Thursday, January 19, 2006

Who Do I Vote For?

Canada is having a federal election on Monday. Two of my Canadian friends have voted in advance, and have recently posted about how they chose to vote. Both are members of the Liberal Party; both dithered about which way to cast their ballot - and in the end, one voted Conservative, the other Liberal. In the course of their posts, both make interesting points about the nature of an election.

Firstly, Ian:

I've discovered that I don't think I would be a very good partisan. Someday I'd like to run for public office, likely under the Liberal banner, but I don't think I'm very good at sticking to party dogma at all costs...

Why, some of you are asking, in God's name are you voting for the man if you disagree with him on these policy issues? Well, in all honesty, there's plenty I disagree with policy-wise from each of the leaders, so it's difficult to plant myself firmly in one camp in that regard. For me, it came down to more long-term questions.

Secondly, Tyler:

I had reconsidered. On my way to the polling station I began to reconsider my support for the Liberal Party. All of the media coverage began to sank in. There had been corruption, there had been mistakes, there had been major cockups, Mike Klander was an idiot (but having been a riding association executive member, I knew that already) - maybe it really was time to send the Liberals back to the opposition benches for a while...

I simply cannot bring myself to vote "against" someone. For me, when you mark that "x" (or in my case, fill in the name), you are endorsing a candidate, their policies, and their vision for the country - not simultaneously condemning all of the candidates you did not vote for.

I had a similar dilemma when thinking about who I wanted to vote for in Britain's general election this summer - and blogged about it here. In the end, I voted for the Liberal Democrats. Yet I disagreed with them on their tax policy, I disagree with much of their public service policy (it sounds nice, but is hopelessly naive), and most of all, I disagree with an awful lot of what they say over Iraq, and despise the populist aspects of it. Was I wrong to vote that way?

Well, like Ian in Canada, I found myself disagreeing with every single party on some fairly important issue. Yet, I believe it is wrong not to vote; ultimately, it is the major chance that we have to make any sort of decision in the way we are run. At least once I have voted, I can explain the reasons why I have done and hold my representatives to account on that basis - a privilege denied to those who choose to exercise their right not to vote.

Unlike Tyler, of course, I voted to reject one party specifically - the Tories. Their manifesto was either insipid, uninspiring, and managerialism writ large, or (in other areas), it was pandering to base prejudice in a manner inimical to creating proper debate. All things considered, if I was voting for a government, I would not have wanted Charles Kennedy's 2005 LibDems to have formed it. Yet I would have wanted Michael Howard or Tony Blair to form it even less.

What, then, should be the principles one uses when one comes to vote? On the face of it, it would be nice if Tyler's principles could be used all the time: that when you vote you are endorsing the vision that the candidate represents. But ultimately, on many occasions the choice faced by voters will be unappealing to them. There isn't a single "average voter"; there isn't any way the whole of a policy platform can be expected to be compatible with a personal vision.

As much as you are endorsing a party vision then, you are simultaneously condemning the other visions. The extent will depend on the exact nature of the choice facing you at an election. At the risk of saying nothing, the vital thing is that all party visions are considered before you enter the room. But, especially in a system like Britain's, or like Canada's, where the vote is divided up into ridings which give disproportionate weight to certain voters in certain ridings, sometimes sending a signal by appealing to overall votes is going to be the way to go. And that will mean making a vote for negative, rather than positive choices.