As we get closer to the 2015 General Election I am thinking a lot about the way we chose to use our voices. I have friends who refuse to vote and friends who passionately encourage everyone to go to the ballot boxes. I have found myself in wonderful discussions with...

people who are actively pushing towards an alternative/revolutionary movement which has nothing to do with Government and everything to do with politics.

Whatever the viewpoint it feels to me that there is something stirring. people are talking and arguing and issues are being debated everywhere. Smaller parties are getting a lot of attention. The way we use social media is helping us all to state our beliefs and have them challenged.

The outcome of the last general election saw the first coalition government since 1940. No single party managed to achieve the required majority to give them the mandate of the people.

Does this change the way we should think about voting? where do we find ourselves in 2015?

Firstly, coalition Government has become a possibility, even a likelihood. Smaller parties are gaining attention and gathering support, and people are starting to question how best to use their votes. Some people are signing up online to agree to swap their choice of party with sympathetic voters in other constituencies. But should we still be trying to vote tactically at all? Maybe a vote for the smaller parties will hold more weight now than it ever did in the past. The televised debates saw the leaders of 7 parties battling out the key issues of this election, it looks like the field is opening, the options starting to widen and the two-party system beginning to fragment.

A few days ago I answered a knock on my door from a Labour councillor who began his pitch with the statement that realistically, this will be a two-horse race, and that if i didn't want the Conservatives to win I had no choice but to vote Labour. This struck me as a strange and jarring opener. After all, I was quite happy to talk and quite interested in what Labour had to say. My politics are left-wing and I certainly don’t want the Tories back in; the opportunity to talk about Labour’s policies was a welcome one. What actually happened though was that this opening argument bothered me a lot.

Have we really come to a point where the two main parties are so sure of their odds that they no longer even pretend to sell themselves on their strengths and policies? Or is this defensive, scaremongering tactic the result of the fear creeping in amongst them? Perhaps if it was true that the smaller parties presented no threat they wouldn't need to discourage these votes from occurring.

It seems to me that the threat here is not necessarily the landslide election of a smaller party, (although perhaps even this is possible) but the disbanding of votes across more options because of a loss of faith in ‘the big two’ and this is something that both main parties must be concerned about. Votes going elsewhere might make it harder for them to gain a majority and could even change the outcome between the two of them, but rather than looking at what is drawing people away from voting Tory and Labour they seem to be trying to worry people back into line. “don't vote for a smaller party” I was told on my doorstep. “it is a wasted vote.” It was even said to me that if i voted Green and the Tories won by one vote that it would be “on my shoulders”.

Hang on a second…

Am i obligated to keep the 2 main parties switching neatly between themselves every 4 years? Is this a system I should be actively upholding lest I make things blurry and difficult by voting for a smaller party? Am I obligated to vote Labour just because they aren't Tory regardless of the policies that attract and interest me?

This does not feel like effective Democracy.
Perhaps if my elected MP does not reflect the majority political alignment of my constituency then that is not on my shoulders, but on the shoulders of a system that is struggling to operate under a new surge of interest in doing things a different way.

The referendum for the change in the voting system from FPTP to AV came in 2011, just after the election of the Con-Dem coalition. Perhaps if people's choices fragment further and smaller parties are becoming a viable and desirable option it is time to return to the question of whether First Past the Post is suiting us best. if we get to a point where no Government can win with a majority because of smaller parties attracting a significant portion of the vote then the answer is not to challenge the electorate to be more considerate and vote within simpler lines, it is to change a system that does not do its job at representing the various needs and concerns of today’s electorate.

The councillor at my door assured me that he didn't agree with the system either, and earnestly told me that unfair as it is, it is the truth and for now I should look to stay within the boundaries of this truth to avoid an undesirable outcome. When my housemate asked him whether Labour had any plan to address this unfair unrepresentative voting system we were told, of course, no.

It ultimately benefits both parties. so the earnestness and understanding apology, the shoulder shrugging, tooth whistling, “ah well, thats just the way it is I'm afraid” Doesn't ring very true for me.

If we are not being represented lets find what represents us and ask for it. Lets organise, lets protest, lets lie on the floor outside Downing Street, lets be vocal and passionate, let us guide whatever Government we have toward listening to us, trusting us, helping us rather than themselves and the corporations that trump our needs every time. It might get messy, I'm willing to get my hands dirty. No great change or shift happened smoothly, silently overnight without any issue or displacement. but thats how we move forward. lets figure out a new way to do things. or shall we just shrug and moan and say it is what it is?

A recent anonymous online poll by ‘Grit’ showed huge support for all the smaller parties, and massive, wide-reaching support for the Greens above any other party. it is hard to say how well any poll reflects public opinion; it depends who votes on them and on how they are circulated and monitored, but I wonder how many of the people who would put Green down on an opinion poll will go into the polling station and vote Labour. what would happen if just once we all voted for the party we actually wanted? Maybe we could change the status quo. maybe the system would fragment beyond repair, maybe it is true that we would risk another 4 years of the Tories or a Tory coalition/minority Government but we'd also get a bunch more seats being taken by smaller parties. maybe the voices in Parliament would start coming from more than 2 directions.

This morning I was discussing writing this blog with a close friend of mine. This guy actively chooses not to vote. When we started to discuss the rise of smaller parties he quickly said that if he felt that were the case he would happily go to the ballot box.

We complain about ‘voter apathy’ but we hold onto the same two choices again and again. We are told that this is the way it works, because our vote counting system favors a smaller choice and can’t handle a broad range of options, so we keep getting the same two choices, which however you look at it, is always going to be ‘us or them’.

We look 4 to 8 years into the future instead of looking several generations down the line. We complain about the constant bickering, mud-slinging, public school boy, out-of-touch nature of politics, and then we go and support it, we let it happen. most 'apathetic' voters I know are just sick of the facade. When they are given the phrase ‘your vote DOES make a difference!’ their point gets missed. their vote can make a difference between 2, possibly 3  parties. Within a system that isn't satisfying them. Within a system where they don’t feel heard or involved or cared about, because the nature of it feels that our Government and Opposition parties dont need to listen to the electorate. they dont need to contact us except in the few months running up to election time. apart from ‘is it us or you this time?’ there is no real question. it is all about them. all about ego. all about beating the other guy, ridicluing him, referencing past mistakes. there is no sense of moving forward together. there is no sense of fixing the problems now that will affect our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

This election feels exciting because it feels for the first time like things could be on the verge of change, but this possibility is being actively quashed door-to-door. the current argument being pushed by Labour is not ‘vote for who you want as long as you vote’, or even 'vote for our policies' but 'there are only two choices. Pick a side or lose your voice'. we can only start to re-engage if we feel there is a viable option to go for what we want, only if people start to shun tactical voting and vote for the party whose policies best reflect them. If we continue to vote within the boundaries of what we have been told the system is, or limited by what we fear might happen if everything doesn't come out clean and easy and shining, we stay on the same path, we keep our choices limited. lets not be guided by fear, lets mess things up. if the entire political system is that easily crumbled then maybe it is time for something new to arise from the rubble.

Neiszche says that a mistaken idea “grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be part of the thing and turns into its very body.”

Perhaps tactical voting has gone on for such a long time, and is so powerfully reinforced that we cant know what the outcome would be if everyone just voted for who they wanted. maybe our system would fracture, perhaps we would have a 3 way coalition, perhaps things would be a mess for a while, but I'm not sure thats such a bad thing. we cant fix problems that we are afraid to uncover. lets ask for what we want. not just those we believe we are allowed to choose.

Daniel Couper