You’re not so unique you don’t have to vote

If you’re not going to vote, come up with a better excuse, says XAVIER BISITS.

Cambridge culc daniel zeichner election julian huppert katie hopkins rupert read

There are plenty of respectable reasons for not voting.

Laziness. Exams. Some kind of an emergency that renders your presence at the polling centre nigh on impossible.

But there is one reason for not voting that makes me writhe with the self-important and overly sensitive indignation of a politics student: the narcissistic, self-assured conviction that none of the candidates are good enough for you.

‘I just have an eclectic mix of views!’ you say. ‘None of the candidates represents me!’ you cry.  ‘None of them are radical enough!’

If the Greens aren’t radical enough for you, I worry.

Throw in the regurgitation of a quote by Russell Brand and you have a substantial proportion of Cambridge students faced with the prospect of voting in a general election for the first time in their lives.

Maybe they’re all terrible candidates – although as Richard Nicholl from the Other Publication so wisely points out, none of the candidates in Cambridge is actually that bad.

Contrary to popular opinion, none of these candidates is the incarnation of evil.

Even if this were the case, there are grades of terribleness, my friend, and if you don’t vote you’ll be complicit to a tiny degree in something being slightly more terrible than it may have been otherwise.

The expectation – frequently fielded by my well-educated students of refined opinion – is that a vote is wasted unless the candidate is a carbon-copy of you and your opinions.

Even in Australia – where under our system of proportional representation I had to rank 97 candidates in 2013 – you’d struggle to find someone who fully represents you.

It looks fun until you realise you have to number them from 1 to 97 without making a mistake.

This attitude is frustrating because it overlooks the whole point of the democratic project: compromise. We need politicians who you like but can’t get fully on board with.  The ideal politician shows a mix of conviction and willingness to sacrifice those same principles on occasion in an acknowledgement of the fact that you’re not always right and you don’t always get your way.

A second reason – and a far more endearing one – often given for not voting is that you’re not sure what you believe.  Maybe you don’t know anything about the candidates. Maybe you haven’t read their manifestos.

This is a highly ironic excuse in that it tends to come from those of my friends who are the most intelligent and – if I were to guess – know a good deal more about politics than they’re willing to admit.

The reality is that no one knows exactly what they believe about everything. If you do, you’re probably an ideologue who would be the subject of most decent people’s suspicions.

Even Huppert can’t figure out whether he’s an independent or a Lib Dem.

And – without meaning to demean the voting intentions of the rest of the country – voter ignorance is a massive phenomenon.  The typical British voter overestimates the prevalence of unemployment and Muslims by a factor of three and four, respectively.

If having a detailed knowledge of key issues and policies is a requirement for voting, then nobody ought to vote.  Thankfully, it isn’t, and rightly so. We shouldn’t penalise people for having better things to do with their life and more pressing issues on their hands.

I suspect that the explanation for this – at least in Cambridge – is not voter apathy but voter humility.  Well-educated Socratic young people in this country realise how little they know.  Too humble.  Too apologetic.  Too British.

If you’re looking for a good reason not to vote, push the irrationality line.  It is a truth universally acknowledged among well-read politics students that voting is an utterly irrational act.

Your vote isn’t going to change anything tomorrow.  The likelihood of the outcome in any electorate being decided by a single vote is miniscule.  The effort of trekking to the Castle End Mission – or wherever it is that the government insists you lug yourself – is a poor repayment for the fact that, in the end, you won’t have any influence.

Not that you should be thinking about the irrationality of all this. Try not to focus on how little you matter in the grand scheme of things and instead try to produce some patriotic endorphins – fueled by a pleasant awareness of civic responsibility – from your joy-deprived, exam-focused central nervous system.

(This will be harder for me as a non-national who – for whatever reason – is afforded a vote as a Commonwealth citizen in your beautiful country.)

In my country, we force you to vote.  You should too.