Democracy has been described as two wolves and a lamb deciding what to eat for lunch. In this analogy, and given a choice, a rational lamb would not agree to a majority vote. If majority rule was imposed on it from above, the lamb might justly feel aggrieved. “Democracy isn’t fair,” the lamb might protest; “I don’t agree with your voting system and I want no part in it.” And who could seriously blame the lamb for refusing to vote? A challenge to the lamb that she could try and convince the wolves to have a vegetarian lunch is likely to be derided.
Last year, the comedian Russell Brand appeared on BBC’s Newsnight. He declared that he didn’t believe democracy was working very well and said that there was a “disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent, underclass” that were not represented by the political system. In his view, this underclass become the lambs in a country full of wolves.
There are many reasons for not voting. The simple one of “I can’t be bothered” is as valid as any other. Other valid reasons include not liking either the candidates from whom you can choose or the political parties that they represent. There could be a single issue that is of dominant importance to the non-voter. A standard example would be someone with a deeply held religious conviction that abortion is murder who cannot with good conscience vote for any candidate who holds a pro-choice position regarding abortion. If all candidates are pro-choice, then, if they are consistent, the citizen will stay away from the ballot box.
In his book, Revolution, Brand responds to his critics who argue that “People died so you’d have the right to vote.” His response is “No they did not, they died for freedom.” What people value is being treated justly – not the ability to vote in elections. It is laughable to suggest that people were prepared to die solely for the right to put a cross on a ballot ticket. Brand states, “I don’t feel irresponsible for telling kids not to vote, I feel like I deserve a Blue Peter badge for telling them not to riot.” Voter turn outs in many elections are quite low. It is difficult to know the exact reasons why this is so. Two further options on the ballot slip might assist matters. Firstly, there could be a box for “reopen nominations” for those who do not like the available candidates but do not reject the system. Secondly, there could be a box “Against the system” for those who think like Russell Brand or are opposed to “the system” for other reasons.
There will be a general election in the UK in a few months. There is a gulf of difference between Russell Brand’s political views and my own, but on one point I suspect we can agree. When the details of the rabble of assorted candidates are dropped through our respective letter boxes with associated campaign material, we will both shake our heads and ask, why bother. Really, why bother?