I’m afraid to say that I’m pretty bad when it comes to the political process. I have voted exactly once in my entire life, the first time I was old enough to do so and never since. I like to use the excuse that I don’t know enough about the candidates and the issues involved and so I can’t make an informed decision. While that is actually true (I firmly believe that an uninformed vote is a wasted vote, maybe even a dangerous vote) it really just hides the fact that I don’t make myself find the time to go and research the issues and the candidates like I should. Previously that didn’t worry me so much but I guess as you get older you realise more and more how what the government does influences directly the state of your life, so lately I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the news to see what is going on out there. It’s pretty tough going, the news tends to focus on all the muckslinging and scandals, which as far as I can see is shared pretty evenly by all the parties, and this drowns out discussions on actual policy.
Yesterday I received notification to vote at the start of June. I figured that this would be a good opportunity to actually step up, take some responsibility and vote for something. Then I hit my first problem. What was the election for? I had to read the polling card three times before I spotted the line that said “European Parliamentary Election”. That is the extent of the details provided. No note about where to go for further information, no web address, just the name of the election. But no worry, I have the internet at my disposal, that can tell me everything right?
Finding some details about the European parliamentary election was pretty easy. I could find out exactly how members are elected, how many there are in Europe and even how many are elected by my local area (4 in Wales). I could also see notes about how they were going to be running awareness campaigns to tell voters about the election (I haven’t seen anything of them, apparently they don’t make it this far into Wales). It took about quarter of an hour of searching through the websites I had found before I could find a list of who was actually standing in the election for me to vote for.
So after a little while I had the list of candidates. Somehow I have to choose between 44 of them spread over 11 different parties (apparently I can just vote for the party rather than individual candidates). I even had the postal addresses of all the candidates, but no actual information on what they stood for or where to go for any more information. Again, I have the internet, can’t be that hard can it?
Well actually it varies. Most of the parties have good overviews of their policies. The cases where this wasn’t true were mainly the crackpot parties that I’d never consider voting for anyway. Though on that subject it is truly concerning some of the policies that would come into effect should any of these guys come into power. I guess even racist and religious bigots get to have their voices in democracy. But it was surprising how little detail was readily available on some of even the larger parties’ websites. One of them had exactly two sentences to cover their policies on commerce and industry. Many simply don’t mention their policies in certain areas, I assume they all have some policies, damned if I know how to find them out though. Finding details on the particular candidates was also particularly difficult. Of the two largest parties in the country, one of them had details about their candidates buried deep within the site (and for three out of the four candidates those details were nothing more than a photograph and an email address). For the other party I could find no mention of the candidates or the European parliamentary election. Also a note to the parties, bad spelling and generally appalling looking websites do not make me terribly confident that you have any capability to run a government.
I’m pleased to say that this has come on some way since I half-heartedly tried this during the last general election. Then the parties’ websites were even worse with no general information in the right places, but there is still a long way to go. Maybe I’m looking too early, do they really not start gearing up with the information I want until closer to the election (it is nearly 3 weeks away!). I can’t help but be amused at all of this. Politicians frequently complain at how low voter turnout has become and yet though they are making some progress they seem to be completely ignoring ways that they could make voters’ lives easier.
Print a web address on the polling card, when I go there it could tell me what the election was for, a full list of who was standing along with a short statement on the policies of the party as a whole, and the particular issues the candidates are focusing on, plus of course a web link where I can go to find more details. This could turn what was half a days worth of research into maybe just half an hours. You might argue that spending longer over it better informs my decision, I disagree. With the amount of information to wade through here having more of it available quickly allows for better decision making. It’s hard to compare a candidate you are looking at to one you looked at a few hours ago.