An election approaches in the UK and for the first time ever I’m unsure about who I should be voting for. And just for some perspective, to give you some idea of where I’m coming from, I’ve voted for the Liberal Democrats in my first election, and then for Labour in the last two. This time, it’s much more troubling. I look towards the Labour party and have to admit that they’ve done a pretty good job in most of the things that I care about. But there are two things that really weird me out – their crunch on civil liberties (Damn you Blunkett) and the clumsiness of the war in Iraq. I’m still not prepared to say that some form of military intervention in Iraq wasn’t necessary, but I cannot forgive our government for circumventing the United Nations. And – like many other people in the UK – it’s enormously tarnished my view of Tony Blair.
On the other side of the matter is the Conservative party, who spend most of their time criticising Blair for looking smug and – as far as I can tell – just making stuff up. Their former accusation is pretty much indisputable, but it’s also a bit rich when it comes from a man who honestly looks like he’s had to be trained how to smile and still hasn’t quite got it right yet. The rictus he perpetually exhibits is hideous and creepy – which at least suggests a certain honesty, because the tactics used by the Conservatives appear equally hideous. They’re playing on the most clumsy of rabble-rousing near hate-speech: making people think about their daughters being attacked or raped by early-release prisoners and regularly playing the race card. I’m stunned that anyone could vote for them in good conscience.
And finally, you have the Liberal Democrats. I genuinely like them, I respond to their principled positions and on their decision not to engage in negative campaigning. I can see them doing very well out of this election. But on the other hand, what do they really have to lose? It’s easier to be principled when you’re the third party in the country. And even here there are some policies that creep me out. I’ve had to do my taxes for the first time this year and I hated every moment of it. Forms, complexity, nervousness, insecurity. The idea that I’d have to do another set of that stuff for some kind of local income tax as well horrifies me. Note – I’m quite happy to pay some more money, but it just seems like an enormous extra burden of paper, and fiddling and time-consuming misery.
There are a range of tools on the net that I’ve been using this year to try and get my head around the whole thing. One of the most useful and involving isn’t really about the election at all, but more about politics in general. Political Survey 2005 is a stunning site that gets your opinions and explains how you stand in relation to the British public and to the major political parties and newspapers. If you’re interested (and I guess in the spirit of full disclosure, which I hope will make it easier for people out there to properly interrogate the assumptions that I base my writing on) you can read my results – which suggest that my opinions tend towards internationalism and liberalism in social matters but also towards free market economics. On one spectrum I’m seen as being closest to Guardian and Independent readers, and on the other to people who read the Daily Telegraph. For the most part, people who answered like me have tended to say they’ll vote for the Liberal Democrats. Fascinating stuff.
Another slightly less elegant site is Who Should You Vote For, which uses your opinions on over twenty explicit policy areas to work out which political party you are most likely to agree with. In my case, again, it’s telling me to vote Liberal.
In terms of tracking what’s going on, I’m sticking with old reliable BBC and their election coverage, in particular their poll tracker, which this morning alarms me by suggesting that there are in fact many weird-ass Conservatives in the country prepared to vote for that grinning evil. From there the next logical step is to go and find out about your constituency to get some background on what impact your vote is likely to have. My constituency is the heavily Labour and poshly-named (but slightly unpleasant) Regent’s Park & Kensington North. This tells me that it’s relatively unlikely that Labour won’t win around here – so the question becomes whether to register a protest vote with the Liberals or stick with Labour just in case of Conservative ground-swell.
Finally, They Work for You and The Public Whip are really good places to actually find out what your current MP believes in. Karen Buck MP and I would disagree on a range of core issues, particularly ID cards and some of the more draconian anti-terrorism laws, but would agree on others. Again, I can’t help thinking that a Liberal candidate might more accurately represent my opinions.
Well anyway, there you go – there’s my decision exposed in all its glory as honestly as I think I can present it. Hopefully the resources I’ve been using will be of value to some of the rest of you out there trying to work through your own decision. And I guess we only have a few weeks now until we find out who we’re stuck with for the next few years…