Jon Bigger reflects on his experiences, as a voter, non-voter and even Class War candidate, with general elections
Two years ago today (May 7th) I turned up at a polling station in Croydon and put a cross next to my name. This time round I’m not even on the electoral register. I’ve had an odd relationship with the ballot box and at a time where I see anarchists discussing voting (some for the first time) because of the horrors of a Theresa May government being returned stronger and more stable than ever, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences.
The 2015 general election is always on my mind. As well as standing for Class War at the time in an effort to troll the constitution it’s also the focus of my doctoral studies. I’m going to argue that standing in that election allowed us into spaces where anarchists don’t normally get the chance to roam — often out of choice of course. It opened up new and unusual avenues for direct action and it brought us face-to-face with the class enemy. But that’s a much longer story than I have space for today. I don’t intend to tell people what to do but I want to explain the feelings I have now I’ve chosen not to vote.
I’m a politics geek. From being a teenager I’ve always followed the Westminster spectacle. It’s exciting at times and compelling. Often it’s run of the mill but the exciting moments make up for the months of tedium. In 1992 I didn’t have a political home. I didn’t know what I thought about anything really. I was 16 and a mate came round to watch the general election coverage. He told me his dad, a builder, was worried about a Labour victory because of the winter of discontent. I had no idea what that was but we stayed up until the early hours rooting for a John Major victory. Very embarrassing but that’s rural Lincolnshire for you.
Two years later I had been introduced to Marxism when studying sociology. I was a Marxist, I decided, and I had my first chance to vote in a European election. I’d also had a strange encounter with Tory MP, Edward Leigh, who had been invited to speak at my school. I’d ended up asking him a question that implied calling him a donkey which he took very badly and I got into a bit of grief with the teachers. Suddenly I was a rebel and a Marxist. In those EU elections I was so rebellious I voted for Labour and it was the one and only time that the person I voted for actually got the seat.
By 1997 I was flirting with anarchism. I was intending not to vote as I hated all the parties and someone at university suggested spoiling the ballot paper. This appealed at the time as I thought at least my voice would be heard. I had a stand up hour long debate with bloody Edward (eee-orrr) Leigh in my village the day before that election. I managed not to offend him this time and he told me that I was wasting my vote. I went ahead anyway and wrote “MYSELF” on the ballot paper. This, it seemed, was the truth. I represent myself and nobody else can do that. In Croydon two years ago these memories came back to me and struck a chord. I’d gone full circle in my voting behaviour.
Between 1997 and 2015 I often spoiled my paper, or occasionally voted Green. I might have voted Labour in a local election or some such along the way. I can’t remember. But the key thing about this story is that in both 1997 and 2015 I’d settled on the best person to do the job. I’m not being arrogant here. I don’t think I’m the best person to represent you or anyone else. I’m the worst person to represent anyone else; just the best to represent me.
Following the 2015 election I decided not to register to vote. I found standing in the election hugely stressful and the experience put me off. I’m still occasionally dragged into the newspapers because one of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle, Andrew Fisher, once tweeted for people to support me rather than Labour’s Emily Benn. He is now apparently writing the party’s manifesto. But really, no election is going to get better than the one where I led a Tory audience at a hustings in a one minute silence to commemorate International Workers memorial Day, complete with the Tory candidate sitting uncomfortably beside me twitching at how long a minute can seem to last.
So for now voting is for other people. I don’t blame people for trying. The Tories are sick and getting worse. However, even with all the anarchists in Britain holding their noses and voting Labour, that party is not going to get very far this time around. Our votes wouldn’t amount to a hill o’ shite.
I’ve found election days very strange after taking this decision. I didn’t vote in the EU referendum that everyone was so excited about. I saw it as the ruling class asking the people which direction they wanted their class to take us in. I didn’t vote a few days back in the local elections. On both occasions I had some guilt — very similar to the time I decided God was a fantasy, despite all those years at Sunday School. The guilt of denouncing faith in a system is strong especially when people died to get us something, whether it’s the vote or our sins washed away.
The other feeling I get by not voting is superiority. I feel aloof and above the crowd. I feel like I’m not responsible for any of this shit. It’s their fault, the voters. Of course the left-wing voters blame people like me for the Tories doing well. Inaction can be an action of course but my inaction is the act not of apathy but of understanding. It’s an understanding of politics and the democratic system that’s largely ignored by the mainstream. It’s the understanding that the vote of an individual barely makes any difference and it’s the understanding that voting should not be confused with political activity. I’m politically active and I consider politics to be on the streets, in our workplaces and in our communities. Voters can blame me all they like but elections are their responsibility, not mine. Their lack of understanding is far more dangerous than anyone’s supposed apathy.
I’m not even apathetic in the normal sense of the word. I’m paying more attention to official politics than ever. I’m even doing a live blog of the election where I’m collating the most interesting stuff I find with up to the minute sarcasm and a smattering of analysis. I’m not exactly the kind of pundit you’ll find on the BBC’s election night coverage but anarchists should be everywhere and so I’m adding my spin to this sordid spectacle. I’m not exactly a normal academic either. I’m just me and I’m representing myself against the inevitable criticism that I’m not taking things seriously enough or that I should keep my frivolous side and my scholarly side separate. Staying true to yourself can be very difficult; representing yourself is heroic.
Whether you vote or not, whether you’ve ever voted or not, one thing is for sure, like me, you’re on a political journey. None of us arrives fully formed. We have to find our way through these moments. We don’t exist separate to the state and capitalism. There is no pure anarchist approach to this crap. We represent ourselves in whatever way we feel fit and that is enough.