If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It

Manchester Central conference venuw

The Labour Party Conference begins today in Manchester

‘If voting changed anything they would abolish it’ was the title of a book by Ken Livingston in 1987. It is a quote that has often comes to mind when I traipse to the local scout hut, cold and badly lit, make my way past the interrogation desk to a badly constructed wooden booth and scrutinize a list of prospective victims. I then with purpose pick up the fag end of a pencil and make my mark.


I leave feeling that once again I have contributed to that great institution that is democracy.


But then reality hits and the person I voted for is not elected and we end up with a coalition which none of us voted for but are stuck with. So if the democratic process for electing our leaders in government is seen by some as a distorted reality then is it any wonder that the democratic process is in danger of floundering.

If you think about it for a nanosecond you realize that voting is an integral part of our lives and without this right we would not be able to influence anything. The question is not about the right to vote but about the impact voting has on a society that promotes democracy and then does everything it can to undermine it.


As trade unionists we live and breathe democracy. Our very existence is based on the right of all to have their say in the development of policies and to influence and challenge social and economic conditions.


If we, as trade unionists, are so successful at democracy and inclusiveness in the decision making process, then why is union membership falling and why have the youth of today an unhealthy degree of scepticism about how much they can influence and contribute to the development of society?


Obviously the recession has a very real effect on union density but this is not the first time and will not be the last. But this reduction is not universal and many of the smaller professional unions are not suffering the same fate as their brothers and sisters in the wider union community.


Maybe the answer is that as we have moved to a ‘something for something culture’ [thank you for this Thatcher and Blair] union membership is more about ‘what’s in it for me’ than simply about belonging and the right to influence an outcome by placing a mark in a box.


The labour party was, I would argue, the party of choice for working people and it was assumed that the working class would stand by their democratic elected candidate and expect them to champion their cause.


What we have now in politics and to some extent in unions is such an amorphous mass of ideas where no one ideology stands out, that it is difficult to see how voting will change anything.


Unions21 has five events at the Labour Party conference.



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