Up until now, I've almost always voted LibDem. That's mainly because of a visit we had at school, where a LibDem person (MP?) explained the concept of Proportional Representation. I've also found that they fit in with my views on other issues, e.g. education, and I simply thought that it would be good to get a change rather than alternating back and forth between Conservative and Labour governments. Unfortunately, I haven't been particularly impressed with the LibDems since they formed the coalition government. The AV referendum went badly, and the LibDems went back on their election pledge by voting to raise tuition fees. So, it's time for a different approach.
My new plan is to vote for the person rather than the party. This has a few advantages:
a) An individual who does a good job doesn't get dragged down by their idiot colleagues. For instance, I remember reading an interview with Robin Cook in the run-up to the 2005 election. He knew that he was losing votes because people didn't like the war in Iraq, but he pointed out that he'd resigned from the Cabinet because he was opposed to the war as well. He basically said: "What more can I do?"
b) Party policies may not make sense at local level. For instance, UKIP's main point seems to be that they don't like the EU. Even if we assume that this is the right policy at national level, the London Mayor can't decide to opt out of EU regulations. So, there's no point voting for them unless you also agree with their local policies.
c) I'd like to see more independent candidates. The only time I haven't voted LibDem before was when I voted for Ken Livingstone as an independent candidate in 2000.
Looking at London, my main interest is transport in general and cycling in particular. I was out at the LCC Big Ride on Saturday; if you look closely, you can see me in the Sky News report (about 45 seconds in). The main purpose of that event was to encourage the mayoral candidates to support the Go Dutch pledge. Unfortunately, I can't find any single page that gives the current status, so it's tricky to find out which candidates have actually signed up. The nearest thing I can find is their blog.
On 26th April, they said: "[Ken Livingstone] joins Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick and Green Jenny Jones in accepting all three of the London Cycling Campaign's stringent 'Go Dutch' campaign demands to make streets as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in Holland. Boris Johnson sits with independent Siobhan Benita and the UKIP and BNP candidates in not supporting the three Go Dutch demands, which were published in February 2012." On 27th April, they said: "Boris Johnson has joined the other four main mayoral candidates in promising a Dutch-style cycling revolution in London." So, I assume that it's just the BNP and UKIP candidates who don't support the campaign; that gives me a good excuse to eliminate them from my list, while still sticking to my rule about "the person, not the party".
The LCC have analysed the cycling manifestos, and they put Jenny Jones (Green) at the top. I agree with that, and I know that she is personally committed to supporting cycling, so she'll get my vote tomorrow. However, I can also list a 2nd choice for mayor.
I voted for Ken Livingstone before. He doesn't cycle, but he's promised to make Jenny Jones his cycling commissioner if he's elected, and the Green party have asked people to vote for Labour because they think that they could work better with Ken than with Boris. However, I'm not keen on tactical voting: that's the whole problem with our current system. I'd rather vote for the candidate I want, then at least my conscience is clear if they don't get in. Also, Ken lost my support when there was a tube strike and he wouldn't condemn it or condone it. Get off the fence!
There was an article in the Independent recently, encouraging people to vote for Siobhan Benita (the independent candidate). It's good that she's independent, but she also needs to have good policies. According to her website, she is the only candidate supporting the 3rd runway at Heathrow. Since we're running out of oil, I think we should be reducing the number of flights rather than increasing them, so she's off the list.
That just leaves Boris and Brian Paddick. I think Boris has actually done a decent job on the whole; the main exception is when he stayed on holiday during the London riots. By contrast Brian Paddick has close ties to the police, which would be useful. I think I'll put Paddick down as my 2nd choice.
Moving on, I can then pick a candidate for the London-wide assembly. I've looked at the list, and there are 123 candidates! That's just a ridiculous number, so there's no way that I can look up information on all of them. Jenny Jones is listed there too, so I'll vote for her again, but I'm not quite clear what happens if she wins both elections; presumably she could step down from the assembly post, but then that means that my vote is wasted, since I don't get a second choice here. Democracy in action! This is actually the only election which involves a form of PR, so I'm surprised that it seems to be the most poorly organised one.
At constituency level (Croydon and Sutton), I can vote for one candidate out of five, and it's "first past the post", i.e. whoever gets the highest number of votes wins. That's simple enough, and it's a manageable number of candidates.
I remember an old Spitting Image sketch from the 1980s, probably just before the 1987 General Election. The premise was that the Green party had won the election, and they were choosing Cabinet posts. As each new job was offered (e.g. Chancellor of the Exchequer), everyone just shuffled their feet and looked away. Then when Minister for the Environment came up, they all waved their hands and shouted "Oo, oo, me, me!" The point (as subtle as you'd expect) was that they didn't have policies on any other issues; I don't know how true it was back then, and I was too young to vote in that election anyway. However, local representatives don't need to have a detailed foreign policy.
InsideCroydon have run interviews with all 5 candidates (sort of). They're clearly biased against the conservatives, so I can't rely on them entirely, but they think that one contentious issue is the proposed incinerator. Steve O'Connell (Conservative) and Abigail Lock (LibDem) support it, while Gordon Ross (Green), Winston McKenzie (UKIP), and Louisa Woodley (Labour) oppose it. In particular, Gordon Ross gave a very good answer for why we shouldn't have one: he's convinced me, so that eliminates two candidates.
InsideCroydon also asked the candidates which A&E department they would choose to close (Mayday or St Helier). Winston McKenzie was the only person to actually give a straight answer to that question; the others said that they'd like to keep both. However, McKenzie also says: "It's quite simple really, you have the person who is a career politician and very intellectual, and by contrast you have the person who has served his time in the community before becoming involved in politics and understands implicitly the problems that are holding both the working class and the poor back." In other words, he takes pride in his history as a boxer and the fact that he's not intellectual. Borrowing a phrase I read on an American blog, I don't want my elected representative to be my drinking buddy, I want him/her to be the designated driver. So, credit where it's due, but he's off the list.
That brings it down to Gordon Ross and Louise Woodley. They both look like decent candidates, but Ross' answers were generally positive (saying what he would do) whereas Woodley's answers were generally negative (criticising the Conservatives). So, I'll vote for Ross.
TL;DR - I'm going hippie and voting Green.
Edit: I've now voted, and the ballot form for the London-wide assembly candidate was different to what I expected. There were 13 options, for 11 parties and 2 independent candidates. So, I had to vote for a party rather than a person. That avoids the problem of a wasted vote, since each party can presumably choose who to give its seats to. However, I then wonder why they bothered listing all the candidates in advance. Also, what happens if an independent candidate wins enough votes for 2 seats: do they choose who to give the spare seat to, or do the figures get rearranged? (This problem generalises to any party which winds up with more seats than candidates.)