Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The butterfly effect: one vote could change it (but that depends on where you live)

Last night I was having dinner with my girlfriend when I asked her "So who you gonna vote for?"

"Well," she replied, "I don't really want to vote for Labour, but I don't really want to vote for the Tories, but then again the Lib Dems have no chance so that'd be pointless. So I don't really know."

I had to put her right - but it suddenly occurred to me that it was an ambiguous statement. Did she mean "the Lib Dems can't win HERE" or "the Lib Dems won't have any effect on the election"/

Either way, she was wrong. Hampstead & Kilburn is a tight three-way marginal with both Ed Fordham's Lib Dems and Chris Philp's Tories attempting to pinch votes from Labour incumbent Glenda Jackson while trying to squeeze each other. There's almost nothing in it. Every vote will count - each vote critical in what is likely to be a neck-and-neck finish between Conservatives and Liberals. We are truly fortunate to live in a constituency where our vote actually counts for something; for the vast majority of voters, the archaic electoral system ensures that the country is dominated by safe seats, with one vote here or there utterly meaningless and counting for nothing. THIRTY FIVE Tory MPs descended on Hampstead & Kilburn the other day - presumably all MPs who don't need to bother campaigning on their own patch and can throw away a few votes with a shrug of the shoulders.

But it's not just locally that the Lib Dems "have a chance"; nationally, too, we are heading to a situation whereby one seat here or there could make the difference between an outright majority in Parliament (most likely for the Conservatives) and a hung Parliament with a position of power for the Liberals. In the past, there may have been a feeling of "what's the point of voting in a Liberal MP? They won't have any governing power" - but that's not the case this time around.

All of this got me thinking - and it almost got me scared. Could we, lowly voters in North West London, be the butterflies that flap our wings and be the crucial voters in the crucial seat that determines who runs the country for the next four years? That could be a hurricane worth starting. Our H&K wings could be very influential indeed.

Of course, this shouldn't be happening. Why should my vote count more than anyone else's? I happen to be in a situation that thanks to being in the right place (a rare marginal constituency) at the right time (an unusually close election race) my vote is tremendously powerful. If our electoral system wasn't so broken, then we wouldn't find ourselves in this position. For the meantime, however, my girlfriend had better choose carefully who she's going to vote for. And as a result, expect those thirty five MPs - and a lot more glossy paperwork besides - to descend on our doorstep.

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