The winter of our disenfranchisement

So, it is official, this winter we will be getting another election. Fifteen years ago (or so), I was sat in university writing politics papers on voter disenfranchisement. Fifteen years ago (or so), I was one of those extremely annoying however-you-vote-make-sure-you-vote brigade. None of us believed what we were saying then and I suspect very few of the people who say it now believe it either. Of course we don’t want people who will thwart the way we want the vote to go to get out and vote. It might sound liberal and magnanimous, but it is plainly not what we really want.

I have always believed in the democratic process. Fifteen years ago (or so), I never really understood all the people who failed to turn out. Why on earth wouldn’t you exercise your democratic right? And surely you feel certain issues are important enough to bother seeking to elect someone who might do them for you? I just couldn’t get my head around those who checked out of the political process altogether.

Ever since that time fifteen (or so) years ago, I have voted in every poll in which I was eligible. I have voted in every general election, every local election, every referendum and every party leadership contest I was permitted to vote in. Of course, various of those votes didn’t go my way. But I always believed that, no matter the result, I could always vote again for those who would enact what I saw as more benevolent policies. It never occurred to me to reject any democratic result and I always believed there would be the opportunity to overturn the result at a later date, or to vote for those who would.

Fifteen (or so) years on, I have joined the ranks of those I never thought I would join. I no longer believe in getting out to vote, no matter who you vote for (if I ever really believed that at all). I no longer believe that the democratic process will lead to the decision of the people being implemented. I no longer believe that I can simply go out and vote for change. I am simply don’t see the point of turning out to vote at all.

All of this has come up again as we are in line for another General Election. A General Election that is necessary because our current parliament has done everything in its power to frustrate the result of the EU referendum. A General Election that will almost certainly change nothing for two principal reasons. First, we had a General Election already – in the name of getting Brexit done – that made it considerably harder to do so. Second, unless Boris Johnson can guarantee every Conservative Party candidate supports Brexit, and parties standing on a Remain platform can guarantee the inverse for their candidates, we have no reason to believe this new crop of parliamentarians will any more wish to do for the people than the existing set are happy to do.

Ultimately, the real problem is that my faith in the democratic process has fallen in exact proportion to the number of parliamentarians (and parties!) committed to thwarting the result of a democratic referendum. If they won’t implement the result of a straightforward in/out referendum, what is the point of voting in a General Election? Why believe that they will implement any manifesto pledge when they won’t implement the result of a vote on a single, very specific policy. There have been several opportunities to do so, multiple chances, on different deals and none, all of which have been rejected.

It is fair to say that I’m not the rioting type. It would neither be right, nor serve the cause of Christ to which I am entirely wedded. I can’t see a rioting pastor doing much for the kingdom (neither my national one nor my Heavenly one). But I can see myself, for the first time in my adult life, simply not bothering. Not turning up and spoiling my ballot, just not bothering. Unless and until the democratic votes of 17.4m people are honoured as they should be, I don’t see why I should traipse down to the ballot box to register a vote that could just as easily be ignored.

I dare say I see lots of people not bothering too. That voter disenfranchisement I wrote about fifteen (or so) years ago will reach its nadir because, I fear, few others will see the point either. If one of the largest democratic exercises this country has ever seen can be rejected and every mechanism at the disposal of those who do not want to enact the result can be used to thwart it, what right have we got to expect anybody to engage ever again. The process that many of us once believed in will be seen to be broken. The process many others have never trusted will simply have confirmed all they ever thought about it.

And without wishing to be a doomsayer, the history of disenfranchisement is not a happy one. The history of people being left without any democratic rights on which they can rely is not pretty. Whenever there is a failure of representation and large sections of the franchise feel locked out of the process, things have never gone well.