As a footballer, David Wheeler almost unique in being engaged in politics. But like many he feels unrepresented by Westminster's system.
I have been a professional footballer ever since leaving university. It is probably fair to say that, as a regular voter, I am likely to be in the minority in my profession.
However, despite having consistently used my right to vote and been actively involved in campaigning, I can’t help feeling at times that it is a pointless exercise for me. With strong beliefs on social justice and tackling climate change, I’ve always felt most closely aligned with the Green Party. But growing up in Lewes meant ‘wasting’ my vote by voting Green.
I then lived in Bristol and saw hopes of a second Green MP disappear, due to ‘tactical voters’ flocking to Labour in the hope of ending Conservative rule. And now living in a constituency where the MP has been Conservative for over a hundred years, hope of my vote counting and of feeling represented is as diminished now as it was when I cast my first vote.
I think since the Brexit referendum people have begun to feel even more politically homeless than before. Established politicians, so disillusioned with the current state of affairs, have resigned from the two main parties to form The Independent Group. Their motto, ‘Politics is broken. Let’s change it’, says it all.
Two parties continue to maintain their grip on politics, stifling all voices and opinion that fails to adhere to their status quo. Brexit has put paid to the concept of a ‘typical Labour’ or ‘typical Conservative voter’, with people no longer voting down class lines as perhaps they used to. This means that for more voters than ever before, including politicians, neither the Conservatives or Labour represent their interests. People have different priorities now – immigration, business, the European Union.
Take the Newport West by-election: 29% of the Newport West vote went to parties other than the big two – compared to just 8% in 2017.
But voters are becoming more ethically and socially aware. We’re seeing huge grassroots movements to improve environmental protections with students doing fantastic things in the absence of any serious political will to do so. Yet the ‘green surge’ will never secure electoral influence for as long as the two major parties have vested interests to keep a grip on power.
Despite climate change being arguably the most pressing issue for much of the younger generation, we’re consigned to vote (or not vote) for the party who is ‘the least bad’ on issues that we care about.
You hear plenty of people talk about going into the polling booth, gritting their teeth, and putting pencil to paper for the option that they think may have something of a positive influence – despite their beliefs not especially aligning with them. It will be interesting to see how the chaotic situation being played out at Westminster on a daily basis is reflected in the upcoming local elections.
We’re seeing fundamental changes to the United Kingdom on miniscule margins. A 4% victory is supposedly a mandate for the hardest of Brexits, according to Leavers who are screaming about Theresa May’s defeated deal being a ‘betrayal.’ And despite it being the heaviest defeat ever suffered by a British Prime Minister, May continues to lead the country due to a flaw in the system.
A minority Conservative government, propped up by a Democratic Unionist Party that a tiny minority of voters plumped for, can set the agenda whilst only breaking sweat over a few key votes on domestic affairs. Yes, that’s how our electoral system works. Yet the one benefit of First Past the Post is that it’s supposed to guarantee stable government without shady backroom coalition deals. I’m not sure I’m seeing that in practice.
Instead, we’re seeing corrupt billionaires buying politics and literally every politician out there claiming to be ‘the voice of the people.’ The uproar over Arron Banks’ foreign investments, Vote Leave breaking electoral law, and the general dirtiness of the Referendum campaigns is turning more and more people against an establishment we then have no choice but to vote for.
Wasn’t Brexit meant to rattle the establishment and shake up electoral politics? Supposedly. But maintaining First Past the Post and refusing to take a second look at the amounts of money sloshing around in politics seems an awful lot like the establishment standing firm.
Much of the rhetoric around Brexit, and politics in general, is about ‘taking back control’ – from both Labour and from Leavers. But with so many forced to vote ‘tactically’, many feel powerless. How about we legislate to actually take back control – and give people equal power at the ballot box?
The only way we take back control of the democratic process is by making votes matter and introducing proportional representation.
That’s why I’m an ambassador for Make Votes Matter. Join me in pushing for real democracy.
David Wheeler is a professional football player signed to Queen’s Park Rangers.
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