Friday, 15 April 2011
Can you lend your vote? And if so, will you get it back?
“Friends, Romans and countrymen” Mark Antony said, “Lend me your ears”. Note the lend bit. They’d get their ears back – he just wanted them for now.
Recently in politics here, the ‘lending’ of votes has become a current idea. Voters are urged, not to give their vote to a particular party, but to ‘lend’ it. In other words, you don’t really like us but you like your man or your woman less, so ‘lend’ us your vote and we’ll stop him/her getting in. In West Belfast in 1992, Joe Hendron defeated Gerry Adams with the help of votes ‘borrowed’ from unionist voters in the Shankill. In 2010, unionist voters in South Down lent Maggie Ritchie their votes, sending her and her red blazer to Westminster. And in the same year, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew kept her Fermanagh/South Tyrone Westminster seat yes, because a carload of Shinner students drove down from Belfast and cast their votes but also because, according to Dan Keenan in today’s Irish Times, a number of SDLP voters ‘lent’ her their vote and pushed her home to a squeaky-bum victory.
But to talk about ‘lending’ a vote is daft. If you lent me a tenner, I’d have it and you wouldn’t, and you’d probably have to come looking for it if you wanted it back; in the meantime you’d be tennerless. Not so in politics. There, a vote isn’t really ‘lent’. You normally vote for another candidate or party. As soon as this particular election is over, you go back to voting for your traditional candidate or party. Certainly that’s what happened in 1997 – Shankill voters appear to have returned to the unionist fold, because Gerry Adams recovered his seat.
So more properly described, it’s a one-off vote. Or is it? My old chum Eoghan Harris had the notion that Sinn Féin had borrowed their Dail seats from Fianna Fail and would have to return them in the elections earlier this year. It didn’t happen. The Shinners have a knack, once they get a seat, of holding onto it. Those who vote for them seem to come back for more.