Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Coming Out The Political Closet: Confessions Of An Independent British (English) Voter

I love #GeneraElectionMania. Whether it be a UK, US, Norwegian or even Swedish election I'm hooked line and sinker into watching endless hours of MSM coverage tempered by the ferocity of social media tweeters who have #PoliticalSatire sharpened to a finely crafted point of ouchery bordering on offensiveness. It's the time when all sorts of wacko crazy ideas and ill conceived concepts are floated about using the mouthpiece of psychedelically dressed, hooting candidates who like nothing better than to overpromise and blame previous underdelivery on the incumbent party representative or even their own party representatives in their Millionaire's Row being watched over by the far more reliable "Elizabethan Tower" in (aka Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).

Now unlike most people who bothered to take time out from their "hectic" lunch hours where queuing for a "super healthy" carrot smoothie seems to take more time than ordering a calorific Big Mac, I'm proud to talk about who I voted for at the last GE openly and honestly; I voted for Labour candidates at local council level  but for a Tory MP and then in this year's local elections I voted for 2 Labour candidate and 1 Tory candidate  (including the very modest and Lincoln City Council social inclusion Labour candidate Rosanne Kirk) and for a Tory PCC candidate, all of whom won their respective races. Why did I vote the way I did? Did I have some "Mystic Meg Third Eye" that only I know about? The answer seems so simple yet would annoy the hell out of those who feel they can only vote for one party or another based purely on internalised perceptions of party "values": I voted for the person who I believed would be most qualified to carry out the duties required of them at each stage of Government, unless a candidate  convinces me they have the tenacity, passion and will to highlight causes that have been underrepresented or ignored within my local community. So far I've never met a local politician who has sparked enough of a desire within me to ignore national policies and vote solely based on their own causes and values which is a great shame.

Can a Voter ever truly be Independent?

Whether a voter can be truly defined as an independent is a question that mostly occupies the minds of purely philosophical political pundits whose job it is to analyse the minisculeness elements of the  mindsets of potential non-party affiliated voters to see if they can label them in an appropriate way to see "whether the national political land lies" and offer conclusions as to why there may have been significant changes in voting patterns, such as an increase in first time voters from the 25 and over age groups or why more women may choose to vote for Jeremy Corbyn rather than Theresa May
and thus vote for whoever their local party puts up as a candidate for MP regardless of whether they may know that candidate's personal values or causes or what they are hoping to achieve to make local people's lives better even if it may be to the detriment of big interest lobbyists.

A myth peddled around by bitter party activists from all sides of the political spectrum is that independent voters are "closet partisans" who say they are independent to "win semantic moral high ground" should their candidate win or blame the party activists should they lose and yet regularly vote for only one party. However these voters are far more persuadable than committed members of other parties; they will swing if a party candidate for PM or MP can offer viable solutions to local and domestic issues that matter to independent voters; these will differ individually on some issues. For example, if Corbyn talked about reforming the Gender Recognition Act to scale back the need to gain a medical diagnosis to change legal gender status or advocated for changing the protected characteristic from "Gender Reassignment" to "Gender Identity" I'd be more likely to consider voting for the next Labour candidate to challenge the Tory incumbent provided they would accept the party policy stance. And the same would work vice versa (and would probably be more likely to be the case).

What General Issues Occupy The Minds of Independent Voters?

However, there are a number of issues that seem to have majority interest and support across the independent voting audience. This is because they are the issues which are talked about most online via social media platforms, via MSM leading news stories and also when I talk to family and friends on a regular basis when sitting down to a "Fish supper" from the local chippy.

 These include:
  • Funding the NHS appropriately to prevent A&E partial and full closures;
  • Bringing down NHS waiting times for operations across the UK;
  • Ensuring taxes are lowest for those who are on the National Living Wage;
  • Reducing the national debt in a sustainable manner whilst not imposing unnecessary hardships on the UK population;
  • Increasing infrastructure funding with an emphasis on house building and transport hubs in the North;
  • Increasing opportunities for young people in the workplace regardless of social class, gender identity race and ability;
  • Reducing levels of corruption within local and national government as well as in private sector companies;
  • Ensuring every company that operates in the UK pays at least the NLW to their workers;
  • Addressing educational inequalities between rural schools in the North and London;
  • Addressing levels of immigration from within the EU who come to perform entry level jobs;
  • Increasing representation of minority groups within local and national government.
Sorry I'm not a staunch Unionist; I won't vote for someone based on their desire to adhere to an outdated form of identification where one country aims to subjugate the other three based purely on "electorate numbers" and supposed "common identity" when that country refuses to teach about the history, culture and language of those 3 countries. It may be because of my Norwegian heritage that I strongly support Scottish independence, but I'm not afraid of what might happen should a second independence referendum be granted to Scotland they vote to leave the Union at 60-40.

Why doesn't everyone become an independent voter?

As you can probably tell from my previous posts, there are independent voters are engaged with political issues that affect them on a regular basis. It is said that independents may be turned off by negative political ad campaigns and by excessive jargon use that muddy the coherency of a party's narrative. Independents want to hear solutions to existing problems and plausible preventative measures to put in place where possible to reduce the likelihood of future issues arising. For example, trying to control immigration from the EU on a par with immigration from outside the EU may reduce sentiments of racial/religious prejudice provided existing issues concerning increases in hate crime and rhetoric use in schools is addressed head-on through diversity education lessons in RE, PSHE and Citizenship.

Notwithstanding this, there is a large segment of the UK population chooses not to exercise their right to vote. According to  UK the think-tank "Vote or Vote None",  just over a third (34%) of registered voters in the UK did not vote in the 2015 GE. The figure was also 34% in the 2010 GE and 38% in 2005. "Vote or Vote None" argue these registered voters should not be silent but vote for candidates from smaller parties or independent candidates because there is a large enough volume (especially in smaller marginal cities such as Lincoln) to get those candidates elected. Voting against the main parties may be a protest vote but at least you can feel safe in the knowledge that you voted based on your principles and against the Government or main opposition parties because you want policies that better represent your views!

The Situation For Me Now:

I don't know how I shall vote yet at the next election. I've been reading and dissecting tweets from Labour, Conservative, Green and even UKIP activists to see whether they are addressing issues which matter to me at a local and national level. Whilst I am supportive of Theresa May's goal to give shareholders more power within boardrooms and the need to reform our austerity policies to reflect the economic reality caused by the uncertainty generated after Brexit, as well as the unfortunate requirement to commit to renewing Trident to act as an ultimate deterrent against North Korea et al, I have had more affinity with tweets being circulated by Corbyn supporters. I like their enthusiasm and passion for what they perceive as generating real change for working class families, especially in relation to increasing taxes on wealthy individuals in the top 1%. I also like Owen Smith's infrastructure plans- £200m for investment is far more than has been promised by George Osborne; we are yet to see what Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement will bring investment wise.

I am impressed by Green MP Caroline Lucas's call for a "left progressive alliance" including the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Labour to form the next government to rexamine Brexit procedure and generate a parliamentary debate on whether it is economically plausible to leave the EU based on current data and future projections. I also like the way they decide on organising their leadership contest; the idea of a joint leadership bid shows the desire for the Green Party to appeal to a wider slice of the electorate by emphasising values of equality, compassion and fairness for all, instead of a "narrow focus" on combatting climate change and protecting animals and the environment (which are worth listening to anyways!) Ms Lucas's recent bill proposing a lowering of voter age to 16 certainly enthused me and I hope support for this continues to grow within Parliament; I believe if you are old enough to pay National Insurance, marry, have sex and an abortion then you are mature enough to vote. If not, it's time to start making Political education compulsory alongside Citizenship so every secondary school student understands our system and about the key caveats of our political parties!

All I will say is this; Labour may appear to be an incoherent party "falling apart" to most independent voters at the moment but perhaps when the Leadership election has been concluded and the party tries to unite to against the Tory Cuts to Nursing bursaries or to overturn the draconian Bedroom Tax more independent voters may take a fresh look at what Labour stands for and how they might move forward in creating a more progressive society. After all,  what we are seeing with the Labour party is an attempt at open democracy in action, where party members as well as the Parliamentary Party gets a say in who should take them forward to represent them to motivate people like me to vote for their MP candidate for the next GE. I look forward to seeing what policies my local Labour, Green and Lincolnshire Independent candidate will offer to try and canvass my vote. Let the rhetorical battle commence!