Bill Carmichael: Even in a safe seat, use your vote wisely

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IF you are still pondering where to put your cross come May 7, spare a thought for those poor folk whose vote doesn’t really matter – those electors living in “safe” seats.

According to the Electoral Reform Society, 364 – or 56 per cent – of the UK’s 650 parliamentary seats are safely in the hands of one party or another.

Some analysts even believe the result of next month’s election will actually be decided by a few tens of thousands of undecided voters in as few as 10 key marginals.

As for the rest of us – many millions of voters – we are merely interested observers. It doesn’t much matter where we place our cross because, barring some electoral earthquake, the same party will always get in.

I am one of them. If you look at a
colour-coded electoral map of Yorkshire you will notice an enormous true blue splodge towards the north of the county. That’s the Skipton and Ripon constituency where I consider myself extremely fortunate to live – and it has been solidly Conservative since Adam was a lad.

I look in envy at friends and colleagues living in more marginal seats – Sheffield Hallam, Keighley, Pudsey, Dewsbury and so on – where every decision really does matter because a few hundred votes could swing the seat one way or another.

It is a pity because I take my civic duty to vote very seriously. I read all the election literature, I exchange emails and tweets with the candidates and have even been known to turn up at the hustings to ask an awkward question or two.

I am an undecided and “promiscuous” voter. I vote for the candidate, not the party. If a candidate impresses, they will get my vote regardless of party label and over the years I’ve swapped my vote amongst all the main parties.

I cut my political teeth pushing Labour leaflets through letterboxes in Harold Wilson’s Huyton constituency at a time when the Trotskyists of the Militant Tendency were on the rampage in Liverpool.

I know all about the corrosive impact of extremism on working class communities, and probably as a result, I find the tribal element of politics a total turn off (and I am not alone there). All the “evil Tory scum!” and class war stuff you get from swivel-eyed lefties is simply juvenile. In truth there are good, honest people in every political party and they far outnumber the rascals.

Take benefits reform for example. Iain Duncan Smith is clearly a thoughtful
man trying to tackle an important and difficult problem with decency and compassion.

You may disagree with the reforms and want to see them reversed. But often this is couched in ridiculous terms that IDS is a wicked monster who deliberately wants to punish the poor. Oh do grow up!

Back in Skipton and Ripon, the incumbent is the hard-working and popular Conservative Julian Smith who is odds-on to win.

But he faces an interesting challenge from Labour’s Malcolm Birks, a local lad who has run an energetic and persuasive campaign. He won’t win, but if he acquits himself well perhaps Labour will give
him a crack at a more winnable seat 
next time.

For the sake of balance I should also mention that Alan Henderson is standing for Ukip, Jacquie Bell for the Lib Dems and Andy Brown for the Greens.

So who gets my vote? I was tempted by the energy and work ethic of Birks, but in an email exchange with him he revealed he would back an informal Labour-SNP coalition.

This could see Scottish MPs pushing through tax rises that would only apply in England, and increased subsidies for Scotland paid for by English taxpayers. Sorry Malcolm, but that is a deal breaker for me (and I suspect a hell of a lot of other folk too).

So I am left wondering how best to prevent a far left SNP-dominated administration running – or rather ruining – the country, and at the moment Julian Smith seems the best bet.

Of course my vote won’t matter a jot to the outcome of the election – but it will matter to me.

I will have participated in democracy – which remains far and away the best and fairest system of government ever invented.

Ignore the cynicism; voting is a tremendous privilege – one that is 
denied to millions of benighted souls living in dictatorships and failed states around the world.