Yesterday, I responded on Twitter to a tweet sent out by BBC Radio 4, looking for undecided voters in Birmingham to take part in a panel interview following on from last night's leader's debate.
After a couple of phone calls with the producer, I found myself watching the debate with a pad of paper next to me, scribbling thoughts on what I was watching. This morning, the BBC sent a taxi to pick me up and shuttle me into their studios in the Mailbox in time for an 8:30 slot with John Humphreys.
You can listen to the eight minute segment on the BBC's website, here.
The whole experience was fascinating, and really good fun. But, I have to admit that I was really quite nervous, and couldn't stop thinking about just how many million people would be listening to me speaking live on the radio (about 6.6 million, according to these figures from last year).
After a few minutes in the Green Room, during which I met the other three participants and we exchanged a few initial opinions and scoped out each others' political views, we were ushered quickly in to the studio itself to meet John. He was very friendly, welcoming and quite chatty. I found myself wondering if he enjoys this kind of feature more than than the continual adversarial debates between politicians; we were just being asked for our opinions, not really to persuade anyone of them.
We were told that we would only have around six minutes, and that we should "get stuck in" and not wait to be called on to give our opinions, which we all duly did, I think! The producers must have thought that the segment was interesting, as they let it run for eight minutes in the end.
So, what of the discussion itself? Well, we were all asked to take part given that we were as yet undecided about how to vote in the forthcoming General Election. But, that didn't mean that I am undecided about my own views - nor were the other panel members either for that matter. Unfortunately the discussion focussed a lot more on the spin and imagery around the leaders, their teams and the debate, rather than the policies they are putting forward. This was inevitable given the nature of the segment.
However, it's not every day that you get a slot on prime time Radio 4, so after constructing my notes last night, I did give a lot of thought as to what I wanted my message to be. Firstly, yes I'm currently undecided, but no, I am not considering everybody. I said very early on when asked by JH if I'd ruled anyone out and I made it very clear that I would not be voting Conservative. As I said in the debate, I don't see how the Tories can claim to be the party of change, with a "fresh new team", when if they form a government we will see William Hague and Ken Clarke back in the cabinet. The talk of change in this respect is clearly ridiculous. I think I got this point across quite well, and was pretty pleased with myself on this.
Secondly, the Tories are and always have been the party of the wealthy. Their policy to cut inheritance tax, which will benefit only those at the real top of the heap in Britain is nothing but unfair, reckless given the current state of the economy and a big thank you to all the wealthy people who are plugging so much money into their election campaign.
I was also pleased that I got in a couple of mentions of the Green Party, who are probably closest to my own personal views in many ways. So, herein lies my dilemma and that faced, I suspect, by millions of people in the UK: should I vote for the party who is closest to my own views, even though they have no chance of winning, or should I back the least worst party with a realistic chance of winning, as I have done previously with Labour, and then get involved in trying to change that party from within?
By all accounts a vote for the Greens where I live is not going to influence anything in the House of Commons. Is it a waste? Rather than just adopting the vote-winning vacuous call for "change", as was done by Obama in the US, I'm becoming more and more of the view that what we really need to change in the UK are the specifics of the electoral system. I don't know exactly what it should look like instead, but the current first-past-the-post mechanism leads to governments being made or broken in a small number of battles between two parties for the centre ground in a handful of marginal constituencies. This is never going to encourage more participation in democracy, and it also shuts out any view that isn't in the current centre ground from the debate in Westminster.
So, while the media is busy focusing on which of the three lines on their opinion poll graph is currently at the top, everyone ignores the fourth line lower down, helpfully labelled "other", which according to the Guardian's poll-of-polls, for example, has hovered around 10-12% at least since January. Are these people all nutters? Well, one thing's for sure, their opinions are not represented in the House of Commons. And that's a whopping 10% of the population saying they're voting for someone else, even when they know that their vote won't count! Imagine what the political landscape would look like if those votes did count.
So, I think I'm leaning towards breaking with my previous voting behaviour and thinking more strategically about the political future of my country. Short termism, and always voting for the least-worst option right now has, I think, led to the stifling of opinions, a disaffected electorate and the wrong decisions with insufficient scrutiny. For this reason, I am going to vote not based on the next three to five years, but in a way that's most likely to get a more representative electoral system in time perhaps for the following election. I think this more long term view will be of greater benefit in the long run. In a sense, I'm fed up with having to vote tactically, so I'm going to do it one more time in the hope that it means I won't have to any more.
So, who does that mean I'm going to vote for? Quite probably the Liberal Democrats at the moment, since any coalition in a balanced parliament would undoubtedly need their support, and I hope that this kind of reform would be the price of that support. In terms of who I would like to be able to vote for, this may well have been the Greens, or perhaps Labour in a different generation.
Having said that, this is all just my current thinking and I'm still undecided; I just thought since I got asked about it on the radio this morning, that I'd lay down the current state of play.