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Don’t Vote Politically ?!?

March 24, 2014

This post is yet another interruption to my attempt to work through the 9 questions I think politicians using social media should ask themselves.

But actually it’s a bit of a live footnote to the piece I wrote about Question 3, “Are you local?” last Thursday.

Dartford Labour Councillor Jonathon Hawkes tweeted yesterday that he had seen a leaflet, for a local council by-election in Stone, which said “Don’t vote politically on 27 March” and was signed by The Conservatives. I haven’t seen the leaflet. But nobody has disowned it, and a local Conservative councillor has entered into a debate via twitter about what it means. So I will work on the assumption that existence of the leaflet is uncontested fact.

Also came across V odd leaflet in Stone today “Don’t vote politically on 27 March” signed The Conservatives…. #fail #pulltheotherone

— Jonathon Hawkes (@CllrJonHawkes) March 23, 2014

So what does it mean?

On a simple level it is a contradiction in terms. Voting is a political act.

It may well mean, “Don’t just vote party-politically”. If so, I have two reactions. The first would be that it reinforces the idea that “Politics” is this game that parties play, and which we might lazily conform to when voting, or the idea that as a result local issues aren’t ‘politics’ as such. I’m not happy with that. I think that people should be encouraged to have a wider sense of what politics is – in particular that, on a local level, it is about anything which affects the local community and which needs to be decided via collective debate/opinion and by addressing any imbalances of power which prevent that.

So my second reaction is that if, by “Don’t just vote party-politically”, the publishers of the leaflet mean ‘look beneath the national, daily news, Cameron vs Miliband cartoon and look at the individual candidates’ then they might be advocating something similar to my views about representation in “Are you local?”

In particular that might make sense if the leaflet was issued by an individual candidate, who was taking a line on local representation similar to mine.

But if this leaflet was issued by “The Conservatives”, what are they saying? To bother publishing it at all means that they think ‘voting politically’ would reduce their count. So that means they acknowledge that on some level Conservative politics are less popular than they would like, that they can see why people who voted on party-politics would vote for them less, so they want people to look beyond that. There’s a case they could put, for not making local candidates suffer for something like “the mid-term unpopularity of the government in office, that all parties suffer”, though we are only a year from a general election. Without that gloss it looks a bit like they are saying, “OK – fair play, you don’t want to vote for The Conservatives but, on local grounds, vote for us… The Conservatives.”

If it’s a message from an individual candidate, who happens to be standing as a Conservative, then different considerations come into play. If you want to be considered on your own personal merits, record and specific local policies, but you accept voters’ reasons for not wanting to vote [‘politically’] for the Conservatives, why are you standing as a Conservative and not an independent? [I know, the common sense  answer is, “get real Nick, what chance would I have then?”]. If the candidate sympathises with such voters about some Conservative policies or performance that make them want to vote otherwise, what’s wrong with the candidate putting their hand up to that and saying “I’m not impressed with some of those either [e.g.  … and … ], but I’m more Conservative than anything else, so vote for my personal position and my broad party alignment? Would the local party tolerate that? If not – then we are back to a contradiction in the leaflet.

One final thought: Although I’m strongly in favour of people voting in local elections about local representatives and local issues, and I worry that local elections lose out to national party cartoon sound bite politics, I do recognise a connection. This is where national policies can be seen to have specific local consequences or implications. I would like to see more of those candidates who choose to stand on party lines taking responsibility for, and producing hard local evidence about, the overall impact of that party’s policies on this Place. Because that should amount to why they are standing locally for that party. Otherwise I encourage you, candidates currently of all parties, to stand on a personal manifesto for your Ward and for Dartford Borough.

A couple of thoughts and questions:

Does anyone have a copy of the leaflet that they could share? It would help to see the exact wording and layout.

Does anyone responsible for publishing it want to say, at greater length, what “Don’t vote politically on 27 March” was intended to mean?

If you are a voter in the Stone by-election, and persuaded to look deeper into each of the candidates’ positions, then have a look at the Q&A published via Dartford Matters. These read primarily as personal testimonies. I leave it to you to decide whether you can also hear a ‘party’ backing track playing underneath each, and whether this adds or detracts.

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