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Why I'm not voting Green

Chris Dillow makes a very compelling case for voting green. But count me out this time. 

A colleague, on suspecting I might be a Green voter, passed me a link to the Telegraph's ridiculing of their policies. I read the article, and having filtered out its Telegraphiness, remained impressed by the Green offering. The only real  shocker that I thought might conceivably be true was support for alternative medicine. But I probed a little and even there couldn't find evidence of a takeover of the party's policy-making by a sinister group of new age "scientists".

In fact, the manifesto is excellent too. I think Chris Dillow has it right on the broad economic sense the greens are making. And it's not just the economics . As Terry Eagleton points out in his literary comparison of the offers, the vision thing is the only attractive one too:

So that all points to a "vote green" decision. What's more, Selina was complaining over breakfast of the endless stream of promises, policies and bribes that seem to be flowing from the parties. How can we tell what the parties actually intend or what life will be like if we vote this one or that one into power?

There's a basic problem of trust that's nicely captured in the economic analysis of strategic signalling. If, as a party, you have a many-dimensioned object you're trying, in the market language that applies to our current politics, to "sell" (in this case, "how we'll shape the next 5 years of policy and politics if we get enough votes"); if you know that only a small subset of that object can be sent over a limited capacity transmission channel ("voter's attention is limited"); then, even if you're truthful, you'll do two things: tailor your message to who's listening, and carefully select the aspects of the object you're selling. But we as voters aren't fooled. We receive the signals and we say to ourselves: "You're only saying that because you've got some idea of who I am and what I want to hear; I know you'll be burrying the news I don't want to hear."

All this is completely individually rational: rational for the parties to do what they're doing; rational for voters to lower their trust in this sort of political communication. If a party moves away from the model, it might - just might - slightly increase the trust in political communications, which will make it all the more attractive for the party that doesn't to gain private benefit from trashing the channel with more selectivity. Our politics suffers from a tragedy of the commons too.

At least over breakfast, my reply to Selina's dilemma was to say: "vote for the values, don't vote for the policies". So isn't that yet another pointer to the apparently inescapable conclusion: "Vote Green".

But I'm not going to.

Yesterday, Julian treated me to a wonderful halumi and falafel lunch in Bloomsbury Square (the best in London, says Julian, and as a sometime bike courier and connoisseur of Eastern Mediterranean food, I'm sure he knows). We talked about voting. I tried this thought experiment with him: "Is there any party whom you'd never be tempted to vote for in some constituency in the country?"

We pretty quickly dismissed UKIP. Even there, on reflection, I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer 1/650th of Douglas Carswell in Parliament than an additional 1/650th of Tory Central Office speak. He wants more direct democracy, and so do I. If he were standing as an independent and I were voting in Clacton, I'd certainly be tempted. Thankfully, I don't have to make that decision.

I paused long enough with the constituency race that would tempt me to vote Tory for Julian to jump in with Richmond Park, where Zac Goldsmith is standing. In my personal view, he chose the wrong party to join, but he's a committed democrat and an independent MP. I haven't followed the seat in detail, but I agree with Julian that it's far from out of the question that I'd put my energies behind Goldsmith if I were voting there.

There are a whole lot of races in England where I'd put my energies behind a Lib Dem, a Green or a Labour candidate. I might put my "local" energies behind one party and make a donation nationally to another. The fact is that it's not only our voting system but also our institutional organisation that makes a decision hard. PR or AV on its own doesn't make this problem go away.

If I were to look back five years from now and think "that went well for all of us", a vast number of factors both within and without political control would have had to have fallen into place. The most exciting prospect is that the results of this election are putting fundamental questions of politics rather than policy into play, and for that I hope for as much of a rainbow as possible in the Commons. But there are real policy questions that will be decided in the next five years that are important too - globally, for Europe, for the UK, for the nations, for London, for Hammersmith, for my block of streets, for my friends, my loved ones, my colleagues, for strangers and for any number of other groups or individuals. The multi-dimensionality of what's needed is squeezed into a set of democratic institutions that's doing more reductive damage to a choice than need be the case.

A tough choice for many, and one that with better institutions would not be so tough. But for me in Hammersmith, it's pretty easy.

About the author

Tony Curzon Price was Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy from 2007 to 2012, where he is now contributing editor and technical director. He blogs at tony.curzon.com


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