“Time to trash the Tories” by *not* voting: Steve Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper at the General Election

Image result for pics of steve topple

By Daniel Margrain

It came as a complete bolt out of the blue for this writer to learn that one of the most politically astute, articulate, insightful and widely respected journalists in a generation is to abstain from voting at the forthcoming General Election.

Steve Topple, who in many ways I saw as mentor, and who has often promoted my work on twitter where many others ignored it, yesterday (May 1, 2017) came out publicly on social media to effectively state that he sees no political value in voting at elections.

According to Topple, placing a cross next to the name of a candidate at elections is akin to endorsing a corrupt capitalist system.

In response to criticisms from readers, Topple announced the following on Facebook (May 1, 2017):

“Oh dear.

So, seemingly because I’m going to spoil my ballot at the election, I must have come to this decision from a position of privilege.

NOPE. I’ve spent years at the hands of the DWP, living off crisis loans, money people have dropped in the street, hand-outs and generally eating thin air.

I now live on a council estate with my GF and her ten-year-old son, the former who has just had all her benefits stopped. So we’re living off my Canary wage.


I’ve spent 12 years living at the hands of Labour and Tory governments. And the DWP. So probably know far better than half the people commenting just how FUCKING BAD things can be.

So you can take your assumptions about ‘virtue signaling’ journalists and shove them up your prolier-than-thou arses. Or come to my estate, knock my door and try telling it to my face.”

To a certain extent, I understand and sympathize with Topple’s predicament, particularly as I learned through recent exchanges on twitter (May 3, 2017), that Steve lives in a safe Tory constituency. Just for the record, I’ve not spent twelve years living in the hands of successive Labour and Tory governments like Topple has, but thirty-eight years having first voted in 1979. So if anyone can claim to feel embittered and disillusioned, it’s people of my age who have suffered for far longer.

I, like Topple, have abstained at elections in the past in situations where no meaningful choices have been offered to the electorate. I understand the arguments that override his rejection of a capitalist system that benefits the elite ruling class minority at the expense of the rest of us.

Under normal circumstances, his arguments could be seen as a legitimate response to the actions of corrupt Labour party leaders who have put the interests of the establishment above the electorate. But these are not normal circumstances and Corbyn is far from being the usual Labour leader.

Those who have argued that the reason Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper on the basis that he is doing so from a position of privilege, are barking up the wrong tree. Anybody who has followed Steve’s journalistic career, will know that his various articles focusing on political and current affairs issues that rally against injustice and inequality are sincere and heartfelt.

This makes it all the more perplexing why Topple hadn’t decided to make an exception by refraining from spoiling his paper this time around given circumstances in which a Labour government under Corbyn would almost certainly usher in a much needed transformative kind of politics.

Apart from what I regard as Steve’s lack of wisdom in relation to his decision to spoil his ballot paper, I also reject his justification that underpins this decision. Topple’s apparent insistence that the inherent structural failings of capitalism cannot be reconciled with a democratic polity to help rein-in the systems worst excesses is, in my view, indicative of a narrow defeatist outlook.

There is no reason to believe that engaging in the political process and putting the case for a revolutionary transformation of society cannot go hand in hand. It might not be the kind of revolution Steve imagines, but that is cold comfort to those who have lost loved ones as a direct consequence of Tory austerity.

The notion that increased hardship and suffering is a necessary prerequisite to the onset of revolution, which is what Topple seems to be implying is, I would argue, ultimately selfish and, should in my view, be rejected. Too many people who are suffering untold pain under the Tories, cannot afford to wait for people like Steve Topple to be awoken from their slumber at the point at which the revolution begins.

People are suffering under the Tories in ways not witnessed since the Victorian era and they are desperately hoping for some light in what is a very long tunnel. Corbyn is the first Labour leader in decades that provides them with some much needed optimism for the future.

What we are currently seeing unfold, is potentially one of the greatest periods in British political history. An honourable and decent man who has fought off two coups against him, has too many decent folk riding on his success at the election for him to be dismissed out of hand by people who should know better.

In the hope that Steve might reconsider his decision to spoil his ballot paper, Corbyn supporter, Felicity A Wright, wrote on Facebook (May 1, 2017):

“Listen, Steve, I get it. I’m a crip and on benefit and I felt so let down by Labour that I spoiled my ballot last time by writing “None” across it. My husband, who is my full-time carer, spoiled his with more panache by writing “Clement Attlee” across it. And that’s the thing: I believe Jeremy Corbyn IS the new Clement Attlee. Have you seen his record? He’s been on the side of the poor, the weak, the voiceless from the beginning. He has been arrested for protesting against Apartheid & for refusing to pay the Poll Tax. I believe he is a genuinely good man and that, unlike the Kinnock/Blair side of the Labour Party, he cares about making a fairer society. So I’m voting Labour & so is my husband, in the hope that Jeremy really is what he seems to be. Please do the same! The Canary is one of the things which has given me this hope and is the only news outlet I actually subscribe to. Keep the faith. xxx”

Felicity is right.  There are literally millions of voters out there who see in Corbyn somebody who is not just another self-serving careerist politician, but a man who is sincere and whose is motivated by a need to make society better for the many as opposed to the few.

Having read Topple’s often brilliant polemical articles, it would seem highly improbable that he is oblivious to the differences between New Labourism exemplified by Blair and the old Labour of Corbyn. Moreover, given the political landscape since Thatcher, the notion he intends to abstain from voting, particularly as his anti-Tory polemics are so incisive, means that I’m at a loss to rationalize his thought process.

The truth is, as ill-judged as I think Topple’s decision to spoil his ballot paper is, it’s not my main point of contention. What I find particularly strange are the contents of a recent tweet of his in which the slogan “Time to trash the Tories” is invoked. It’s bizarre that “trashing the Tories” is seen by Steve as being concomitant to spoiling ones ballot paper.

Topple is not just any old bloke, but a highly influential and respected journalist who many people look up to for inspiration and guidance. In short, in the age of social media where more people than ever rely on alternative sources of information to counter the fake news of the mass media, opinions of the calibre of investigative journalists like Steve Topple matter.

Despite it’s supposed non-corporate credentials, the on-line publication Topple often writes pieces for, the Canary, is still heavily dependent on advertising revenue streams for its existence. As such, the news outlet is interwoven into the very fabric of a system Steve purports to hate.

Further, it is reasonable from the perspective of his many readers, to deduce that his effective absolving of responsibility of the election outcome, is undermined by the content of his polemical articles in which he consistently prosthelytizes against the Tories. Unfortunately, because of the contrarian position he has taken, Topple’s visceral attacks on the Tories from here on in, will lack credibility.

Yesterday (May 1, 2017) was a very sad day for me personally having learned that a writer I have long admired and respected made the incredulous decision to spoil his ballot paper – a decision that can only benefit the Tories.

I sincerely hope Steve changes his mind in the days ahead.

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17 thoughts on ““Time to trash the Tories” by *not* voting: Steve Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper at the General Election

      1. He has thought about this. Perhaps he has had a back-gander from Tory Bliar’s £9 million.


  1. I think spoiling your ballot paper should have been happening a long time ago. Every time we put a cross on that ballot paper we are endorsing a corrupt system. For years people have been saying you must vote to make a difference. I use to drag my young daughter down to the ballot box lecturing on the way about the suffragettes but in truth it made little difference the power is behind the throne in the halls and back offices of Westminster where career civil servants from establishment backgrounds lurk. To spoil your ballot shows you want to vote but not in a corrupt and loaded system as we have now. Interesting that the electoral commission refuses to allow the UK to have a NOTA – None Of The Above as a registered political party to allow people to show disgust at the lack of political choice, they (the electoral commission) think voters might get confused! Really!


    1. If you intend to spoil your vote, instead collect it and take home with you. It has the potential to be a much more effective option of withholding consent.


  2. Not voting is letting others decide who your masters are. Better men then you fought and died so you could decide. You can’t even claim corruption of the vote counts because you never voted. When they add up the votes to decide who is the winner your vote will be a waste of time and any effort a mere consent to let everyone else choose… You want to do something.. join a CLP and start putting forward candidates you want to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Given that we’ve had 7 years of Tory misrule, we know exactly what they are capable of, and now is not the time to abstain from voting. The time to do that and to demand changes on the streets is if Corbyn betrays our trust and reneges on everything he has said Labour under his leadership will do. Right now he is the alternative that many barren years have left us wanting for, now is the time to vote for Labour under Corbyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand the frustration, as any political activist with a conscience would, but cannot share the conclusion. In terms of Westminster, I have lived in a succession of safe seats where my contribution in the voting booth has had little or no impact. As with Topple, this has not been my only contribution – arguing, demonstrating, being involved in workshops, campaigning on single issue projects, listening and responding is also part of the effort for change. We do not have a choice about the system into which we are born and voting is not simply an endorsement of that system; it is a contribution to working within the means available to improve it. Voting and working to change the system are not mutually exclusive actions. The impact of an ‘active’ abstention or spoiling the ballot and the impact of not voting because you can’t be arsed are exactly the same – leaving the decision on the particular issue of who will be appointed to represent your constituency to others. So spend the time before the ballot trying to persuade other voters to make the better selection; vote; then stand outside and continue to try to persuade people to not only vote for the best option but to work for better accountability and improve awareness of the possibilities of change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People should be free to abstain if they want to but then have no right to complain about the Tories or anybody else. As a journalist/activist/polemicist, it seems to be an inconsistent approach to take to on the one hand, prosthelytizes against the Tories, while with the other abstain voting against the values you purport to despise.


  5. Personally, I think we should take a leaf out of Australia’s book and have compulsory voting. even if it means there’s a box on the ballot which says ‘None of the above’ (as long as some clever clogs doesn’t come along and start a political party called ‘None of the Above’ that is.

    Tories will always go out and vote because they have more invested in them getting back in.
    We shouldn’t throw our democracy away by not voting or wasting a ballot paper, we should keep it by voting and asking questions of our politicians and getting rid of the corrupt ones.

    I also think that politicians should be held accountable when they set a Manifesto and then do something completely different – like stating the NHS will not be affected and then sell off the profitable bits.

    I also think that the voting age should be lowered to 16 years of age. If you can get married, have sex, have a job & pay tax at that age, you should be allowed political representation.


  6. “According to Topple, placing a cross next to the name of a candidate at elections is akin to endorsing a corrupt capitalist system.”
    Hmm. Bit of a slow learner is he. Well duh! How long did it take him to work that one out? People my age and older have always known it. and yet we still vote purely out of habit more than anything else. We all know that whoever gets into power in Westminster, despite all their posturing and promises – couldn’t give a damn about us!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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