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A Few Words From... James Cox

Former Newsnight political editor James Cox tells us why no vote is wasted


Every vote can count, even if it doesn't go to electing someone. I'd even argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘wasted’ vote – votes can accumulate to such an extent that they have a force of their own. There’s a rather mysterious thing called the wisdom of crowds, which means, I think, that though individuals may think they’re working in their own interests, jointly they can have such a cumulative effect that even politicians have to take notice of them.


A useful metaphor is to think of votes as snowflakes. One has no significance on its own. Several may betoken a change in the weather. A larger number will alter the landscape with a light dusting of snow, which may in time become a blanket coverage. If the snowflakes are numerous enough, it's a blizzard.


That's the answer to those gloomy souls who say: “Voting doesn’t change anything, so why bother?” It can, and it does. Think Thatcher in 1979 or Blair in 1997.


But nowadays, you may not even need a blizzard. As politics atomises, away from a two or two-and-a-half party system to a much more Continental system of many parties or factions, coagulating or disassembling, voting becomes ever more influential (though much more difficult, for pundits, politicians and people, to predict). At least that's the hope of those who see the two-party system as one that has had its day, 2015 notwithstanding.


And certainly voting - or, in this case not voting - could have a tremendous effect on the EU referendum. It is a striking psephological finding that older people are likely to vote Brexit, and the younger to vote to Remain (which strikes me as a curious inversion in itself). But voting indicators always show that the old are much more likely to vote than the young, so the result could reflect, not the view of the whole people but only that of those who take part in the process.

James Cox

About the Writer

James has been a journalist all his working life, in newspapers, radio and television, concentrating on political coverage and commentary. He began in Scotland, with the Daily Record and then BBC Scotland, charting the rise in nationalism and the start of devolution. After three years abroad, as the BBC’s New York Correspondent, he returned to London as a lobby correspondent at Westminster and as BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor. He ended up as main presenter of Radio 4’s The World This Weekend. Now retired from full-time journalism, he continues to write and broadcast and, freed from the BBC’s constraints of impartiality, is active in politics.


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