In a world where democracy does not exist, votes are meaningless and corrosive. Voting out of principle, or because women fought for that vote may be admirable, but it misses the point entirely.
The first time I realised democracy was dead was when I cast my first vote. I was 18 and had watched my parents live through two recessions, when Tony Blair appeared, like a phantom, from inside the Labour Party. He stood out against the backdrop of Britain’s colourless politicians, and he could speak. His advocacy was charismatic, and the pledges he made, which included promises to improve access to the NHS and education, struck chords across the country.
In 1997, going to the polling station seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I was filled with hope, and sure that John Major’s disastrous “Back to Basics” campaign — which featured political lows like the Cash For Questions scandal and government ministers doing illegal arms deals in Iraq — could be reversed, with a vote. The sense of excitement, which I can still remember more than 20 years later, was underlined by a violent hope that my ballot paper would make a difference.
And it did, superficially.
Labour won the election that year by a landslide. But it wasn’t long before I realised my vote had a shelf life, and that the mechanics of government were not fit for purpose. My faith in British democracy died with the nearly 500,000 people who lost their lives in the Iraq war, which Blair helped to engineer despite failing to offer any evidence to warrant a conflict, and in the face of massive public opposition. I vowed that I would never let anyone sanction a wrongful war in my name again.
That experience also forced me to look at our version of democracy in the UK, and some inconvenient truths began to surface. One of those truths was that politicians, whether from the left or the right, were being set up to fail.
Our political system is geared towards a short term outlook, as any government typically only has a five year window to make changes. This profoundly affects the way our politicians work, so they have no choice but to pander to the electorate with near-sighted policies that look deeply attractive at surface level, but on closer inspection are completely unworkable.
That includes party manifestos.
Caught in the grip of election fever, the internet has been reeling with pledges over the last few weeks. Free broadband? You got it. More money for schools, the NHS and the police? It’s yours. But there’s just one problem. Parties are not legally required to fulfil their pledges, so these promises carry no weight, or value, even though they are the expectations upon which we cast our votes. Despite the fact that a vast number of pledges are never fully upheld, we still continue to discuss manifestos in general elections as if they offer something tangible, and binding.
Research also tells us that while the number of pledges made has risen dramatically — In 1945, Labour made just 18 pledges, while in 2001 that number jumped to 207 — promises made by every party have become increasingly vague, making it much harder to hold politicians to account.
These quick fixes, often fed to us in pledge form, undermine long term growth, which is essential for building a healthy society.
A legitimate public panic is now creeping into our elections in the UK. This is partly down to the Conservative party’s ongoing disregard for the law and parliament in a bid to shunt through Brexit, while a select few circle around the country’s remains, picking off what’s left of our economy and pocketing the change.
And yet despite the Tories’ despicable conduct, I reserve most of my anger for Jeremy Corbyn. As the leader of a party that represents the nation’s conscience, but has been paralysed instead by his Wizard of Oz-like leadership, defined by unsustainable economic policies and an anti-Semitism row that has all but destroyed the Labour party, Corbyn has left the UK without a credible opposition. Still, it may not be fair to blame Corbyn entirely.
Decades of voting, tactical or otherwise, have done nothing to address the greed, corruption and law breaking embedded inside the UK government’s foundations. As David Runciman, the Head of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, said in Russell Brand’s Under The Skin podcast: “If politicians were completely honest with the public during election time they would say, vote for me, I’m the one who understands how powerless I am.”
To that I say, no thank you. And I will never vote again.
Natasha Phillips is a freelance journalist and non-practicing barrister.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.