I have done my civic duty in Westminster, voting in the city council elections. I really quite enjoy the ritual of going into the polling place and casting my vote. The Liberal Democrats made the ward I live in into a target ward, and a huge amount of effort has gone in. Tens of thousands of leaflets and letters, canvassing, calling, fund raising- all for today. Over the past two years there have been over twenty Lib Dem leaflets in the ward, with the Conservatives sending out three and Labour none. If it was just a question of rewarding the efforts of the parties, then Sue Baring, Martin Thompson and Ben Way would be elected to the council with handsome majorities.
As we go through this process I reflect on some of the arguments about making voting compulsory. Personally I am very strongly against. Although I enjoy the ritual of voting, I am quite happy to listen to people who have different view. The fact is that our voting system is very imperfect. Votes are not all equal but depend on how marginal or otherwise your polling district is. It will be very interesting to see what changes take place in Scotland after the new, more proportional, voting system comes in next year. I hope that the rotten burghs of the central belt will now receive greater scrutiny as opposition councilors challenge the old regime, in some cases for the first time.
Even if our voting system was fair, then there is the issue of what power our elected representatives actually have. The way that the block grant can be manipulated essentially renders the power of the councils to control their own expenditure pretty marginal.
So why vote?
Well, in my case voting Liberal Democrat is a statement to change the system of government. Personally I want councils to gain more influence- and if they screw up, then they can take the consequences. At the moment Whitehall takes most of the decisions that are relevant to local government, and I believe that this should stop- and that only the Lib Dems are saying so. I am determined to vote positively and so am determined to vote. If, however there was no Lib Dem candidate why should I vote at all? It is certainly not up to the state to tell me that I must vote. If people do not feel inclined to vote, for whatever reason, then politicians should respect this- and learn from it.