6,417 Ed Milligrams – What Do You Actually Vote For?


You’d be forgiven for thinking that any of you have a vote that actually matters. (Ok, calm down Russell Brand – Ed.) You see, we live in a democracy, in which voting occurs (you might have heard about this on the television lately) and one person has one vote; that’s how it should be. As a species, we’ve had a couple of shots at autocracy, and it tends to end in tears (I’m looking at you, Kaiser Wilhelm).

Thing is, there’s a lot of ways do to one person/one vote and it’s not always exactly clear what you’re voting for. I think you should definitely vote, for all sorts of reasons, including many that Russell Brand does/doesn’t agree with this week. But you don’t actually vote for Prime Minister. I know it seems that you do, given the debates and the media and all that, but you (nominally) vote for some other candidate representing the manifesto of a particular political party. In a way, the members of said party (who elect their leader, often years before the General Election) decide who the Prime Minister is going to be, or at least, who their candidate for PM is going to be. I’ve never once seen David Cameron’s name on a ballot paper (and, as you can probably tell from my unhealthy obsession with politics in these columns, I seek out ballot papers like Katie Hopkins seeks out deliberately offensive opinions, so I’ve seen a lot).

Inevitably, then, there’s a gulf between the box you cross on Thursday and the power that will eventually be handed to Ed Miliband or Cameron. Unless you vote in Doncaster North or Witney, you have virtually no impact on the job prospects of either man. And anyway, these are such safe seats that the potential PMs are pretty much guaranteed to be elected to Parliament. Whether they become the PM or not is down to a few thousand undecided voters in about ten dozen marginal seats.

Therefore, there’s an awful lot of what are sometimes called ‘wasted votes’ floating out there in the electoral ether. You might argue that any vote that goes to a candidate who doesn’t win is technically wasted. Take the ultra-safe seat of East Ham, where Labour had a staggering majority of 27,826 in 2010. Anyone who didn’t vote for Stephen Timms five years ago might as well have drawn a picture of an ice cream on their ballot paper. But of those not wasted, how much is each one worth to a chap like Ed Miliband, say? Does he really need to listen to you as you shout angrily from the audience on an ITV debate, or does it, as I suspect you suspect, not make the slightest bit of difference? What do you actually, actually vote for? And can it be put in terms that even wee baby Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, Princess of Cambridge and future First Empress of the Moon, could understand?

Let’s stick with Ed Miliband, because why not. Someone has to. He weighs, maybe, 70 kilograms. (That’s exactly ‘look-it-up-I-don’t-care’ pounds for those of you who still love the Imperial system.) In 2010, he was elected to Doncaster North with a comfy majority of 10,909. Everyone else who voted Tory, or Lib Dems, or whatever, in Doncaster, technically wasted their vote. It was a safe seat before 2010 and it’s a safe seat now. Anyway, divide his mass by those 10,909 and you get a tangible quantity that you can stick on your vote like a shiny new button badge. In this case, 6,417 Ed Milligrams, or almost exactly the weight of a ten penny piece. The average majority nationwide was about 8,000 last time, so knock it up to eleven pence if you don’t live in Doncaster. (And if anyone thinks I wrote this article just so I could do the Miliband/Milligram pun, then you should feel ashamed and correct.)

Ok, so if your chap wins, you, personally, have contributed a single coinsworth of mass to whatever that MP goes on to do. You’re lucky if it’s a fragment of her brain, less so if it’s gall-bladder. That’s it. A penny of politician. A silver of state. A copper of congress. A money-based something of an alliterative politician-based something else. That’s your literal, tangible contribution to politics, if you limit your political engagement to voting. Go find a ten penny piece now. Feel the weight. Look at it. Focus on how tiny and pathetic it is. You’re much too much like small change to make anything but a small change. Do you see? You’re utterly politically insignificant. Now get back behind the sofa cushion. Slip into the gutter. Go sit in the jar in the cupboard. You’re NOTHING.

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Freddie is a human from Planet Earth. He has the power to string words together so they mean things, and is excellent at presenting facts and figures in potentially misleading ways. Freddie was legitimately stunned to be shortlisted for the Guardian's Student Columnist of the Year in 2014 and thinks mistakes were probably made.

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