My postal vote has arrived for the European parliamentary election. Normally I am onto it straight away, signing the form, marking my cross, but I must confess I, along with most other people, am less than enthused about the prospect.
Undoubtedly the EU elections are going to be used as a proxy for other issues, mostly views on whether we should leave or remain in the European Union. They have always been used as such, which perhaps says something who the functioning of European democracy and how the public - across the continent in fact, not just at home - regard these transnational institutions. That is a bigger argument for another day, but as with many loyal, longstanding Conservatives, the decision to vote for my own Party in these elections has been harder than ever.
Now I should stress, I am not a slavish believer in voting purely on party lines. I have spent much of my life campaigning trying to convince people to vote for me, or for my party. It would be hypocritical of me, or any politician, to ask others to change their minds without at least the possibility that I could do the same.
I believe there are however a large group of people who feel that they want to vote Conservative next Thursday but are struggling to reconcile their feelings with the state of the Party in Westminster.
Whilst I accept that many people do it, and sometimes I understand why, I don't like the concept of protest voting. I believe that you should vote for the right person (party aside) to fulfil a particular public office. I happen to think we should not have been in the position of needing to take part in these elections but as we are I would like the best MEPs to represent me - ideally for as short a time as possible.
Certainly in the South East region I know many of the candidates. Either long standing MEPs such as Daniel Hannan and Nirj Deva to some really fantastic ca candidates such as Juliette Ash and Caroline Newton. If we must be represented in this new European Parliament, hopefully for just a matter of months then I have great faith in them representing Britain's interests.
On my own Council earlier this month we were dealt a heavy blow by the electorate. I am not arrogant enough to suppose there were no local issues playing in certain wards but the general consensus from all sides is that the heavy losses were overwhelmingly the result of a protest vote over Brexit (from both sides of the argument). It was a real shame to see so many colleagues who had served their communities well to be cast aside because of events beyond their control and to deprive residents of their future service. To cast a protest vote at these elections would be to similarly punish people like Dan, Nirj, Juliette, Caroline and others in the same way. They are not part of the problem, and could be part of the solution we let them.
This links to the problem with the proportional voting system too. I believe you should vote for the individual not just the party, yet candidate lists as we have in these elections hinder that process. Many people may want to vote for Nigel Farage in the South East, but if enough of them do they will also elect a number of unknowns. I have nothing against these people, I don't know them. They may be excellent for all I know, but that is the point. I don't know them and therefore struggle with a system that lends them support nevertheless.
A further problem I have with transient support for the Brexit Party is that in the long term they galvanise the left.
Whether the two party system really in broken in the long term, one of the strengths of the Conservative Party for well over a century is that it has dominated the right by being a broad church. There has always been compromise within the party and a coalition of views have been brought together for extremely successful governments. Meanwhile the left has often been fragmented and therefore weakened. Whilst many people my understandably feel the Conservatives need a good kicking at the moment, a longer term weakening of the position is not just bad for the Party, but I believe it is bad for politics and bad for the country. Rather than a correction to right of centre I fear a stronger reaction which will only prolong the divisions across Britain and may lead to a slide further to the left.
My final point is loyalty. As I have stated above, I firmly believe in voting for the candidate and loyalty should not be blind, but as a concept in politics it has been much weakened.
I recall seeing letters from disgruntled members years ago who would resign from the Party saying things like "the Conservatives have always stood for "X" and I have been loyal for many years, but now they are doing "Y", I'm off!" That isn't loyalty, that is simply agreeing with something. If loyalty means anything sure it is sticking with something or someone when you disagree, or when things are tough. Times are tough now and this is when loyalty is needed most. Not to an individual leader or policy, but my loyalty is to a Party, a concept, a set of principles that unite. Yes we must be a broad church we must compromise both within and without the Party, but to jump ship now when we need to come together the most speaks nothing of loyalty.
I know there are many like me who have supported the Conservatives for years, have stood as candidates, have been elected, have been defeated, and are struggling with what to do next Thursday. I would encourage everyone to support our candidates, they are a selection of good men and women who will work hard for their communities and their country. Whether you believe we should be taking part in these elections or not, it is a reality that we are. A protest vote (whether ultimately you want to leave or remain in the EU) will achieve nothing but further damaging the Conservatives, punishing good candidates and risking further damage to our country. These elections may be more important than you think.