38.2% in 2005. Compare these percentages to the national average of 65%, and it seems this is symptomatic of a dissatisfied and disillusioned generation. Campus politics might not reflect this, with various voter registration drives and thriving student political groups, but it still may leave you wondering if there is an alternative to the style of politics that seem to just mimic scenes of Punch and Judy in almost every political debate. I personally am tired of smear campaigns, the policies that don’t seem to sufficiently deal with actual problems facing our country, and the political debates that are too centred on media narratives of things like immigration and ‘benefit scroungers’. That is why on 7th May, I will be spoiling my ballot paper, to show that
I am disillusioned with a system that does not represent my views and to show that I am still engaging with it.
Australia is seen to be the country with a solution for voter apathy as voting is compulsory, and I think that this could be one solution to the problem faced by the UK. But what is really interesting with Australia is their decision to include the option to vote for ‘none of the above’; the electorate can decide if they really dislike the options on offer, they can make that known. However we lack this option on ballot papers in the UK, with our alternative being to spoil your ballot paper. By doing this, you’re still participating in the democratic process and making your voice heard, it gets registered that you spoilt your ballot paper and you still turned out for the election. The problem when young people do not turn out for elections at all, is that policies simply don’t get made in their favour. Those within the 65+ age range had a turnout of nearly 75%, and unsurprisingly policies are created to appease them the most. For example, the best interest rates are being made available to ‘pensioner’ bonds which are exclusively for the 65+. By improving the voter turnout for younger demographics we may see a change to policies, so as to offer substantially better policies targeted at this age range. The beauty of spoiling your ballot paper being that you still do not have to select a party to represent you in the process of this, possibly causing policy makers to consider why they no longer have as great a mandate as they may have done otherwise.
One main criticism I get confronted with, is that by not voting I may be letting the worst politician win. Whilst I do bear that in mind, I also remember the substantial flaws within our voting system as well. Did you know that Simon Wright, the MP for Norwich South only received 29.4% of the vote in the last election? Put simply, this means that over 70% of the constituency did not even choose the person representing their constituency today. It must be noted that this is one of the worst examples from that election, yet it still highlights a real problem that just hasn’t been dealt with sufficiently by parliament. It’s because of this that I don’t feel guilty for wasting my vote.
I was raised by an anarchistic father who would regularly tell me not to trust those in power, to always question their ideas, and to not necessarily support Westminster. At first I really doubted his opinion. I tried engaging with a few political parties who held similar values to mine. I avidly listened, and still listen, to debates between various party leaders, or read some of their manifestos, like a good citizen. But when it came to meeting enough party politicians and listening to speeches that had essentially the same message but were just worded slightly differently, I no longer felt that I was represented by a system that was supposed to represent me. Choosing to spoil your ballot paper is just as valid a choice as choosing a political party, and I am happy with the choice I will be making at this general election.