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Well, here we are again. We have reached election day. The voting hour is upon us. It’s tick-a-box-and-consider-your-democratic-duty-fulfilled o’clock.

You might have already voted today. Or maybe you’re planning to go squeeze out a sneaky vote later. That’s fine. What you do in the privacy of a small booth with a curtain for a wall in a primary school or a church is your own business. I just don’t want to have this unnatural lifestyle of yours constantly crammed down my throat.

I’ve not changed my mind on this a great deal in the past six months, but the rhetoric over the importance of this democratic right may have become more obnoxious since the last round.

Maybe it’s the centenary that’s got everyone all a-flutter, but I don’t remember the memories of the First World War’s dead being abused so vigorously last time around in order to guilt me into doing what they supposedly died fighting so that I could do.

The average 19-year-old in a trench may or may not have had keeping UKIP out of the European Parliament on his mind, even more pressingly than praying he didn’t get shot by some other kid who was also only there because someone who’d been voted into office had told them to die for their country. But regardless, dragging up his sacrifice in an attempt to drag me to the polls fails as a coherent argument.

A cause isn’t rendered noble, nor a course of action obligatory, simply because some people died for it once. People died for the right to keep slaves. People died to kill thousands of others for the greater glory of God. Western democracy might be a more benign notion than either of those examples, but I maintain my right to my own moral decisions all the same.

Anyone still pushing this line should consider adapting it slightly for the next vegetarian they run into. “Hey, you should eat this hamburger. A cow *died* to bring you this. Its sacrifice will have been in vain if you cast this precious gift aside. You wouldn’t want to disrespect its memory.”

Also infuriating is the claim that it’ll somehow be my fault if I fail to vote and UKIP get in. Particularly when it comes from people who voted Lib Dem in the last general election and are thus equally responsible for the coalition they currently despise. Guys, I’m in that boat too; look how badly I managed to fuck things up when I did vote.

I’m treating this democracy like an angry wasps’ nest. You might be certain you’ve found just the right voting bat to thwack it with so that it’ll make things better and not release any furious insects this time, but I’m not going near it again in case I make it worse.

It’s a mathematically illiterate assertion, for one thing. And it hypes and over-prioritises the act of voting, as our one moment of political influence or social usefulness, to the point of fetishisation.

If the rest of our lives were as unimportant as some people imply whenever voting day comes around – if global politics, and people’s views on trade and immigration and economics, and the rules imposed on us which govern our lives, remained entirely unaffected by all our conversations, our protests, our discussions, our reading, our listening, our efforts to connect and engage with other people, outside of this one moment where you put an X in a box and select your favourite from the sanitised list of options prepared for you – then that would be incredibly fucked up and monumentally depressing.

Fortunately, it’s completely untrue.

If I have a political discussion with a dozen work colleagues, or if I post an infographic which gets retweeted to a few thousand people, and if just one person shifts from thinking “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, but this UKIP guy seems more down to earth” to “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, and that UKIP guy sounds like a bit of a twat as well”, then I have done as much from my computer as I will ever have the power to do at the polls.

If someone with a bit more clout changes two minds, then they’ve already had twice the impact of casting their own vote, by means of direct engagement and public interaction with other people.

There are other ways to get things done. If you’re going to vote, then vote, but stop acting like that’s the most important bit. Fucking talk to some people.

The bullshit idea of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” also misses the point that I don’t want any of these people holding political power. I don’t want these authoritarian roles to be filled with better people, or for the least worst option to keep us safe from the BNP, I want them not to exist. We’ve had centuries to give this “just vote the right people in” thing a go and we just keep going round in circles.

The NHAP are enough of a shambles that if they had a candidate in my area, I probably would vote for them; they’re a one-issue party on one of the most important issues going, and I can see them doing more good than harm through the political process. Which is part of the reason they’re never going to sweep to power in their current form. (I say “shambles” in an entirely positive way, incidentally, in contrast with the well organised, highly efficient forces for evil they’re sharing space with on the ballot.)

But primarily, I object to the forced assumption that putting a small cluster of individuals, with a statistically implausible quotient of complete pricks, at the top of this particular power structure, with this particular set of checks and once-every-few-years-everyone-gets-a-say system of reshuffling things, is the way that anything should get done.

The part of the whole kerfuffle I consistently find most offensive is the constant insertion of the words “bother to” in between “don’t” and “vote”, when describing the behaviour of the substantial swathe of the population who remain unconvinced of their powers to effect meaningful change. As if the problem were solely located in the apathy at our end, and the predominant responsibility didn’t lie with the parties vying for our concession to their dominance, who repeatedly prove themselves inadequate to the task and fail to persuade a majority of us that they have anything to offer. (Blaming young people for their own disenfranchisement is especially galling. Never mind that you’re being ignored by all the major parties, they’re told; just bother to vote for some policies that won’t help you at all, and better ones will magically appear somehow.)

I’m interested. I’m engaged. I try to be involved. I could always be doing more. I have ideas to share. I spent an hour getting all this off my chest last night, aided by the fact that my wife’s on a night-shift and I’m alone in the house with a cat who prefers staring out the window to getting in my way for a change. I am not an apathetic, disinterested citizen.

But I reject your sole sanctioned method of political engagement, almost as vehemently as I reject the fanaticism with which you insist my part in society is effectively nullified if I don’t fall in line and make my protest known in this one regimented, authorised manner.

Voting is merely one among many, many ways for you to make a minuscule, barely perceptible effect on society’s machinations. Go for it if you like; it’s very unlikely you’ll hurt anyone. But stop fixating. Broaden your mind and try something else as well sometime. Not everyone has to be into your weird shit.

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Jeremy Paxman:

Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant. I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo chamber. But it is all we have.

IF YOU DO NOTHING BUT VOTE BECAUSE IT IS ALL YOU HAVE THEN IT WILL ALWAYS BE ALL YOU HAVE AND IT WILL ALSO BE ALL YOU DESERVE.

Changing the subject as of tomorrow, much to my wife’s relief.

Edited to add: I only now realise I haven’t once said “Don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos” in my entire aggregated ranting this far. D’oh.

Okay, now I’m done.

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There’s a lot to be said about Russell Brand‘s piece on political revolution, Robert Webb‘s response about voting Labour, and all the surrounding conversation, argument, and mudslinging which has abounded since.

I don’t have the articulacy or brainpower for most of it, but I’ll try bringing some of the highlights.

Political engagement is massively important. To live in the world as it currently stands, and to care a damn about national healthcare arrangements, or unemployment rates, or benefits fraud, or tax brackets, or education, or energy prices, or homelessness, or whether the council collect your bins often enough – to be paying attention to the goings-on of your fellow humans at all, basically – but to say that you’re “not interested in politics”, is, I think, simply to misunderstand what people are talking about when they talk about “politics”.

Politics has arisen, in part, from humanity’s collective efforts to work together, so that none of us is ever relying solely on what he can achieve alone with a pointy stick against the world. Questions of politics are questions of how we should treat each other in a way that best allows everyone to thrive. It defies human nature not to care about that, in some way.

You should absolutely be engaged with politics, proactively and determinedly and compassionately and with whatever energy you can muster. You should read books, read blogs, write blogs, argue on Twitter, share ideas with others and absorb their own, think about what makes sense, try to figure out what will work. You should attend meetings, go to marches, sign petitions, champion ideas, support collaborative efforts to achieve greatness, make a difference, change the world.

But don’t keep voting for fucking politicians.

Actually, that’s not quite right. You can do that if you want. But what you shouldn’t do is cast your vote, and then dust your hands off, decide that you’ve met your civic duty by being politically engaged when called upon, and kick back for another few years until you’re summoned once more to be relevant for as long as it takes to draw an X in a box.

What you shouldn’t do is act as if “voting in elections” and “being politically engaged” are the same damn thing. If someone whose every spare moment is spent organising rallies around worthwhile causes, but doesn’t want to actively support even the least worst option from the political parties available, is “less engaged” than someone who gets all their news about current affairs from ad breaks on Dave, but dutifully shuffles along to the voting booth whenever they get a card through the door telling them it’s that time of the decade again, and blearily puts a cross by whichever name looks most familiar… then your metric for political engagement is fucked.

What you shouldn’t do is talk about voting as if it were, not just a powerful way for the majority to hold the few to account, but the only possible way for any sort of progress to be made, and the sole definitive factor by which you determine whether a person is engaging with the system and trying to make things better, or apathetically and uselessly slouching around, avoiding all effort, and complaining without even trying to help.

I don’t think you need me to tell you all this, though, because really, you understand it already.

People who vote, and consider voting important, have been loudly in evidence this past week or so – but, in defending the practice, many of them seem to be massively overplaying the role that casting a ballot actually plays in their lives.

If you vote, I’m guessing you actually don’t just sit passively for the years in between elections, as suggested in my rather unfair caricature above. You probably do remain interested in stuff the rest of the time. You likely don’t consider ticking the occasional box to be the full extent of your involvement in democracy. Your political activism may, like mine, mostly consist of some angry retweeting of links to news reports, or complaining online about how terrible other people are – but even these are things you’re doing with your lives, which involve interacting with other people, and which wander well into the realm of “politics”.

Most of you don’t totally switch off and disengage from the political process, throughout the overwhelming majority of the time when you’re not voting for a slightly different set of supreme bastards.

So maybe voting isn’t the be-all and fucking end-all. Maybe there are a lot of ways to potentially make a difference, and there’s really no reason to limit your thinking to within the commonly accepted boundaries of how you’re expected to get involved. And maybe non-voters – those people who can’t bring themselves to even tacitly endorse the least unpalatable option from a limited buffet of shit sandwiches – deserve some benefit of the doubt that they might have other political things going on in their lives too.

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We got our first unsolicited mail through the door today asking us to vote for someone as Police and Crime Commissioner.

Having taken a look at the options available to me, I’m relieved to be able to let go of any remote possibility I might be trekking out to a ballot box on November 15th.

The Labour candidate, Harriet Yeo, is the only one to have provided us with any literature so far. She has five campaign pledges, which I can only presume she’s telling me about as some sort of misguided effort to win me over.

The third of these pledges is to “Catch the really bad, not the merely bad”. The sole example she gives of the “really bad” – the worst of the worst, the most virulent blight on our fair county which she intends to urgently crack down on – is cannabis farms.

There’s also a postscript to the pledges list, which begins: “By the way I am ruthless on drugs” (emphasis in the original). I’d love to read this as warning: “Be careful around me when I’m off my face on coke, because I get fucking mental”, but I don’t think that’s how I’m supposed to parse that sentence.

Another of her pledges is: “Victims before Villains”. It’s quite a feat to make a statement in favour of Victim Support programmes annoy me as much as hers does. She expands on it on her page at choosemypcc.org.uk, and even adds a hashtag, #vb4v, suggesting that she’s even more pleased with the pithiness of this sound-bite slogan than the others. And why not? Dehumanising everyone who’s fallen foul of the law and completely ignoring the option of social reform and rehabilitation is quite an accomplishment in itself, let alone compressing that message into a five-character tweet-segment.

I’m inclined to agree with her opposition to the privatisation of the police, though. And she has nice hair.

So, won’t be voting for her. But at least she’s not the Conservative candidate, who manages to bring up the typical Tory divisive canard about people “paying their fair share” within the first paragraph of his election statement. He’s just as keen as the others that we see him as tough, uncompromising, and all the other things we’re supposed to want from an authoritarian arm of the law. “Zero tolerance of all crime, particularly drugs” isn’t just a policy, it’s his “key priority”. There’s not many areas of life in which intolerance is so proudly announced and so widely respected.

He’s also a chartered accountant. His hair’s fine.

The Lib Dems don’t seem to be bothering to get involved, but the English Democrats sound close enough. Their guy intends to have the police “relentlessly pursue” criminals, and will consider it a successful outcome if those criminals “remove themselves physically from Kent to continue their trade elsewhere”. No mention of considering the social circumstances which might lead to criminal behaviour here either; but if they push off to another bit of the country, he considers his problem solved. Fuck you, Surrey!

He’s also not going to tolerate the “politically correct culture”. Rejecting this culture apparently means “treating all the people of Kent in an equal and fair manner, and not special treatment for minorities”. Because that’s been the main problem with Muslims and gays and all that sort of crowd: they get given too cushy a ride.

His hair’s nothing special either.

Very similar to the last chap is our friend from UKIP, who also presents some of the only statistics to be found on any of these pages. The amount by which the national police budget has apparently been cut (£2.4bn) is no doubt relevant, but unfortunately he only brings it up in order to snipe at the Tories (no bad thing) and compare it unfavourably to the budget for overseas aid. Any analysis into the effectiveness or value of such aid spending is of course absent; apparently the lone fact that the UK devotes comparatively large amounts of money toward efforts to help the less well-off in other countries ought to be shocking enough.

Hair: grey, mostly gone into hiding. Forehead: shiny.

And then there’s the two independent candidates. Ann Barnes sounded like the most promising choice at first, when all I knew about her was her name and the fact that she was unaffiliated with any political party. Unfortunately, that’s most of what she has going for her. Her track records looks solid, but her priorities and promises don’t include anything that makes her stand out. Anyone can declare the importance of transparency and fighting massive spending cuts, or that “I never make promises I don’t keep.” Shouldn’t all that stuff be a given?

Her hair looks a bit triangular, but that’s probably just down to an unflattering photograph. It’s got a nice wave to it.

The other independent candidate is just as uninspiring and cookie-cutter. I suppose one part is slightly more eye-catching: “Most of my salary will be allocated to developing this aspect of technology” – referring to his aim of “maximising the use of social media”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I wish it didn’t make my heart sink. Social media awareness could play a significant part in such a role, if it were well thought out by someone closely acquainted with social media’s actual place in society, but until this guy’s elaborated on the details enough to convince me that he knows what a youtube is or how to google some tweeters, I just don’t see it ending well.

His hair looks like a losing entry in a “photoshop this guy to look like someone’s just dropped some ice cream on his head” contest.

So. What was my point with all this? I’m not sure. But I haven’t blogged anything in ages, and this morning’s junk mail rejuvenated some interest in complaining about politics. Not in voting, Christ no. But still.

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Hey, people very keen that one political party win and the other one lose in the big upcoming political event:

Remember not to let the wrong side win.

You can imagine the kind of thing they’ll get up to if they aren’t soundly defeated. They’re already misrepresenting the whole political debate – from the way they talk sometimes, you’d think they were the right side, and ought to actually win. As if the things they want to do with political power were better than the things you want to do! The nerve!

So, don’t let them win. This is very important because politics.

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As well as not doing much blogging or writing any new stories, my Twitter feed went a bit dead for the last couple of weeks, while I’ve been mopey about work prospects and whatnot. It perked up a bit today. Here’s what’s been inspiring me to brevity, mostly regarding the London mayoral election.

RT @sturdyAlex: Whether you decide to vote or not and, if you do, for whom you vote, make it a conscious decision.

Much better advice there than just “whoever you vote for, make sure you vote”.

Vote for Boris. Because how likely is Ken to toss on about wiff-waff at the Olympics? Come on, gay people, get on board.

NB “privilege”. RT @amolrajan: Hate all politicians? Can’t be arsed to vote? Shut up and grow up. People died to give you this privilege.

Just decide which power-hungry arsehole you hate least and tacitly accept their authority over you. That’s called being mature.

RT @41un: @writerJames @amolrajan No candidates here have policies. Isn’t it an abuse to increase the work of the counting officer with a random vote?

I drop half a carrot just by the bridge. After a flash of snuffly nose, it’s dragged out of sight underneath. Guinea pigs are adorable.

I may have got a bit bored with politics toward the end of the day.

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Yesterday evening, I went and did my democratic duty pointless minor hassle, and voted in the national referendum on the Alternative Vote.

I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to bother, but on my way home I saw a Polling Station sign on the building directly opposite where I live. So, since it was all happening a fifteen-second walk from my front door, I went and joined in.

I’m not entirely convinced by the way I ended up voting, but fortunately it will have precisely zero impact on anything. So I get a faint, delusory feeling of self-congratulatory smugness at having done something people generally approve of, and I’m at no actual risk of buggering up the country. It’s win-win.

What I’ve found myself feeling most strongly about, though, is the constant insistence that everyone must get out and vote, particularly by people who claim not to care which way the ballots are cast.

I can’t think of any other area in which mere participation is so lauded, and the particular method so apparently unimportant. You wouldn’t find many devoted football fans saying: “I hope a striker from one of the teams scores a goal. I don’t care which one, so long as it’s not a draw.”

Particularly odious is the idea that “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain”. I don’t know how it got a hold on the public consciousness so successfully, given how inadequately it withstands examination.

Here’s how that particular allegation translates:

Hello, we’re in charge. And we’re not interested in your opinions, objections, or complaints about the way we’re doing things, except on this one daily event in between years-long stretches of doing what you’re told. We permit you to protest at this one specific time, in one clearly regimented manner, and if you don’t take it and consider yourselves lucky then whatever else you think is deemed invalid.

Also, if you do use this sole sanctioned method of political engagement to get rid of us and replace us with another lot (who probably aren’t different from us in more than a handful of ways you can name), then you’re to be held personally culpable for everything that goes wrong on their watch.

Screw that.

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