Posts Tagged ‘voting’

Is it worth voting in the EU elections?

Saturday, June 1st, 2019 | Religion & Politics

I’ve previously written about why voting in a general election is pointless. One vote never makes a difference. It did in 1886. And again in 1910. But both of those occasions were before you, me, or even my gran was born.

One of the major problems is the first past the post system. But the EU elections are run under proportional representation. So, does that make it better? It certainly does! It allows a much fairer representation of parties at the table. However, as it is done by region, and because of the number of votes, your one vote still doesn’t really make a difference.

Let’s look at my region, for example, Yorkshire and the Humber. Here is the outcome:

  • Brexit Party, 470,351 votes, 3 MEPs
  • Labour, 210,516 votes, 1 MEP
  • Liberal Democrats, 200,180 votes, 1 MEP
  • Green, 166,980 votes, 1 MEP
  • Conservatives, 92,863 votes, 0 MEPs

One of the best things about PR is that it makes the votes per MP fairer. For example, in a general election, the Lib Dems and UKIP typically have a large share of the vote while only a handful of MPs, while the SNP have very few votes but loads of MPs.

It’s not quite even in PR, but it’s better. The Brexit Party has the best ratio of votes to MEPs with 156,784 votes per MEP. So, in order for someone else to gain an MEP, they would have to beat this number.

Let’s look at what that would mean:

  • Conservatives: 63,921
  • Labour: 103,052
  • Lib Dems: 113,388

Or, maybe you want the Brexit Party to take a fourth seat. That would require them to take an additional 156,785 votes.

All of those are big numbers. Way bigger than the 23,698 votes it would require for the Conservatives to take Leeds Central away from Labour in a general election. Which they haven’t done since 1923.

I also ran the numbers against London. The closest people were the Conservatives who could have taken one of the Brexit Party seats (200,129 votes per MEP) with an additional 22,165 votes. I looked at South East England, too, where the Greens could have taken Labour’s seat with an additional 26,107 votes.

None of these results was close. One vote does not make a difference.

I feel like an idiot for voting, and you should too

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Tomorrow is the general election. Will you be voting? If you answer is anything other than “no”, you’re making bad choices with your life.

I usually vote. But I feel like an idiot for doing so.

Why? Because pretty much every economic model shows that voting is not worthwhile. Think about it: your vote is worth basically nothing. The British electorate is 45,000,000 people. You are just one of them. You don’t make any difference on the outcome.

And, presumably, you put some kind of value on your time.

An example: Leeds Central

I’m based in Leeds Central. It’s Hilary Benn’s Labour safe seat. Last time, we received 24,000 votes. His nearest competitor received 7,000 votes. That is a majority of 17,000. He has a 55% share of the vote.

This never changes. The last time Leeds Central elected anyone other than a Labour candidate was in 1923. 94 years ago. Before I was born. Before my parents were born. Before my grandparents were born.

So, no matter what I do, Hilary Benn will be re-elected as the MP for Leeds Central tomorrow.

Okay, so that established, I now have a choice. It’s polling day and I am sitting in my house. Regardless of whether I cast my vote, Hilary Benn will be re-elected. I can choose to spend 30 minutes going to the polling station. Or I can choose to spend the 30 minutes with my daughter.

What’s the rational choice here?

Voting costs time

Voting is a time-consuming business. You have to go to the polling station and get back. You might have to queue. I have had to queue for 40 minutes in a previous election.

That’s a big time-suck. How much is your time worth?

Probably valuable, right? I could be spending that time with my family or my friends. Or relaxing. Or cooking. Or getting some work done. Or learning something new. There are loads of valuable things you could do with that time.

And if your time is worthless, maybe you need to spend that time sorting your life out.

The rational action is not to vote

If you live in one of the 80% of safe seats, your vote is completely worthless. Nothing is going to change there.

If you live in one of the 20% of marginal seats, you vote is still worth practically nothing. Why? Because elections rarely ever come down to one vote.

We have a general election every 4-5 years, have done for around 200 years and currently have 650 constituencies. That is tens of thousands of constituency elections. Just once. In 1886. Seems unlikely you will be that one vote, then.

But voting is a right, and an honour

Which is the kind of thing we tell young men when we need them to go off and get themselves killed in a pointless war. “It’s an honour to service in the British military, and your duty to defend the Queen. I’d probably get some insurance for those legs of yours, though. And maybe freeze some sperm.”

When people tell me I have to vote, nobody can explain to me what that means. Or why. Why do I have to vote? It literally doesn’t make a difference to the outcome of the election. It doesn’t change anything. It is a waste of my time.

Those are concrete facts. The 30 minutes I lose spending time with Venla is a concrete outcome. “You’ll be participating in the great democratic process” is a nebulous concept with no clear value.

Yes, but if nobody voted…

People say to me “well, if everyone who wanted Bremain had gone out and voted, we would have won”. This is true. But they won’t. You don’t have control over them. You only control yourself and your one single vote.

It’s essentially the tragedy of the commons.

And if everyone thought like me and stopped voting, I would start voting, because my vote would suddenly become incredibly valuable. But until that happens, it isn’t.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

Of course you can. Not voting doesn’t somehow disqualify you from having an opinion when your human rights start getting stripped away or the government starts murdering disabled people.

Not voting merely shows that you have some grasp of basic probability. In short, that you’re not an idiot.

If anything, voting should disqualify you from having an opinion because you fail to grasp how the whole system works (or doesn’t work).

But Chris, you said you vote

It’s true. I’m not better than you. I’m saying that we’re all idiots together.

But young people don’t vote

You could argue “that’s fine, I am happy being an idiot, let’s all be idiots together and be proud of it.”

Fine. But young people don’t vote.

Most people say that they are disenfranchised and ill-informed. But is there any evidence for this? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that young people should be more informed. They have more access to news, access to the internet, higher levels of education than ever before and a higher IQ (which moves up 3 points every decade). They should be the most switched on.

And I think they are. What if, rather than being ill-informed fools, young people are just smarter than us? They realise how pointless voting in a first-past-the-post system is and have realised that their time is too valuable to waste on such an endeavour?


Voting is an irrational act. Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of the election. It does, however, cost you valuable time. The sensible thing to do is not to vote.

That is why young people don’t vote. They’ve realised this ahead of the rest of us. Sure, if they all block voted they could change the election. But they won’t, and they understand that they won’t because they each individually only control one vote, and so they do the thing that makes sense and use their time more productively.

The rest of us have been brainwashed by words like duty or feel that it would somehow be offensive towards the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst if we choose to spend the time with our family instead.

Maybe I’m wrong. The truth is, I would like to be proven so. I would like to think I am not acting irrationally. But your argument better be well-thought-out and articulate because nobody has been successful yet.

And you say “well, I’m happy to act irrationality”. But that in itself is not a badge to be proud of. We often chastise the electorate for failing to vote in their own self-interest. But what right to do we have to make these claims when we ourselves cannot rationalise our actions? None whatsoever.


Image courtesy of Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t forget to vote

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 | Religion & Politics


Today is of course referendum day. Many of you have postal voted already, but for those voting in person, now is the time!

I am very much looking forward to today being over so that I can talk about something else! I have some great posts about Iceland coming up, starting Saturday.

Some reasons to vote

Sometimes it might feel like it is not worth voting. However, there are some great reasons to make the effort today.

First, the result is on a knife edge. It is predicted to be incredibly close; closer than any vote we have seen foe a long time. With such fine margins, you vote will make more of a difference than ever.

Second, everyone else is doing it. YouGov are predicting we could see one of the highest turnouts for any vote in the last few decades (save the Scottish referendum). As a society, we really are all making the effort to get out there and vote.

Third, the consequences of this are huge. It is not just five years of one set of politicians before we vote again. It would be a most uncomfortable feeling for the future of our society having gone the other way than you wanted it, without having a say in it. At least if you vote you can say “don’t blame me – I voted x!”

Still undecided?

If you are still not sure which way to vote in the referendum, that’s fine. But consider this: if we vote remain, we can always choose to leave at a later date. A vote for leave is far less reversible.


It’s time to speak out

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 | Religion & Politics


I have not been very active in campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the EU. The truth is, I don’t think I thought I really needed to. I thought when the time came, the UK would not be swayed by the torrent of anti-immigrant hated put out by a side that advocated a return to the good old days when we maintained our trade levels through invasion and empire-building, rather than dialogue and open borders.

Having discussed it with other people, I think many feel the same way. We did not realise our voices had to be heard. We assumed that the progress we had achieved over the past 50 years was safe. But now, only weeks before the referendum, the pendulum is swinging. Several polls put Leave ahead. Even the bookies have started slashing the odds, which were not that high to begin with.

We must speak out. The voice is the silent majority, our voice, must be silent no more. The time for being British and avoiding the awkward conversation with out friends and family has passed.

When I talk to people about the referendum, I don’t tell them about the percentage of immigrants in the UK (it’s lower than they think), the percentage of laws that come from Brussels (it’s lower than they think), it the net contribution we make to the EU (it is, of course, lower than they think). I talk about my fears for my wife and my baby daughter. Immigration laws tear families apart.

I talk about my fears of providing for my family when trade with other European nations becomes more difficult. At Sky, we’re expanding into Germany and Italy. If that growth is slowed, I will be the first out of the door.

I talk about my friends, who work on minimum wage, who will have to face a stagnant economy in which their pay does not rise, but their price of does does. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will still be millionaires whatever happens. It is the poorest communities, the communities of The North that will be hit the hardest.

I talk about my friends with disabilities and long term health conditions who face a bonfire of rights once there are no immigrants left to demonise.

And all of this for no clear benefit. There are no concrete benefits. We don’t know if leaving the EU will spare us some cash, or whether that will be lost in the economic shock. We don’t know if we will be able to gain any immigration controls while still maintaining business links with Europe. We do know that we almost certainly would have to contribute to the EU budget anyway, have no trade deals with other countries and make it more difficult to fight crime in a European level.

The only “gap” is our attitude

When the results of yesterday’s TNS UK poll were released, it put Leave 7 poins ahead. But listen to what their spokesperson, Luke Taylor, told The Guardian

It should be noted that among the entire general public the picture is more balanced with 33% supporting Remain, 35% supporting Leave and 32% undecided or planning not to vote.

Taking into account likelihood to vote and whether or not people are registered to vote, benefits ‘Leave’ over ‘Remain’. In particular, our turnout model penalises younger people and those that did not vote in the previous general election, as historically these groups are less likely to vote.

The Leave campaign does not represent the the majority view of British people. The reason they are ahead is because on Thursday 23 July, they are more likely to turn up and vote than everyone else. It is because of low turn out, especially among younger people, that the Leave campaign has the chance to drag us down down a road that the rest of the country does not want to go down.

Our voices must be heard, and our votes must be counted. It rests on all of our shoulders to make this happen.

The tragedy of Boaty McBoatface

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 | Religion & Politics


Last week it was announced that the new polar research ship Boaty McBoatface would be named RRS Sir David Attenborough instead. True, NERC never promised they would name the ship after the most popular vote, but I think it still raises questions.

NERC is publicly funded, so you would think that they would want to serve the public as best they can. And the public had spoken. 124,109 votes were cast for Boaty McBoatface. The next in line was Poppy-Mai with 39,886 (which was the small child that married her father). David Attenborough collected only 11,203 votes, less than a tenth of what Boaty earned.

However, it was not to be. Jo Johnson said there were “more suitable” names, and that they would be selecting one of them. In the end, they settled on naming it after Sir David Attenborough. Attenborough is a British institution to be sure. However, if I was him, I would have sent a rather grumpy message pointing out that I was in fact not dead yet.

At the same time, we had our local elections. Turnout was around 45%. Most people did not even go out and vote. The situation is more dire in reality because it’s only 45% of those registered to vote: not everyone is registered, and some are even denied the right: prisoners and those under 18 years old for example. Only 69% of the population are registered to vote.

These are not the levels of participation on democracy that we would like to see.

Here is the tradegy: with Boaty McBoatface, people actually became excited about democracy. Young people were voting. People were sharing, and telling their friends to vote. It was worth basically nothing and yet people were engaging, excited and thought they would make a difference. Imagine if we could get that excitement about government elections.

There can be little argument against calling it Boaty McBoatface. Yes, it would be a ‘silly’ name. In what way does that affect the vessel’s ability to do science? The answer, is in no way. Nintendo named their console after taking a literal piss, and the Wii outsells both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

But then a suit stands up and tells everyone that they have made the wrong choice. Forget what the public wants, we will pick a “more suitable” name for you. The powers that be have spoken, and respecting what the public wants is not on the agenda. No wonder nobody turns out to vote, they’re not even allowed to name a ship.

Loony Party Welsh Assembly elections

Sunday, May 8th, 2016 | Religion & Politics


Well done to all the Loony candidates that stood in the Welsh Assembly elections. The party received 5,743 votes over all, representing 0.6% of the votes. This is a 300% increase compared to 0.2% last time. Extrapolating that trend out…

Election year Percentage of votes
2016 0.6%
2021 1.8%
2026 5.4%
2031 16.2%
2036 48.6%
2041 145.8%

We should have enough for a majority by 2036 (Labour were just short with 35% this time) and by 2041, which is only 25 years away, the party should have captured over 100% of Welsh voters.

A Very British Election

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 | Religion & Politics

“Hello, welcome to the polling station. Are you voting fraudulently?” “No” “Okay, wonderful. Go right ahead then”.

Sounds ridiculous of course. However, in the UK, that is pretty much what we do. Without bothering to ask the question explicitly. In some parts of the country they were apparently turning EU citizens away saying they had not completed a UC1 form whatever that is.

That certainly was not the case in Leeds. The two non-British EU citizens I spoke to said they had the same experience. No one asked to see their polling card. No one asked to see their ID. They didn’t even need to know their own name.

When Elina went down to the polling station she was armed with her polling card and password. However, she didn’t need either. They just asked for her address. She could have given any. After she did that, they read out her name and asked if that was her. She said it was, and was given a ballot paper.

I’ve never tried electoral fraud, so I am not an expert in it. However, I can see a few ways in which this system would be undermined. For example, I could have given my neighbours address. Very easy when you live in sequentially numbered flats. Even if they had then asked me to confirm my name, I could have just read it upside down while they were looking for the address and given it back to them. And all of that is only based on a scenario where I don’t know the name of my neighbour.

Luckily, because everyone in Britain is totally honest, this isn’t a problem.

Age of consent

Friday, December 23rd, 2011 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, I wrote about a theory that had been put to me, suggesting that we should align the age of sexual consent and the age of voting. I founded it difficult to come up with arguments to refute it.

But there is a problem. If you just put the age of sexual consent up to 18, kids will probably just have sex anyway. It’s not like people really pay that much attention to the law as it is. Indeed, some people make the argument that the age of sexual consent should be lowered.

Of course, that isn’t necessarily an issue. Maybe you just lower the age of voting to 14 as well, but then we would probably all agree that that would be pretty crazy. Still, once you agree that people can do more harm with sexual activity than they can with voting, how can you argue that the age of consent should be lower than the age of voting?

So, what are we do to then? Do we just live with the contradiction that it doesn’t make sense to have a higher age of voting than sexual consent, except it doesn’t make sense and settle with a logically inconsistent but ultimately pragmatic approach? Maybe that in itself is logical justification? I’ll throw it open to the floor…

The alternative vote

Thursday, May 12th, 2011 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

On Thursday May 5th, I voted yes to the alternative vote.

Not strictly because I actually wanted the alternative vote, but because the no campaign had been so shocking immoral. If it wasn’t massively exaggerating the cost of implementing AV by including the cost of the referendum (which thanks to the no campaign we still had to pay for even though nothing has changed) it was billboards with messages like “she needs a maternity ward, not an alternative vote.” As soon as that slogan was released, they should have lost the argument on something equivalent to Godwin’s Law.

Not to mention that most of the no campaign has been based on complete lies. Their website scare mongers with claims AV would elect the BNP even though under AV it would actually be more difficult for the BNP to get elected. They trick people by saying almost nobody uses AV even though many countries use even more progressive systems than AV.

Clearly there is something very much wrong with the morality lf those on the side of the no campaign. Even before you discover the BNP are opposed to AV as well.

Some people would argue that simply not liking one side of the argument isn’t a good enough reason to vote for the other. Unfortunately, we weren’t provided with much else to make the decision on.

The yes campaign was appalling. I got a flyer taking about “more of the same” and fat cat MPs getting expenses and still to this day it remains a mystery as to how these could be considered arguments for AV. Dan Snow’s video was excellent but I only watched it a few days after the referendum which leads me to believe that most people didn’t see it at all.

The yes campaign simply failed to convince people that AV was a good idea.

The second problem, is that the yes campaign simply doesn’t have that strong an argument. First past the post is a good system, it means the person with the most votes wins. While it does mean that less than 50% of people vote for the chosen candidate that less people wanted to elect that another candidate. AV, on balance, probably is a better system. But only just.

Which leads me on to my other reason for voting for AV. Ultimately, it’s a step forward to a more progressive system of voting. If we ever do want to move to a more proportional representation system, this would have been a good stepping stone. Not to mention that if it did turn out to be a rubbish system in reality, we could just change it back. That’s the great thing about trying new things. But alas, it’s not to be.

General election

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I have to say, the general election was rubbish.

I had to queue for 40 minutes to vote. I actually really regret that now, as much as you should participate in democracy, no metric when you think about it would actually have been worth a whole 40 minutes of my precious time given that Hilary Benn was always going to win the seat for Labour once again.

But yes, that footage of everyone queuing outside Trinity Church in Leeds, that was me. Well, that footage wasn’t me, I did it earlier in the day, but much like everyone else I went at first (around 6pm) and saw how long the queue was so I thought I would come back two hours later when the queue had died down only to find it had gotten even longer.

The error in my logic was thinking that most people didn’t live in the city centre and so would be voting at around 6pm as they got the bus home from work, passing through town of course. It was only later I realised how silly this was – obviously if they were bussing it home to somewhere else, they would be in a different constituency.

In my defense though, having looked at the queue I believe most people would have thought the same thing – it was full of shabby looking poor lower-working class people so my instant reaction was that they obviously couldn’t afford to live in the city centre and must just be voting here and then going back to whichever slum they live in. I still think this is probably the case and just the Leeds Central constituency stretches father than I realise.

And then after all that, I stay up all night to watch the election and we don’t even get a real result.

I think the biggest argument for our current electoral system is that if we switched to proportional representation, most election nights would be such a massive anti-climax. I stayed up until about 5:30 because all the interesting results – the Leeds ones for me obviously, Brighton Pier, Barking, Buckingham and Oxford West took absolutely ages to declare.

Indeed the only one I managed to catch while in some state of consciousness was when Oxford West was announced, only to find out that very disappointing Dr Evan Harris had lost his seat. And thus was the death of science and evidence based policy in the House of Commons.

What a massive disappointment all round really.