Neil McNicholas: Why I will spoil my ballot paper on May 7

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THERE may be, as we say, honour among thieves, but there seems to be little, if any, honour or respect among our politicians. Witness the playground antics of Parliamentary proceedings and the current pre-election circus as they take those antics on the road.

Respect (“a feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements” – Oxford Dictionary) is one of the glues that holds our society together. Little wonder therefore that when we lose it the seams start to come apart – and respect does seem to be easily lost.

The Football Association starts every new season with a much-trumpeted effort to encourage the concept of respect, “the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place”. It lasts about 10 minutes and the players are back to kicking one another off the park and harassing and haranguing match officials at every turn. Any young fan with a dictionary open at the word “respect” learns this new meaning of the word as taught by their on-field heroes who have learned nothing.

Our political leaders are just the same. Every new term of office starts with a pledge not to enter into the usual side-show of “personality politics”. It too lasts about 10 minutes, or at the most until the first PMQs, and off they go again. We don’t behave like that toward people we respect – indeed we shouldn’t behave like that toward anyone.

It’s like watching a Punch & Judy show (though I’m never sure who is Punch and who is Judy!) and given that I can’t stand Punch & Judy shows anyway, I’d prefer neither one was governing the country.

We don’t know our party leaders at all, but they know one another well. If they demonstrate little or no respect for each other, then we might be forgiven for assuming there are good reasons for it otherwise why do they do it? Point scoring and trying to get a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense is totally unacceptable. These are supposed to be, in Miss Jean Brodie’s words, the “crème de la crème” who have risen to the top as “crème” does, but in this case it seems to be either clotted or at best Party Whipped.

The General Election approaches and we are once again being asked to make our selection from what is on display on the political catwalk. Blindfolded by apathy and cynicism generated by our experience of “spin” and on-going parliamentary scandals, the process has become less
one of informed choice than a game of pinning the tail on the donkey.

The democratic right to vote has been hard won – especially for women, but while I believe we have a responsibility to exercise that right, it seems to me irresponsible to vote simply for the sake of it or cast a protect vote. As long as there isn’t a “none of the above” box to tick, the only thing we can do is to spoil our ballot paper if there isn’t a candidate or party we would choose to support.

And to be honest, that is what I will be doing on May 7 because I have no intention of helping to put Punch or Judy in power. To the best of my knowledge, the Labour government has yet to publicly admit, and apologise for, the devastation they caused to our economy when they were last in power. That would take courage, humility and respect – of which there seems to be none and therefore why would I vote for them.

And the Conservatives… well I personally informed Mr Cameron that if his government passed into law the policy he avidly championed supporting same-sex marriage, I would never vote for his party again. While I don’t suppose he
lost any sleep over the loss
of my vote – though individual votes do add up – I will be
keeping to my word and my principles more firmly than he has at times.

So with May 7 rapidly approaching I feel like I’m being asked to make a choice like those you sometimes get on a psychological test papers – you know the sort I mean: “Would you prefer to (a) chew broken glass, (b) shoot your grannie, or (c) swim in a pool of sharks?” There is no alternative you would choose and maybe that’s the
test.

Come May 7, do you (a) chew broken glass (vote Conservative), (b) shoot your grannie (vote Labour), or (c) swim in a pool of sharks (vote for one of the other parties)? I would choose none of the above – and maybe that’s the test. It might prove that I’m sane, even if the insanity continues in Parliament, and at least I’ll respect myself in the morning of May 8.

Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.