Two words have been guaranteed to fuel my anger and irritation during the 2010 election campaign.
The two words in question are: safe seat.
I’ve heard them far too often during this election campaign and what makes me really angry is that they are often followed by: “…so there isn’t much point voting”.
I can understand the disillusionment that prompts such a sentence. I share that sense of frustration.
Lichfield has a four-horse race – the Conservatives (2005 winners); Labour; the Liberal Democrats; and UKIP.
I am very much a floating voter, not least because for geographical reasons I can’t vote for Plaid Cymru and for reasons I have yet to discover the Green Party isn’t fielding a candidate. I’ll freely admit I refuse to vote UKIP (why vote for a party when its own chairman happily admits he hasn’t read the manifesto?).
But I have been staggered by the lack of local campaigning. And I’m angered that the electioneering I have seen has mainly been the petty and pointless attacks on opposing parties that tends to typify the national campaign.
Negative and vitriolic attacks on opponents are a vote loser and show little (if any) respect for the electorate.
I desperately want to know why each candidate deserves my vote. Tell me why you deserve the precious little “x” I plan to put on the ballot paper.
I want to know why each candidate believes they are the right person to represent this constituency and will fight our corner. Obviously I am interested in the national picture too – policies on health, education, crime, the economy and on a more personal level greater support for carers, a fairer benefits system and the environment are all very important.
I live in what all and sundry tell me is a safe seat. The Conservatives won with a handsome majority 5 years ago and many seem to think a repeat is on the cards this time around too.
The lack of a visible campaign (to my eyes at least) suggests most of the candidates regards this as a safe Conservative seat as well.
As a result, I feel like I have become an invisible voter.
It isn’t good enough. It is insulting to me and my vote and every other voter in the constituency.
When they are given a public platform the candidates (if they turn up) do talk meaningfully about local issues, but far too often it all slips too quickly and easily into the depressing bear pit-style adopted on a national scale. Name-calling, meaningless party rhetoric and soundbites, along with rubbishing of opponents should not characterise an election campaign.
When some candidates do take advantage of social media as a public platform, the results are often yet more negative campaigning.
Instead of using a potentially brilliant and free platform like Twitter or Facebook to persuade us why they deserve our votes, candidates spend most of the time telling us why we shouldn’t vote for the opposition.
Perhaps reform of the voting system would shake things up and ensure that every vote cast does count for something?
But when such suggestions are made the usual suspects start talking about how Europe is littered with examples of failed coalition governments and extremist parties winning support thanks to alternative voting procedures such as proportional representation.
Funny how these people are so keen to distance us from Europe the rest of the time. If the British identity they are so determined to preserve does exist and remains strong, then surely we can make a coalition government work and not become a land of extremists like our Continental neighbours?
Whoever does form the government after May 6, I hope they do agree to take a serious look at electoral reform.
But back to the local election campaign. It really should be quite simple.
It is not the place of an election candidate to tell me who I shouldn’t vote for.
They should be spending 100% of their time telling me why I should vote for them.
I’m more than capable of making my own mind up. But I need to know why each candidate deserves the privilege of becoming my MP, not why they think the others can’t do the job.
I have never been present at a job interview – as interviewee or interviewer – where the successful candidate spent the entire time rubbishing everyone else (other than The Apprentice on the BBC, but that is as far removed from reality as most MPs caught up in the recent expenses furore).
So why do election candidates still think they can win with such a negative approach? What makes politics different?
That is why I am angry.
That is why I want the candidates to earn my vote.
(And as I’m a postal voter – along with a fair number of others – the candidates haven’t got until May 6 to persuade me. I’m voting earlier than that and the clock is ticking.)