The Political Beauty Parade

This month’s brilliant EN4 and EN5 newsletters have appeared with this contribution from me about voter choices:


How did you choose whom to vote for in our momentous elections in May?


Plenty of people avoided the question altogether by not voting. Just as well. After all, if you don’t have a view, best to keep it to yourself, right? Similarly, if you resent the political system, don’t engage with it. It’s a perfectly legitimate form of protest; if wholly ineffective, and eventually, counter productive. But I’m not judging here. Just reviewing the options.

Others (many, many) voted tribally. One wonderful lady we canvassed told me she was 94, had always voted Conservative, as had her parents. End of. Tribalism speaks to a deep, atavistic need in us to belong. It is, potentially, a hugely valuable instinct that builds community. However, its role in voting preferences helps buttress vested interests, which encourages the generalised corruption… you get my drift, because I’m really not judging.

That tribalism is reinforced by the system of first-past-the-post. By confining all the benefits to the top winners and leaving no consolation prizes for the runners up, the system rewards tactical voting for the least worst option. That too reinforces the established parties.

In High Barnet three sitting Tory councillors were defending their seats against three rival parties also vying for your vote. What did you do? Did you decide on a goal (reward / punish the incumbents) and then consider pragmatically how best to achieve it? Or conversely, did you take a lofty approach and choose the party whose manifesto most closely resembled your ideals? Or did you take the opposite approach (how many opposites is that, now? Never mind) and base your decision on the personalities involved: Do they live in your street, been helpful to you in the past, or, lets face it, share the name of your cat?

Whatever your criteria, did you get the chance to do a comparison that could combine all these considerations: a hustings?

Stick with me. Hustings – a beauty parade for politicians – may suffer some of the naff image of their namesake events, and they share some standard questions to which ‘world peace’ is frequently the right answer. But while hustings don’t have a swimswear round, they are just as revealing in their own way. Putting the aspiring politicians in a room and subjecting them to a touch of accountability tells you about their policy promises, acquaints you with their record, but just as importantly you learn a hell of a lot about their attitudes. With insights that can only be had when you can smell each other, you get a feel for the people in front of you. Are they sincere? Do they listen? Are they clever, but uncaring?

There are those (OK, my mates) who say that we shouldn’t be allowed into the voting booth without first attending a hustings. By eyeballing our candidates and putting them through their ordeal, we become qualified to make a choice. Three residents associations in Barnet borough organised hustings for the local elections. None did in High Barnet. Shame. Do you think they could be persuaded to hold one in future if we instituted a swimwear round?







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