English: A ballot paper used in the 2005 UK Ge...
A ballot paper used in the 2005 UK General Election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are in the UK it won’t have escaped your notice that we have a General Election in a few weeks (on Thursday 7th May). Campaigning hasn’t moved into high gear yet, but it will next week when Parliament is prorogued. (Maybe that word implies a lot about our politicians, pro rogues!)

don’t care about politics?

Voting isn’t mandatory in the UK. However, t if you don’t vote don’t expect anyone to listen to you complain about the government or anything affected by what it does. That includes the economy, housing, immigration, defence, policing, traffic, trains, prices of things, the NHS, public services, or just about everything else. In fact you can probably only talk about the weather, reality TV and football.

I personally don’t want to hear about the last two.

Voting Changes Things

So you need to go and vote. If everyone turned up and voted for a candidate that they thought best represented their views, then the entire political landscape could change. Even MPs with the ‘safest’ seats don’t have majorities larger than the number of people that didn’t vote in that constituency. So turning up to vote, and encouraging others to turn up to vote, can and does change things.

Register to Vote

You need to be registered to be allowed to vote (there are also some other conditions). Electoral registration in Britain has changed in the last few years. You can now self-register online, all you need is your national insurance number and it takes about five minutes. Go do it now, and then come back and finish reading this article. https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

I won’t be around on 7 May

You don’t need to be. You can either get a postal vote or appoint a proxy. https://www.gov.uk/voting-in-the-uk/postal-voting gives you details, but note that this is off-line, so you need to do it soon (the cut-off for this General Election is 20th April).

What if I don’t like any candidate?

You might be one of the many people that doesn’t like the main parties, and none of the other candidates standing in your area represent your views either. There are several things you can do.
Stand for election yourself (or help someone else to run)

  1. Engage the candidates in conversation, in person, on twitter, Facebook or anywhere you can find them.
  2. Vote Tactically
  3. Spoil your ballot paper

Standing for Election

This isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you seriously can’t find a candidate that represents your views then it is worth discussing this with friends. If you can get ten people and ¬£5,000 for a deposit then you can be a candidate in the General Election. You’ll need to register as a candidate in a couple of weeks time, so it’s a bit late but still doable.

What you’ll need to do is build a whole load of supporters to knock on doors and tell people what you do stand for. You’ll also want people who are good on social media and understand how journalism works. However before all of that you’ll need to know where you stand on the major issues that people will talk to you about. If you have been actively part of your local community then you should have an advantage here, and you will almost certainly be the sort of person that has taken time to think about things, otherwise you’d have just picked one of the big parties that was standing.

A fast track avenue on this is to approach the national HQ of a party you sympathise with but does not have a candidate in your area. They might be willing to help with some collateral, especially around material carefully crafted for publication. There will also be some brand recognition that will help you get the package of views across to people that don’t know you much more rapidly.

Also read the advice on electoral campaigning. Winners put in a lot of effort, you need good people support on the ground, a lot of leafletting and speaking to people. Engage with the other candidates and refute their positions with reasoned argument and evidence. Don’t dumb down to get votes, speak to the people. Expect to spend every waking hour persuading people to vote.

Engage the Candidates

You might not like the party positions, but political parties cover a range of viewpoints, and what counts are how the candidates in your constituency will represent you. Most MPs will vote against the general party position on at least some issues. So you need to find out what your candidates will do if they are elected, as opposed to what the party says they should do.

Start with the incumbent, because they have a public track record. www.theyworkforyou.com will tell you rather a lot about your MP, how they’ve voted, how often they speak, what questions they ask and whether or not they attend.

Pick some issues you care most about and come up with some questions that will probe the cracks in the main party policy positions. WHathyou are trying to do here is to get the candidate to show some understanding of why the policy is the way it is, and to acknowledge the need for flexibility in special cases. Good candidates will manage this, an overly¬†dogmatic candidate probably isn’t going to try very hard to balance the constituency need with that of their party, they’ll be choosing the party every time.

Ask all of the candidates the same questions so that you can compare the answers fairly. Probe their initial answers until you are satisfied that you have the candidates personal view as well as that of the party. If you can ask the questions in person, you can then be sure that you have their answer and not that of a campaign volunteer. That said, twitter is a good way of flushing out things, but given the number of politicians that have been publicly shamed by twitter use there may not be that many using it during the election campaign.

Spoil Your Ballot

When it comes down to it you may not be able to commit to a candidate. Don’t be disheartened.

Do go to the polling station. If you don’t want to vote tactically, then spoil your ballot properly (more on this in another post).

If you live in the UK then make sure you are registered to vote, and then use that power on 7th May in the way that you think is of most value to you, your community and the country.