Alex Massie

Ignore the Party, You should Vote for the Best Candidate

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For some time since I came of voting age I took the view that it was more important to vote (when I bothered to vote) for the party, not the man (or woman). A lot of people, perhaps even a majority of the electorate, think this way. But I  now think I was wrong and they are wrong too.

Voting for the party, regardless of the inadequacies of your local candidate, is easy. Taking the time to learn which of your local constituency candidates most deserves your support takes, well, effort. But I think that effort is worthwhile.

The expenses scandal may have brought some welcome clarity to this view. There are plenty of incumbent charlatans and rogues  who deserve to be turfed from office, regardless of their party affiliation.

Everyone says that they want to improve the calibre of MPs in Westminster, but voting, blindly, on party affiliation is no way to do that. Good candidates deserve our consideration regardless of the colour of their rosettes and the same stricture applies to bad ones.

There are 646 MPs. Consequently, the chance that your constituency will decide the election is tiny. That being the case, it makes even less sense to blindly follow the party line. Better by far to exercise your rights by choosing the best representative, regardless of party label.

Of course it's easier for someone who has never been a member of a political party - and god help me never will - to say this. But what is the point of voting for a placeman or a dullard simply because, on balance, you'd prefer his leader to be the next Prime Minister? The chance that your vote makes a real difference is infinitesimally small. Better, then, to choose the least-worst man or woman to represent your constituency.

It doesn't matter what party they represent. What you should look for is honesty, intelligence, intellectual curiosity and an independent cast of mind. That should be enough to disqualify them from high office and earn the Whips' enmity for ever and a day. This is not a bad thing.

Which brings me to another, tangentially-related, notion. Why don't more MPs blog? Granted, there are risks to blogging not the least of which is that voters may see you for what you are.

If I lived in Mid-Bedfordshire, for instance, Nadine Dorries, lovely lady though she doubtless is, couldn't count on my vote because, to put it kindly, her blog reveals her to be the kind of Conservative who doesn't believe in the kind of Toryism I find palatable.

But this can work both ways. If I lived in Glasgow South, for instance, I think i'd vote for Tom Harris even though that would mean breaking the habit of a half-done lifetime (according to the Bible's three score and ten rule) by supporting a member of the Scottish Labour party for the first time. His blog is the only reason for that. I think that Mr Harris is wrong on the merits of any number of policies but, with occasional lapses, he tends to argue his case honestly and decently. He's more tribal than I'd consider ideal, but, you know, he's a Glasgow Labour MP so you play the cards you have,

Blogs - or at least good ones - let you gauge the character of the writer. For a sitting MP they obviously occasion at least potentially greater engagement with constituents and, more widely, voters even if there's obviously also the risk that voters will hate you for what you write. But that's the risk you take. Better to blog and be Luther than a grey nonentity trading upon the favours that got you the seat in the first place.

Still, if we want a better parliament made up of better representatives then the buck stops with the electorate. Voting the party line is part of the problem. This - though it's a matter I'll write about later - is also one of the problems with a debate between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. It further encourages the Presidential style of politics. Should such a debate take place then the obviously ideal situation is that both Mr Brown and Mr Cameron lose their seats. What would happen then?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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