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delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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Spoiled Ballots
delirium happy
I've been away from home for the last two or three days, and while I was away I was contemplating spoiled ballots. There seem to be a whole lot of people out there who are like me in that they wouldn't be able to bring themselves to vote for either Blair or Howard. This is hardly surprising given that the one has given us the dodgy dossier, tuition fees and broken promises all around, and the other has given us poll tax, section 28 and villification of gypsies and immigrants[1].

Then there are the many, many people who are apathetic about politics, based at least in part on the belief that the politicians won't do what they say they're going to do, won't listen to the public and so on. Whats the point of casting a vote that will make no difference?

And that set me thinking: what would happen if all these cynical, apathetic and disaffected people decided to spoil their ballots? There would be a vast number of the things, and it would be a real message to all politicians. No government could reasonably claim to have any sort of mandate from the people -- regardless of their parliamentary majority -- in the face of that sort of clear opposition.

Of course, that's not going to happen. Most of those who think that their vote won't make any difference will stay at home. Most of those who dislike both the current Labout and Conservative Parties will either vote for the one they see as the lesser of two evils or for a third party. What I do wonder though is whether it would be possible to organise a sufficiently concerted campaign in favour of spoiled ballots to actually have people take notice; to have a ten minute section on Newsnight where Jeremy Paxman talks about the high number of spoiled ballots in this year's election.

A catchy slogan. an image or two. Meme the thing out over LiveJournal. Put up a webpage. Post on political fora on the net. Put up fly posters at universities. And so on.

I was somewhat tempted to try doing this myself, to see how well I could manage to do, until I realised that what little energy I have really needs to be channeled into my university work. If anyone else feels like taking up such a project, I would be massively interested to see how it turned out, and would lend a hand where I could.

I am, however, strongly considering the possibility of spoiling my own ballot paper. While I am actually a member of the Liberal Democrats, and do support most of their policies, I'm still very distrustful of them. Their campaign, so far, seems to be "we aren't going to engage in mudslinging, unlike the other two low-down, no-good parties who do it all the time and are really bad". I don't think that I could ever try to encourage anyone else to vote Lib Dem, whereas I certainly could get behind encouraging others to spoil their ballots. This is possibly indicative of how I ought to consider casting my vote.

And I have decided for certain that if I do spoil my ballot, I shall try to make it at least mildly entertaining for the pour sap who's counting the votes. I'm currently thinking that I might use the following poem, which my brain cooked up:
Labour are red
Tories are blue
All of them lie
What else could I do?

[1] Yes, I'm well aware that the immigration debate is rather complex, and I suspect I shall give my thoughts on it at some point in the future. For now, what I shall say is that I would not trust Howard to come up with a solution that was either competant or ethical.

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In the US when we have spoiled ballots we just assume the people casting them are stupid. They don't affect whether or not the leader has a mandate, and the missing votes are assumed not to matter since they weren't able to coherently say what they wanted anyway.

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I wasn't referring to legally, but culutrally. Which means - why would they bother to ask before deciding what it means and how they spun it in the media? You'd need a huge amount of people to agree to apoil their ballots, and then you'd only have a chance of getting any message out. If you could organize that many people, why not organize them to spread information about your views or vote for a candidate who might do some good? I thought you didn't have a 2 party system to the extent that the US does.

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The Lib Dems did use to have two former Labour ministers but sadly Roy Jenkins has died and Shirley Williams has retired. I think we have quite a good front bench but you're probably right that they're not yet ready to run the country. Being part of a coalition government in a hung parliament might provide the necessary experience for a later non-coalition government. Though of course we'd introduce PR for parliamentary elections so that wouldn't last long.

Our system isn't as strongly two-party as the US system is, but it is still strongly so. A quick run down of our system: The country is split up into some 600 or so parliamentary constituency. Each constituency then votes in a member of the house of commons to represent them. this is a simple "one person one vote", first past the post system, with no prizes for second place. The party who gets the most MPs elected then goes on to form the government.

In practice, this means that if you want a say in who forms the government, then only a vote for the two main parties will make any difference. In some constituencies, a vote for a third party candidate will stand a chance of having them elected to be an MP. In other constituencies, only the two main parties ever stand any chance of winning. Take my own constituency of Lancaster and Wyre: last time around the vote was 22,556 for Labour, 22,075 for the Conservatives, and 7719 for everyone else combined (source).

Barring exceptional and extremely unlikely circumstances, any vote I cast for anyone other than the two main parties stands no chance of having any effect on who is returned to Westminster (our houses of parliament are more accurately refered to as the Palace of Westminster), and even less chance of affecting who runs the country.

A spoiled ballot over here is generally atken as a sign of disaffection rather than as someone too stupid to vote. I know that the former is certainly the first association that I have with it. I suspect that this may be more to do with the actual methods of voting, rather than with any perceived inteligence level. Throughout the UK, uniformly across the country, votes are cast by penciling an x in the appropriate box on a little bit of paper, and the votes are then counted by hand. It's much more difficult to get this wrong than it is in a situation with hanging chads and what have you.

It also makes it a whole lot easier to just scribble over the entire ballot, or write "they're all shit!" across the paper in big letters, which is what my mind imagines when I hear "spoiled ballot".

Ah, okay, that makes sense then.

We're not entirely 2 party at the local level, actually. It depends on the area... okay in most places we are. But every now and then, a third party has a chance, and sometimes a third party even wins. It's just such a tiny effect that it doesn't matter much here.

How about voting for the Raving Loony Party or whatever the full name of it is?

The Monster Raving Loony Party. Or possibly it's now the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (they've had a whole lot of (genuine) ideological splits within the party, oddly enough). Unfortunately, they only field candidates in a fairly small number of constituencies and it would seem that they don't have one up here, so, alas, that option is denied to me.

File and run in your constituency as a MRLP candidate? :)

I'd be tempted, but I don't have £500 to spare. To stand for parliament, you need to put down a deposit of £500, which is then returned if you get sufficient votes (which most small party candidates don't). It's a good system for ensuring that the ballot papers aren't hopelessly full of joke candidates, I also suspect that it acts as an impediment to some people who would genuinely like to stand.

I totally bet your friends list could come up with it.

Temptress. But three days to raise the money, join the party, organise things with the party and submit my registration? I rather suspect that that would be cutting things rather fine. And ultimately, I really do need to concentrate on university. If there's a hung parliament and a swift re-election then possibly I'd consider it then.

(This all assumes that I'd actually be eligible to stand. I seem to recall hearing something about how candidates had to be sound of mind, and I'm not sure if that would rule me out. and if it does, whether it would be in violation of European law. I would have to research the exact rules on that front.)

Mm, good points, all of them. If there were a little bit more time, though ...

I'd certainly vote for you. If, you know, I were actually British.

Ah, here we have it.

"There is also a common law rule that 'idiots' are disqualified for election to Parliament and that 'lunatics' are disqualified in their non-lucid intervals, but this has not been tested in recent times in court."

I can only assume that I'd be OK on that front then. I still don't have enough time though. Alas.

I would gladly write you a reference stating you are neither idiot nor lunatic. But alas, the time thing.

I'm starting to resign myself to the fact that the only realistic way to vote Labour out of government is for a few hundred thousand people to vote Conservative instead. While (I think) my consituency is currently Lib Dem, the seat's kinda shaky and could fall into the hands of the ebils.


Politics makes me a sad panda.

Although I've just voted for Labour (can't stand Tony Blair but think Gordon Brown's doing a superb job) for the past month I've been pushing the spoilt ballot option to those people who've told me that they won't be voting.

All of them have agreed that they will spoilt their ballot paper although of course I don't necessarily expect all of them to actually bother.

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