Electoral rules probably forbid it, but if a candidate were to change his or her name to ‘None of the Above’ they would probably romp home in any seat in the country. Politics – and politicians – have probably not been held in such low regard in the United Kingdom since the days of the Rotten Boroughs.
If you are one of the millions (surveys show that in some age groups, particularly the young, fewer than half the electorate say they are even planning to vote) who wish a plague on all their houses, how can you show this in the polling booth?
The obvious answer is ‘not to vote’. The UK, unlike some countries, does not require its citizens to cast a ballot at all. The legitimacy of any government that can be cobbled together after the likely psephological carcrash following the 2015 general election will be bolstered by a high turnout.
The corollary is that a low turnout robs any government of legitimacy. For much of the 20th Century turnouts at general elections hovered between 70 and 85%, but in the last 30 years there has been a sharp decline. In the 2001 election, turnout dipped below 60% for the first time since Universal Suffrage was introduced. Such low figures mean that in a three, four or five-party system it is perfectly possible for the party in government to have actually been voted for by less than a quarter of the electorate.
The increasing unwillingness to become part of the democratic process has many causes, not all of them coherent. When polled, people under 30 often claim that ‘politicians do not speak to me’ yet these same people often score highest in registering concerns about the environment, foreign aid and the future of the economy, especially as it pertains to their own job prospects.
The most apathetic group in society, the Russell Brand generation (ironically Mr Brand himself is at least 15 years too old to belong to it), is also the one most likely to be affected by big political decisions, such as tuition fees, rising house prices, and the availability of mortgage credit. Polls have found a significant correlation between voter apathy and voter pessimism; put simply, people, especially young people, who think the future is grim are less likely to believe they can make a difference in the polling booth than optimists. And since pessimism has never been more fashionable, this has a predictable effect on turnout.
There are other ways to protest. you can spoil your ballot paper, by defacing it or deliberately filling it in incorrectly (say by marking two crosses). You can protest, within the law, outside the polling stations. You can heckle, barrack and shout when the results are announced. You can refuse to vote, make a fuss or destroy your paper. But remember that if you do, none of these things are an option in places where you have no right to vote at all.