As part of a series on the experiences of voters in the Irish 2020 election, we wanted to speak with voters who have voted with Ireland’s STV system and under Westminster’s First Past the Post system. Darren grew up in the UK and now lives in Dublin.
My first General Election was 1997, Tony Blair’s landslide. I was at university, and I voted Liberal Democrat – this was in the Leamington and Warwick seat, living in Leamington Spa while at Warwick. I don’t think I expected much – indeed the candidate came third – but I was happy enough with the resulting MP and government.
I then voted in Morley and Rothwell in the 2001 General Election, again for the Liberal Democrat candidate, again finishing third, again happy enough with the outcome – Colin Challen was a competent local MP. There was exactly the same outcome from the 2005 election. I think in both cases, I was confident enough that the Labour candidate would be returned – a run stretching back decades – that I could put my cross where my ideals laid.
I must have also voted in a European election during that time, so the de Hondt method used there gave me some familiarity with a proportional system, albeit one where you only had one choice.
I moved to Ireland in autumn 2005, and was initially unaware of my voting rights, mainly due to initially being on a fixed-term contract with my employer. Having become a permanent employee, I think the first elections I took part in were in 2008/2009, local and European I believe. The immediate impression was that I didn’t have to make a sole choice – although I could if I really wanted. This allowed me to consider the candidates in greater detail, and express that preference so that if my number one choice did not get elected, more than likely a second or third choice would succeed. This brings to mind the satisfaction I felt when the Labour candidate was returned in my UK election votes. Indeed, I think I have never voted for a candidate in a UK election who won under FPTP.
This has unconcerned me until the 2015 election, when a candidate diametrically opposite to my outlook in life – and since the cursed referendum in 2016 has actively pursued and championed policies that will make my life more difficult for no apparent benefit. I had postal votes in the UK general elections of 2017 and 2019, and was appropriately disillusioned by both results, and these were the only two elections where I voted tactically, although my fidelity to the Liberal Democrats was wavering due to their experiences in government: the other referendum in 2011 on reforming the electoral system – I did not vote – was pointless. This should have been a warning: why, in a country of little to no experience of referendums, was such a technical thing put to the electorate? Even watching from afar, and still keeping moderately up-to-date with issues in the UK, the campaign seemed muddled, ultimately a ‘so what?’ – less than 50% turnout.
In the Irish general election last weekend, I was spoilt for choice in candidates – I live in the Dublin Bay North constituency, returning 5 TDs, from a list of eighteen. I was already of a firm opinion against candidates from several parties – mainstream and the outliers. I spent half an hour doing web searches for most of the independent candidates, and in most cases was unimpressed with their prospectuses. Having firmly decided on my top five candidates – reasonable, as this many would be returned – I was sidetracked by a discussion with a neighbour on the value of going all the way down the list – an issue which seems to get more confusing as you read an explanation. After satisfying myself that not persisting with numbering candidates would only be an issue if none of my selections were elected, and would only nominally adjust the quota required for election, I numbered down to 7.
In the event my first preference was finally elected on the last count, as was my second preference. I had had some local experience with my preferred candidate, having seen him active in several campaigns in the community, and made aware of his policies and activities through regular mailshots. Other candidates’ mailshots and election literature certainly had a negative effect on my opinions of them.
The counting process was also more fascinating, compared to the UK where the (grim) fascination is only at the national level, other than the race to complete the first count, and the thrill of a well-known name being defenestrated.
I am definitely more interested now in Irish politics, and am curious how this election result is going to play out in the formation of a government and how the TDs selected in my constituency will perform in the Dail.
Image: flickr William Murphy