Today sees the highest voting turnout in precisely umpteen years, with record numbers of 18-25 year olds turning up at polling stations across the country to cast their vote. Or sitting at home grumbling if they listened to Russell Brand before his U-turn on vote-shunning, and didn’t register.
Either way, this election is sure to be a victory for democracy as a concept, if nothing else. Like the nail-bitingly close Scottish independence referendum that we all had our eyes glued on last year, as a country we can be proud at how well we are sticking to the democratic ideal and deciding our country’s fate for the next five years in an orderly and (at least vaguely) representative fashion. Scotland’s voter turnout was something to be proud of, and if the figures hold up, so too will ours be for today’s general election.
As for the actual result? I’m pretty much assuming we will have a hung parliament by the end of the day. The last polls I read (from yesterday’s various newspapers) had the Tories and Labour neck and neck at 35% each, with deviations of a percent or two depending on voter turnout/demographic tested/whether you prefer bacon sandwiches or Eton mess. Of the various outcomes proposed, it appears to be heading towards either a Lib-Lab coalition, a Lib-Con coalition, some kind of rainbow coalition (incidentally the name of My Little Pony’s dullest ever playset) or Nicola Sturgeon laughing at all of us demonically from atop her newly acquired Holyrood throne.
If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that stats won’t let us down. What do the Scottish referendum, the last American election and Strictly Come Dancing all have in common? It’s that the bookies always have the last laugh. Unexpected landslides are a thing of the past, confined to a time when communication was limited, voter turnout was low and the internet social media age seemed like something out of science fiction. As a general rule, the larger the sample size, the greater the precision when making predictions, and 46,139,000 registered voters is a pretty big population to extract data from. Assuming, on average, fair representation of the expected vote breakdown in all major polls taken, the election result won’t slide more than a percent or two away from final poll readings.
When put this way, it makes the whole thing feel like an exercise in futility; like we as individuals have no real say in the giant turning cog that is our country’s political system. Whether or not we can afford to be this fatalistic is a question I will happily leave to the philosophy students (and if anyone does want to write about that, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org), but the simple fact that our system is so predictable is, in my opinion, a brilliant thing.
Today’s election will be boring, orderly and predictable, which is such a fantastic thing to be able to say. Sure it won’t be making the next generation’s history textbooks any more attractive to tomorrow’s school-children, but you have to ask yourself what pieces of history do? Ancient bloodthirsty empires; exciting wars with bombs, fighter planes and colourful soldier uniforms; manic revolutions where leaders were decapitated and Bastilles were stormed… Orderly elections will not ever be featured on this list of ‘things to get young kids into history’. Why do you think Terry Deary’s book series is called ‘Horrible Histories’ and not ‘The bits where everyone got along quite nicely actually’?
The simple reason why a boring election is so heart-lifting is that it means everything’s working. Sure there are ways it can be improved, by encouraging as big a voter turnout as possible and pushing for a fairer, more representative voting system, but everyone’s playing by the rules: no one’s trying force their way in using military muscle or secret police, no one’s been mysteriously assassinated or disappeared or stabbed with uranium umbrellas, and no Archdukes have been shot. Unpredictable election results are features of countries ravaged by civil war, unrest and civilian casualty. In a country this boring, you know that people are being looked after in good schools and hospitals. Not being shot at.
Say what you like, vote what you like and by all means rant on twitter as much as you like, but at the end of the day remember how lucky we are to have such a dull, orderly and predictable political system.