5 Things to Ask Before Voting for The First Time

This is an edited version of a response I wrote to a Clear the Lobby reader, who emailed me asking what to think about when voting in his first general election.


Really exciting to hear it’s your first general election! My first one in 2010 was what first got me interested in politics, which has had a big influence on my career (and make me very tiresome at parties). Here are some things to think about.

1. Are you a student?

If so, you have the option of voting in your home or university constituency (just make sure you register twice, once in each). That might allow you to make your vote go further if the party you support has a better chance of winning in one of them. You don’t even have to be in the constituency on election day. If you haven’t set up a postal vote, you can nominate a proxy: a friend or relative who can vote on your behalf.

2. How important is Brexit to you?

In this sense, it’s a binary election. If Boris Johnson gets a majority, Brexit will probably happen on 31 January. Otherwise, there’ll likely be a second referendum under a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. (A Johnson minority feels unlikely because of a lack of other parties who would support him.)

So if it’s important to you that Brexit happens, the Conservatives would be a good bet. If you’d rather remain, this website will show you which party all the tactical voting websites are suggesting for your constituency.

3. What issues do you care about most?

Dig out the manifestos of all the parties standing in your constituency (the BBC has a tool for finding your candidates) and see where they stand on the things you care about. I remember finding this quite overwhelming in 2010, but there’s lots of good analysis out there that can help you understand each position more clearly.

Remember not every pledge in the winning party’s manifesto will be carried out, so think of it more as a guide than a set of solid promises. And conversely, don’t expect to find a party that you agree with 100%. It’s more about finding the closest match.

4. Where do you sit ideologically?

A fundamental difference between the major parties is the size of the state. Right-wing parties generally favour a smaller government, which plays less of a part in the lives of citizens. Left-wing parties are the opposite. A really good example of that is Labour’s plan to renationalise Royal Mail, the railways, energy and water companies, and the broadband network. The eternal debate is about whether these should be run by the government or private companies.

5. Who do you want to benefit from your vote?

The question a wise person asked me before the 2010 election was: who are you voting on behalf of? Are you thinking primarily about yourself, or the country as a whole? It helped me make my decision back then, and has shaped my political philosophy since.

Clear the Lobby explains the laws MPs are voting on in plain English. Sign up here to get the newsletter in your email inbox every Sunday.

I present Bloomberg Westminster weekdays on Bloomberg Radio and write the @clearthelobby political newsletter.

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