I've voted LibDem at almost every election so far (local/national), but that's mainly because I liked what they said about Proportional Representation when I was at school. I'm aware of the counterargument (fringe groups having to form coalitions), but if you want a strong government then you could simply say that the winning party gets all the seats. However, I've now seen the BNP win two Euro MP seats due to PR, which makes me wonder whether it's not such a great idea after all. There's also a pragmatic aspect of this, i.e. "Just accept it, they're never going to win", although it's ironic that I'm finally starting to feel that way in the same election where they actually do seem to have a chance.
totherme posted some useful links to help you choose who to vote for, based on party policies. However, taking a quick glance at the questions, my first reaction to lots of them is "Meh, I dunno." For instance, I would like us (collectively) to reduce the national debt, but I don't know enough details to make an informed choice about raising taxes or cutting spending in particular areas. Ideally, I'd like to say "Party X seem to have some sensible people, so I'll delegate my vote to them, once they've researched the subject in depth." However, it's tricky to decide which party is sensible unless I already know about the policies... Benevolent dictator, that's the way forward!
Taking another approach, maybe it's better to vote for a person rather than a party, since my MP will be representing me in the future, and I will have to contact them with any concerns. So, I've tried to find out who is actually standing for election in my constituency. As a fringe benefit, this can simplify things a bit, e.g. if the BNP aren't putting up a candidate then I don't need to waste any time looking at their policies. (Just to clarify that, I'd have no intention of voting for them even if they were standing, but I feel that I ought to make a token effort to listen to them, rather than doing the "no platform" thing.)
I received my polling card on Saturday, along with a leaflet for the Conservative candidate (who has been the local MP since 1992); I'll upload that to The Straight Choice if nobody beats me to it. I've been looking online to find out who else is standing, but I get conflicting information from different websites, and I can't find any official source. According to page 4 of the General election timetables, the closing date for nominations is today (Tuesday 20th), so hopefully there will be a definitive list soon, but it would be nice to at least have a placeholder available now. Has anyone else found something relevant?
My constituency is Croydon South. Here are the candidates according to different websites:
|Conservatives||Richard Ottaway||Richard Ottaway||Richard Ottaway||Richard Ottaway||Richard Ottaway|
|English Democrats||Graham Dare||Graham Dare||Graham Dare|
|Green||Gordon Ross||Gordon Ross||Gordon Ross||Gordon Ross||Gordon Ross|
|Independent||Mark Samuel||Mark Samuel|
|Labour||Jane Avis||Jane Avis||Jane Avis||Jane Avis||Jane Avis|
|Liberal Democrats||Simon Rix||Simon Rix||Simon Rix||Simon Rix||Simon Rix|
|UKIP||Martin Ferguson||Jeffrey Bolter||Jeffrey Bolter||Jeffrey Bolter||Jeffrey Bolter|
|Unity||Marienne Bowness||Marienne Bowness|
Ok, plan B: go to the official website for each party/candidate. They should certainly have some information about who's standing, and if they can't be bothered to do that then I won't vote for them. I'm not asking for much at this point, e.g. I will accept a Facebook page. This is a good test from my point of view, because it plays to my strengths: I may not know much about economics, but I can tell whether a website is working properly. Also, if a party can't run a website then they're not ready to run the country; it's a bit like starting kids out with a gerbil before you buy them a pet dog.
Taking the parties in alphabetical order (as above):
Full marks for them: they make the information easily available on their website. Click "People", "Parliamentary Candidates", "List by constituency", "C", and I see Richard Ottaway listed (with his own page).
* English Democrats.
They pass, although the information is a bit meagre. Go to their website, and hover over "Election", then "2010 General Election", then click London Candidates. (You can only get there by hovering, rather than clicking through.) This has a list of Facebook pages, including one for Graham Dare in Croydon South. At this point I'm just testing for existence rather than content, but I have to say that there are some remarkably unflattering photos on the London Candidates page, including a couple that presumably got stretched out when they were uploaded.
As a side note, if we assume that this listing is accurate then that means that Wikipedia and UKPollingReport are both wrong, or at least incomplete. (Wikipedia not an accurate source of information? I am shocked! Shocked and appalled, I say.)
They scrape a pass. Go to their website, and they have a nice big link that says "Find your Parliamentary candidate". This opens another website, where I can search by postcode, and that confirms that my local candidate is Gordon Ross. That all seems fine, so what's wrong?
1) When I clicked the link on the main website, it tried to spawn a new window, which was blocked by my pop-up blocker. The same thing happened when I clicked the "Gordon Ross" link on the second site. If I want a new tab/window, I will ask for one, but I don't like websites being pushy.
2) If you scroll a bit further down the main website, there's an "Information" section with a People link. However, that returns a 404 error.
3) If I look for local information, I can click through to London Green Party, and then Croydon Greens. However, the Croydon site is a blog which immediately asks me to run the "2007 Microsoft Office component" add-on. I can click through from there to Croydon Greens (non-blog), and I really think that they ought to send people there first (with a link to the blog), rather than vice-versa. This also has a People page, but it's blank. Other pages (e.g. "Your Area") say helpful things like "coming soon..." Well, at least they didn't put an "Under Construction" gif there.
I'll let them off, since the information is available, but I'm not impressed, and this level of computer illiteracy isn't going to help with their "damn hippies" stereotype.
Fail. Outside of news reports, all I can find about Mark Samuel is a rather boastful email address: email@example.com
Pass. Go to their website, then hover over "Our people" and click "PPCs". Alternately, click "Our people", then click "Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidates". (Take note, English Democrats!) Then click "browse by parliamentary constituency", scroll down to Croydon South, and it lists Jane Avis. I think they could afford the bandwidth for a slightly higher resolution in the photo, but this passes my test.
* Liberal Democrats
Pass. Go to their website and click through the splash page. On the right hand side, enter your postcode under "Find your local party", and click "GO". This lists my local candidate (Simon Rix), with links to his page and to the Croydon Liberal Democrats.
Pass. Go to their website, scroll down to the bottom (under "People"), and click "UKIP Candidates". If I search by postcode, it shows me the candidate for Croydon South: Jeffrey Bolter. If I search for "Croydon South" as my constituency name, it shows me 68 constituencies: this is apparently everything that has either "Croydon" or "South" in the name; which is pretty stupid. Still, they do make the information available, even if it's not immediately obvious.
Looking back at the table at the top, all the sites agreed that Jeffrey Bolter was the candidate except for Wikipedia, which lists Martin Ferguson. According to the Croydon Guardian: "Retired local police officer Jeffrey Bolter stepped in to the breach when UKIP candidate Martin Ferguson pulled out due to family commitments." I realise that I could edit the page to include the correct information, and I have corrected mistakes there before. However, in this case I think it serves the greater good to demonstrate that Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information. (I may post a separate rant about that one of these days; for now Wikitruth do a good job.)
Fail. Go to their website, and it doesn't have any information about who is standing for election in any constituency.
Based on all of that, I can reduce my choices from 8 to 6. The next step is to actually look at the policies, but I'll leave that for another day.
On a vaguely related note, I found a couple of videos where American celebrities encourage people to vote:
Hollywood Declares Themselves
Hollywood Declares Themselves - Part 2
The first one's a bit dull, and I gave up after a minute or so, but the second one is a bit funnier. ("What if people don't understand that it's being sarcastic?")
Edit: I have now edited the Wikipedia page to have the correct list of candidates (see comments), but the table above demonstrates that you shouldn't rely on it.