The moral obligation to run for Parliament

Those thinking of skipping this general election, or drawing a cock and balls on their ballot, should read the latest UnHerd piece from Hired author James Bloodworth.

Bloodworth is a former Left Foot Forward editor, and still a leftie, so much of the piece is spent attacking Labour for the antisemitism that has flourished under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership: 

When I look at Jeremy Corbyn, a person his fanatical supporters like to call a ‘man of principle’, all I see is a hypocrite. He is against ‘all forms of racism’ except the form of racism most commonly deployed by the left. He is for human rights, except for in those countries where nominally leftwing governments hold power. He is against war and imperialism, yet can barely bring himself to condemn the Russian bombing of civilians in Syria. Hypocrites of this stripe are ten a penny in his party and they do not enthuse me one bit.

The Conservatives are meanwhile accused of anti-Muslim bigotry and the moral stains of austerity, while Boris Johnson is labelled “a self-serving character”, which may be the nicest thing someone has written about him in a while. The Lib Dems’ Jo Swinson is conversely “a charisma free zone”, and Bloodworth dislikes the party’s role in austerity and their policy to cancel Brexit outright.

I share these misgivings (mostly). And Bloodworth is right to say if you “look at several very different evils and [are] unable to decide which is worse”, abstaining from voting makes sense (assuming you have discounted the minor parties, which he has done for reasons that are unclear).

Yet noting that, I still think Bloodworth is failing to note a moral obligation beyond this. If you dislike all the parties on offer, why are you not campaigning for yourself, or setting up your own party?

The reasons are legion, of course. New ventures tend to fail, perhaps especially in politics, and on the way they take up time, money and energy that could be otherwise spent. Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system is less friendly to new parties than more proportional ones too. Add to that widespread reports of abuse that MPs receive, alongside more respectable scrutiny, and it’s easy to see why few people bother with politics.

Yet if you feel the country is poorly served by those trying to run it, with all the ethical problems that implies, perhaps that fact should outweigh all the downsides. Not voting may be a legitimate way to fulfil your civic duty, but can it be the only thing you do?

No doubt Bloodworth and other pundits expressing similar ambivalence would say their writing is their contribution. Fair enough. I’m not sure all the abstainers have an equally good excuse – myself included.

Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact

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