In which I wonder whether it’s even worth having an opinion

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There are some truths which, in this little hippy liberal corner of the interweb at least, we hold to be self-evident. Things like the idea that extreme weather events definitely aren’t caused by Katy Perry kissing a girl and liking it, and that the welfare state is, on balance, A Good Thing. Other Good Things would include the NHS, the BBC, free movement of people across borders and the recognition that newspaper headlines that are phrased as a yes/no question can almost always be answered, ‘Probably not.’ (EG ‘Is your iPod giving you cancer?’ ‘Are floods of immigrants going to establish sharia law in Melton Mowbray?’ etc. I made those two up, but you get the idea.)

What is depressing this little corner of the interweb today, is the unfortunately equally self-evident fact, that none of these opinions matter. My opinions, like most of yours, are irrelevant to my political overlords. I’m not rich enough to be likely to donate significant money to any political party. I’m not a hard-working family, being childless and generally quite lazy, and therefore, it would appear that very few politicians see me as a demographic worth pursuing.

Having said that I do live in a relatively marginal parliamentary seat with a current majority of less than 3000. Marginal seats are the placesĀ that actually matter in general elections – the seats where the sitting MP has a small lead and where the seat could plausibly change hands. That should mean that I’m one of the people who politicians are spending stupid amounts of money trying to please. So why aren’t the papers full of stories about politicians competitively trying to outdo one another over how lax they want to make our border controls, and aggressively trying to give passing unemployed people free monkeys and tv licences, and maybe a nationalised railway to play with? All of that would appeal immensely to me, but none of it is happening.

And it’s not happening, because although I live in a relatively marginal parliamentary seat, I’m not an undecided or swing voter. The problem is that I know what I think, so when my hereditary Tory MP turns up on the doorstep, our views are already too diametrically opposed for there to be any significant risk of me voting for him, so, although I might berate him lightly for a while, neither of our hearts are really in it, and in the end we just shrug at one another and he pops off to try to woo someone more plausibly wooable. Essentially the people whose opinions matter to politicians are the group of people who:

a) live in marginal constituencies;

b) are undecided about how to vote (and ideally are undecided between the 1st and 2nd place parties – people umming and aahing between the Greens and a friendly looking Independent are less relevant); and

c) are definitely intending to vote for someone.

In the 100 most marginal seats in Britain at the moment (based on 2010 electoral boundaries and results), the total number of votes between the 1st and 2nd place parties is just over 120000. If we keep things simple (simpler admittedly than they actually are) and just think about votes shifting from the 1st place to the 2nd place party, you only need half (plus one) of those voters to move to change the result. So that’s 60000ish voters whose intentions politicians are actually interested in. The current population of Britain is roughly 64 million, and the number eligible to vote in general elections is around 46 million. That means, in practical terms, somewhere around 0.1% of the electorate actually have the electoral clout to influence political debate and policy. Obviously that maths is massively dodgy and oversimplified but the conclusion pretty much holds. A very small section of the population actually cast votes that make a difference to the outcome of major elections, and I’m not one of them, and if you’re not one of them there is very little incentive for career politicians to care what you think. And I find that rather depressing. That is all.

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5 thoughts on “In which I wonder whether it’s even worth having an opinion

    Polly Robinson said:
    January 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Don’t let the bar stewards get you down… there’s nothing much to choose between them.

    Like

      Alison May responded:
      January 20, 2014 at 11:24 am

      But that’s because they pander to such a tiny tiny demographic. Grrrr….

      Like

    johncliveharrison said:
    January 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t matter as I’m not eligible to vote – the election here happens a month before I’ve done my 5-years to become a citizen. It’s obviously all the same here though. The previously radically different moderates and socialists are now more or less the same as they want each others votes. The Left (former communists) are too bonkers to bother with and the Swedish Democrats are the BNP, but worryingly now the 3rd biggest party. The environmentalists are cozying up to the socialists in the hope of getting control of the environmental ministry role in event of a red win. The peoples party, christian party and centre party are cozied up to the moderates. Everything becomes such a massive compromise that there is no choice so my vote wouldn’t really matter anyway.

    I think Futurama summed the who situation up with this political debate soundbite…

    Johnson: It’s time someone had the courage to stand up and say: “I’m against those things that everybody hates”.
    Jackson: Now I respect my opponent. I think he’s a good man but, quite frankly, I agree with everything he just said!
    Johnson: I say your three cent titanium tax goes too far.
    Jackson: And I say your two cent titanium tax doesn’t go too far enough!

    Like

    electronicbaglady said:
    January 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Sadly I find you are saying just what I think! Still, come the Revolution I shall certainly be sending a lot of those MPs to their rooms to think about what they have done and not come down until they are ready to say sorry (and mean it!)
    Sigh – cue Roger Daltry and friends –
    “Meet the New Boss – same as the Old Boss”

    Like

    Reality Swipe said:
    January 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Brilliant article. We recently done a documentary on why politicians are aiming for the wrong things. Would love to know what you think? http://t.co/7LGbjg1i6O

    Like

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