It's a Waste of Time to Vote, Let Alone Be Informed About Politics Essay
When studying voter turnout it is often seen that voting is the norm - It's a Waste of Time to Vote, Let Alone Be Informed About Politics Essay introduction. However, it would be beneficial to look at why members of the electorate vote at all. Since the 1997 general election, the turnout rate has significantly decreased from 71% to 59% in 2001 and 61% in 2005 (Mellows-Facer:2005). There are many possible explanations for this dramatic drop in the turnout rates including, the fact that many members of the electorate have lost their faith in our system of government or that more people are uneducated in the workings of the government and politics and do not understand how it benefits them.
It is argued that it is a waste of time to vote as after the election the government is no longer accountable to the electorate until the next election. Rousseau stated that only during the election could England refer to itself as free (Rousseau:1762). Once a party has a parliamentary majority they are able to pass any legislation they wish and the electorate and other parties can be seen to be powerless to stop them. Thus, some members of the electorate do not see the point in voting as their vote will not make much, if any difference on future legislation.
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Whilst this is true to some degree it is still possible for the public to prevent or at least delay legislation becoming law. This can be done through the use of pressure groups or calls for a referendum on the subject. In the 1990’s there were mass demonstrations against the poll tax which resulted in people refusing to pay it and its eventual abolishing. This is a prime example of how the electorate can still influence the government and its decisions after the general election. These members of the electorate put severe pressure on the government to change its legislation and proved that it was not popular.
It can however be argued that the methods used by these campaigners were undemocratic as by failing to pay the poll tax they were breaking the law and thus holding the government to ransom. However, in 2003 between 750,000 to 2 million took part in what was the largest demonstration the UK has ever seen to protest against the use of military force in Iraq. This mass demonstration was said by Tim Robbins to be “what democracy looks like”. Despite this obvious national opposite to the war coalition forces invaded Iraq and to this day there are still troops stationed in the country.
This directly supports Rousseau’s theory that we are only free during the election and that we have no power until the following general election. Many members of the electorate think that it is a waste of time to vote due to the fact that they are disillusioned with the government and politicians in general. Many people feel that politicians are dishonest with their campaigning and that they will say anything to help them get into power. The recent expenses scandal has created more scepticism about politicians real agendas. In 2009 The Daily Telegraph revealed many of the illegitimate expenses claims by various MPs.
They included mortgages that did not exist and most controversially a floating duck house and the cleaning of a moat. Findings such as these infuriated voters and have caused many people to become disillusioned with MPs and lose faith in our system. The expenses scandal has reinforced the idea in many that it is a waste of time to vote as it seems that the vast majority of MPs have escaped criminal charges, with the exceptions of Elliot Morley, Jim Devine, David Chayter and Lord Hanningfield who are all facing charges under the Theft Act (Pickford:2010).
Despite the lack of criminal convictions against those MPs who seem to have committed fraud when declaring their expenses, many have been forced by their parties or otherwise, to step down at the next election. These MPs include Ben Chapman and Anthony Steen. It can therefore be argued, that if we were not informed about politics then the public would not be aware of the expenses scandal and the politicians in question would not be held to the scrutiny of the public. It is imperative that we are informed about politics so that dishonest politicians can not take advantage our the system and can be held accountable for their actions.
Although the majority of illegitimate expenses claims have been paid back, the expenses claimed have cost the tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds. Without any knowledge of politics or the political system, tax payers could end up being charged for expenses that are illegitimate and fraudulent. In the 2005 general election only 36% of the votes were in favour of a Labour government which meant that 64% of the electorate who turned out, voted against Labour (Truman:2005).
Those who state that it is a waste of time to vote will argue that the current government was formed on the votes of the minority and that it is not representative of the majority of the electorate. It can be seen as a waste of time to vote as even though the majority voted for a party other than Labour they still became the governing party. This raises the question as to whether our government is illegitimate and adds to the argument of electoral reform. It is likely that less people will feel that it is a waste of time to vote if the UK used a different voting system such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system.
The STV system is broadly proportional and each vote is largely of the same value (Garnett & Lynch:2003). Again, it can be argued that to not be informed about politics would to not be informed about the different voting systems. Once members of the electorate have become informed about the different voting system, they can then start to put pressure on the government to change the current First Past the Post (FPTP) system to what are arguably fairer systems.
This could be done in a variety of ways including the use of pressure groups such as the Electoral Reform Society and by holding the government accountable to their 1997 manifesto in which they promised a referendum on electoral reform. Some members of the electorate may feel that it is a waste of time to vote as they feel alienated. The FPTP system tends to favour the two main political parties thus, making some voters feel that their vote will be ‘wasted’. It is understandable that some voters will not bother to vote as they know it is near impossible for their party to gain a seat due to the current system.
This may cause some members of the electorate to vote tactically (to prevent a certain party from gaining a seat) or to simply boycott the election altogether. Political parties may also alienate voters by proposing new legislation and reforms. The invasion of Iraq alienated many voters as they felt that they could no longer support a party who were prepared enter into what many saw as an unjust war. Alienation of this kind does not always result in members of the electorate failing to vote but it can have this affect on some, if none of the other parties appeal to the voter.
Those who have no direct interest in politics may see it as a waste of time to vote and will not necessarily take the time to become informed about politics. It can be argued that there will be a clearer representation of what the electorate want if those who are not interested in politics do not vote. This is because those members of the electorate who are not interested in politics are more likely to be easily swayed by politicians or just vote randomly without thought for the policies they are supporting. However, everyone is affected by politics.
Garnett and Lynch (2003:4) suggest that almost every action that we take is a political decision whether it is conscious or not. It is widely known that certain sports brands use cheap labour to manufacture their products and many people, myself included, refuse to purchase these products on moral grounds. However, what is not necessarily known to all is that the reason the public are aware of these companies is because of pressure groups such as CorpWatch. These pressure groups lobby the government for changes in the law to help protect workers from exploitation by these large companies.
This is a direct example of why it is essential to be informed about politics. It is morally unjust to allow these companies to exploit workers and without groups like CorpWatch it would not be brought to the public’s attention. During the Euro 2000 championships pressure groups such as the Clean Clothes Company stated that Adidas, who were one of the major sponsors of the tournament, did not comply with the convent that the Union of European Football Association is bound to (Dhondt:2000). The Electoral Commission gives many reasons as to why it is very important to vote.
One of which being that it gives you the chance to have your say on important issues (Electoral Commission: 2008). The obvious main issue being who you think should be running the country. This is a very important issue that every member of the electorate should vote for as it affects the entire country. They also make the point that although it is our right to vote it is also our duty. Many people have died for the right to vote, from the suffragettes in the UK through to those who died in the apartheid in South Africa. The right to vote is exactly that, it is a right. Therefore, we also have the right not to vote.
It is a central part of our democracy that we have this choice. Those who think that it is a waste of time to vote or even become informed about politics are entitled to this opinion. However, politics affects every aspect of our lives whether we realise it or not. Members of the electorate need to become informed about politics in some way or another, otherwise many of our decisions in life will be taken out of our hands. Once informed about politics, even in the most primitive degree, it is then possible for the member of the electorate to make their own, informed decision as to whether to vote or not.
Rousseau, J-J (2003). On The Social Contract. New York: Dover Publication. p44. Granett, M. & Lynch, P. (2003) UK Government and Politics, Philip Allan Updates, Oxfordshire Unknown. (2003). ‘Milion’ March Against Iraq War. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2765041.stm. Last accessed 21 March 2010. Pickford, N.. (2010). Four Face Criminal Charges over Expenses Scandal. Available: http://news.icm.ac.uk/business/four-face-criminal-charges-over-expenses-scandal/5493/. Last accessed 21 March 2010. Trueman, C.. (2005). The 2005 British General Election. Available: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/2005_british_general_election.htm. Last accessed 22 March 2010. Unknown. (2008). Reasons Why You Should Register. Available: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/why_should_i_register_to_vot1/reasons_why_you_should_regis.aspx. Last accessed 22 March 2010. Dhondt, P.. (2000). EU: Anti-Sweatshop Campaign Targets Adidas. Available: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=1311. Last accessed 21 March 2010
Rousseau, J-J (2003). On The Social Contract. New York: Dover Publication. p44.
Granett, M. & Lynch, P. (2003) UK Government and Politics, Philip Allan Updates, Oxfordshire Unknown. (2003). ‘Milion’ March Against Iraq War. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2765041.stm. Last accessed 21 March 2010.
Pickford, N.. (2010). Four Face Criminal Charges over Expenses Scandal. Available: http://news.icm.ac.uk/business/four-face-criminal-charges-over-expenses-scandal/5493/. Last accessed 21 March 2010.
Trueman, C.. (2005). The 2005 British General Election. Available: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/2005_british_general_election.htm. Last accessed 22 March 2010.
Unknown. (2008). Reasons Why You Should Register. Available: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/why_should_i_register_to_vot1/reasons_why_you_should_regis.aspx. Last accessed 22 March 2010.
Dhondt, P.. (2000). EU: Anti-Sweatshop Campaign Targets Adidas. Available: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=1311. Last accessed 21 March 2010