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My vote? None of the above. By A N Wilson

Blog | By A N Wilson | By A N Wilson | Jun 24, 2024

Women voting in 1920 - Wikimedia Commons

I thought about voting in the local elections, but in the end I decided against it.

I belonged to that very large number of people – millions – who never wanted the embarrassment and expense of a London mayor in the first place.

We are comparable to the millions and millions of Welsh who never wanted a national assembly – the majority of Welsh people. Millions of Scots – not a majority, but nonetheless a sizeable proportion of the population – did not want a Scottish parliament.

Voting in a mayoral election would only encourage whatever fool got chosen. London was much better organised by the old GLC. The mayors have all been inefficient show-offs who, in so far as they’ve had any control over things, have made life in London noticeably worse – less efficient public transport, more ugly buildings which mysteriously sidestep the (actually quite strict and sensible) regulations, worse schools, higher council tax.

The coming and going of the local elections enables us to limber up for the general election, which will be on us before long. It’s years since I voted in one of those. This is partly because I so much enjoy Evelyn Waugh’s joke answer when he was asked how he would be voting: ‘I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.’

Joke answer? Well, semi-joke. Waugh probably believed – as I do, more and more – that voting makes very little difference. In so far as it makes a difference, it makes things worse by encouraging the obvious falsehood that government by parties, to which very few people belong, is the most ‘democratic’ form of government.

Most of us loathe the parties, and despise them for drawing up ‘manifestos’ of what they pretend they believe. Such an exercise made sense for Marx and Engels writing The Communist Manifesto, which in its way is a rather splendid document. But this was a dream-aspiration, not a lying blueprint for government.

Most sane people who are not political fanatics simply want to live quiet lives. Even if they have not read the last lines of Middlemarch, they would agree with them. ‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistorical acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.’

I would go further, and question the kindly humanist George Eliot’s view that the world was moving in a direction of ‘growing good’ or improvement.

Is life for the average person necessarily better as a result of the last 50 or 100 years of parliamentary legislation? If you answer ‘Yes’ to this question, many of the ‘improvements’ on your list will turn out to be merely the scrapping of injustices that had themselves been enacted by parliament – such as the judicial persecution of homosexuals, or the enforcement of child labour.

People who live in prosperous Western countries speak scornfully of the ‘rigged’ elections in the brigand states, such as Putin’s Russia. All elections in the so-called democracies of the world are ‘rigged’, in the sense that you are not going to change very much by voting for any of the supposedly mainstream parties.

Look what happened to Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss when they ignored the Thatcherite mantra that ‘you can’t buck the markets’. The illusion, believed by these two Brexiteers, was that an independent Britain was now in charge of its own destiny and that the government could raise or lower tax as it pleased.

The ‘markets’ lost no time in reminding them that it is they, and not the politicians, who exercise supreme control. The world is divided between countries which gladly accept this – the so-called liberal democracies – and those who still have governments in the old-fashioned sense.

Both alternatives are pretty horrible but, because we are programmed to think in a certain way, ‘we’ – people who live in the West – believe it is preferable to live in a ‘democratic’ country, rather than in one of the countries that tries to defy the ‘markets’.

The countries with old-fashioned governments, such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, are depicted by the liberal democracies as monstrous, brigand states. They are the ones with ‘rigged’ elections.

We, by contrast, have governments that are totally subservient to the ‘markets’, leaving our political classes to decide minor local matters, such as how much planning permission you need for new housing, how much or how little we should control carbon emissions, and the esoteric questions of gender identity.

The economic and foreign policies of the two major parties in Britain – parties to which only a tiny fraction of Britons belong – are identical. Voting could not alter that fact. The only vote worth casting might be the so-called wasted vote, the vote that registered your anger at the way things were mismanaged.

The Greens offer the most attractive possibility for wasting your vote. If they had the smallest chance of returning us to Mr Pickwick’s England – pre-railways, -aeroplanes and -cars – they might win my vote, were it not for their candidates’ almost invariably priggish demeanour.