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Election blues... and reds and greens

This is not a General Election that any of us can approach with great enthusiasm. This is plainly a Government that is exhausted, stagnant, error-prone, internally divided, too comfortable with the levers and privileges of power. Welcome measures such as the minimum wage and the Freedom of Information Act have been swamped by the general drift of government policy: craven subservience to the interests of financiers and corporate boardrooms that led inevitably to economic meltdown; appalling inaction on climate change and pathetic investment in renewable energy; continued privatization by stealth of this country’s common wealth in the shape of its schools and hospitals. And that is without even mentioning the catastrophe of the Iraq War. The Labour Party’s steadfast navigation to the Right under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has left progressive forces in this country almost completely disenfranchised.

If British electoral democracy works the way it generally has done over the last century, the Opposition party would at this point take over, if only to have different faces at the top abusing their power and cocking things up. The trouble, of course, is that the Government-in-waiting is the Conservative Party which, for all David Cameron’s smarmy, Blairite attempt to be all things to all people, remains at its core committed to protecting privilege and safeguarding the interests of the wealthy.

Faced with a choice between the devil and deep blue sea, it is small wonder that so many people are likely to throw up their hands and refuse to vote. The outrage over MPs’ expenses is symptomatic of a deep-seated disaffection with politicians and politics as usual. So where is the hope?

New Internationalist has no party affiliation, and its co-op members will each follow their own conscience when they vote, but it seems clear to me that the Green Party comes closest to representing the magazine’s outlook on the world. Hitherto, the first-past-the-post electoral system has rendered it impossible for a Green to win a seat in Parliament. This time around, however, the Greens are targeting three seats that look potentially winnable: Caroline Lucas, an old friend of and contributor to this magazine, could secure an historic victory in Brighton Pavilion, while Adrian Ramsay in Norwich South and Darren Johnson in Lewisham Deptford are also well placed. This is an outcome profoundly to be wished for, and it is high time that the Green agenda penetrated the heart of Westminster for the first time.

Yet most people in the country will be unable to vote for a Green or Left candidate with the remotest chance of success. This is profoundly unhealthy. If there is to be any kind of democratic renewal in this country, people surely have to be able to campaign and vote for the party that comes closest to reflecting their own values and concerns. As it stands, under the first-past-the-post system, if you live in any constituency but a marginal, your vote counts for very little. In a marginal, meanwhile, you may find yourself having to vote tactically for a party other than your own in order to keep out something worse.

This time around, the canny tactical vote might be the one best calculated to bring about electoral reform. That might mean keeping out the Tories at all costs, given that they are now the only party refusing to countenance change. It might mean voting Green or Liberal Democrat where they have a chance of winning. In some circumstances it might even mean gritting your teeth and voting Labour despite everything, now that they have cynically promised a referendum on the Alternative Vote after 13 years of smug inaction.

But, given that we only get one chance every four or five years to say what we stand for, we can surely be forgiven for voting with our hearts for a candidate or party with no hope of victory – and then praying for a hung parliament.

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