Last Hours Header Image

Notice! This is an archive version of Last Hours. It is no longer maintained or updated. Emails, addresses etc. may not be up to date.

To vote or not to vote?

February 25th, 2010 · post by Curtis Hayes · 2 Comments


The current shifts in political and social currents should force us to consider the effect of our actions. Sometimes the use of dated tactics without thought can hinder attempts for social change. In this article Curtis Hayes reflects on the controversial possibility that voting, alongside direct action, can slow down the machine.

An Anti-Authoritarian consideration of tactical voting

As this year’s general election looms and the parties prepare to barrage the public with the same old empty promises and cleverly devised advertising campaigns, the millions of us disenchanted with the present political system are left with, what is for some and not so much for others, a difficult decision to make: to vote or not to vote?

For the vast majority of the voting public the solution is simple; vote for the same party they voted for last time and continue to complain about a lack of discernible change. For the disinterested and the apathetic the answer is even more simple, so simple in fact that the question barely exists in the first place. The anti-authoritarian, however, does not face such an easy decision.

There is an intrinsic anti-authoritarian belief that government, particularly in its current formulation, is an unnecessary evil seizing the rights and freedoms of the masses and this belief typically results in a refusal vote in government elections, but in such desperate times some of us are re-evaluating if refusing to vote is still the best path to take.

The main conflict with voting for anti-authoritarian’s arises out of the social contract that taking part in a vote automatically includes; the validation of democracy as a suitable method of decision making and the agreement that all voters honour whichever decision the majority of the electorate determines to be the best, regardless of one’s personal thoughts about it, or face the punishment.

Subjecting your free will to public scrutiny like this is damaging to the anti-authoritarian’s principles whatever the outcome. If you are on the losing side, you are subject to the authority of the winning side. If you are on the winning side, you are seen to be legitimising that authority, inflicting your rules on the lives of others. Clearly, win or lose, authority is acknowledged as something to be obeyed and herein lies the conflict with fundamental anti-authoritarian beliefs. As the most widely cited criticism of democracy states ‘democracy is the oppression of the minority by the majority’.

Voting is seen, even by a huge proportion of those that take part in it, as an ultimately futile endeavour. Few of us truly expect to see any radical change from Labour government to Conservative government and back again. The same collective of rich businessmen and bankers are as omnipresent as ever whichever party is victorious, Whether we see a Labour or a Conservative victory this year the same hands will remain, they just might be in different pockets.

However, despite my belief in the validity of the anti-voting argument, and the obvious contradiction of an anti-authoritarian voting in a general election, when I look around me I can’t shake the feeling that maybe, by refusing to vote, I’m playing right into the government’s hands. As the BNP becomes more and more popular and Labour and the Conservatives somehow become even less distinguishable from one another there is clearly no hope for the near-future of our rights, and as a proponent of freedom I wonder if my electoral absence is contributing to that, or at the very least not helping to stop it. The fascists are certainly still voting, and I’m sure they’re glad that I’m not.

So is there anything that can be gained from voting for one who doesn’t support the current system? I can only find one potential benefit, a tactical vote for smaller parties, not in the hope that they win (it won’t ever happen, and if it did, things would be just the same), but simply in the hope that they weaken the Labour/Conservative majority and act as a thorn in the side of the government, slowing down the governmental process. The more disagreeing parties that are arguing in the House of Commons, the harder it will become for new bills to be passed aiming to control even more elements of our lives. And in the meantime, direct action must be taken.

Whichever party gets elected this year, or in any foreseeable general election, the ship is still steering in the same direction; an Orwellian society with concentrated power in the hands of a minority and an increasingly impotent proletariat, and the more entrenched in that society we become, the easier the anti-authoritarian will become to ignore. The more impotent the masses are, the less likely any form of revolution is to occur.

So the anti-authoritarian is presented with a predicament: a tactical vote in an election they believe to be futile for a party unrepresentative of their views, attempting to limit the damage to their freedom as much as is realistically possible, or flat-out refuse and run the risk of tipping the balance in the favour of the greater of countless evils?

Whether the anti-authoritarian’s determination not to be implicated in modern democracy is outweighed by the desperation of the times or not, one thing is crucial: voting must never be a replacement for direct political action. We must not allow our voices or actions to be reduced to a single choice every four or five years of which leaders we want to lead us, having never asked to be led in the first place. The vote is not the extent of our opinions and we must not be tricked into believing that we truly have a say in this system. As Emma Goldman famously said, ‘If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal’, but maybe it can act as a spanner in the works?

→ 2 CommentsThis entry belongs to the following categories: Articles · Columns

2 responses so far

  • robert posted:
    Mar 8, 2010 at 11:46 am. Comment #1

    What about voting for a candidate who pledges to resign if elected?
    Maybe it seems far-fetched, but it seems like a viable way to mobilise sentiment against the corporate parties…

  • max posted:
    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:36 am. Comment #2

    I think that you have to see it a little like capitalism – we live under capital and it engages with us whether we choose to engage or not. The same is true of the electoral system. Its clearly a totally flawed method of political engagement BUT the different flavours of neoliberalism are different as in for example Bush and Obama. Both neoliberal but with very difference nuances in how they apply that agenda – I think these differences add up to something significant and therefore sadly I will vote Labour as they have the most convincing social justice agenda.