Disillusionment

Election time has rolled around again.
I’m a big fan of democracy and will drone on (at length) about how important it is to use your right to vote.

Right at this minute a historical moment in British politics is taking place. On ITV, all three leaders of the ‘big 3’ political parties are engaged in a televised debate – for the first time ever. Yes American readers, 40 years after JFK V Nixon, we’ve joined the modern era…

Instead of watching it, I’ve got Have I Got News for You (satirical political comedy) on in the background, simply so I don’t miss the start of Outnumbered. In the mean time, I’ve been searching for cheesy karaoke games for my Wii, cleaning my bathroom & now writing this post. This is a dramatic change from the girl who 11 years ago used to make a point of watching PMQs every Wednesday and wrote her A-level politics general study on a comparison of New Labour and the New Democrats.

I loved politics. In 6th Form I genuinely wanted to be a poltician – it’s one of the reasons I went to the university I did, because of its radical political history. [It says something for its students that when I arrived, the LSE Tories had a couple of hundred membes, LSE Labour had a few hundred, LSE Lib-Dems had just 30.] I threw myself into student politics briefly, enjoyed the odd demo or too (still do) and joined a political party.

Now it’s unlikely I’ll even vote for that party. Not because I’m disillusioned with them – it’s more to do with local politics in my constituency and tactical voting. But I am disillusioned with British politics in general. Our MPs have been tarred by the expenses scandal; no party is actually able to promise that they will deliver us from the global economic crisis; and our political system (First Past the Post) means that minor parties don’t really get a look in.

At least this year there’s the possibility of a hung Parliament and thus Independents and small parties have more importance. For an interesting exposition on what the disillusioned voter could do, read Andy’s post on Electioneering – he does more research into his posts than I usually do and seems to care passionately about the issue, thus he is far more eloquent than I.

Now for the public service announcements:

  • If you’re British, make sure you’re registered to vote. You’ve got until April 20th.
  • Remember to vote on May 6th. If you’re away, organise a postal or proxy vote. Don’t waste your right. I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for not voting in 2005. It wasn’t my fault – my polling card wasn’t forwarded to me quickly enough to sort the postal vote – but I was gutted. 
  • Do some research into who’s standing in your constituency and what their policies are. Read the manifestos of some of the smaller parties (the Greens’ came out today) and try and identify what you care about. 
Yes, politics can be dull and monotonous. Yes, many of us are disillusioned, but the truth is that unless you vote you lose your right to complain about it for the next 5 years. End of story. 
Image credit: A women’s liberation demonstration in New York.’Keystone’/Getty Images

Polling [Updated]

It’s election time. Admittedly, not the most exciting or life-influencing election, but today is a day when your democratic right to vote should be excercised, regardless.

I’m not apologetic for the fact that I’m one of those people who rants on and on in the run-up to the polls about how important it is to vote, how people died (and are still dying) for such a right and, how you can’t complain about the results if you haven’t contributed.

European elections don’t result in a parliament that makes laws, but it still has influence and is what I like to think of as the ‘fun’ election – where you can vote for parties you might not usually consider, purely because they have better European policies. I’m not sure which way I’m voting yet, but I’ll do some reading before I head to the polling station this evening. [Ok, just done some research, this Guardian outline is very useful & amusing. Also, it’s important to check if you’re area has a strong BNP presence as your vote could help stop them gaining seats.]

One of my colleagues has just expressed surprise that there’s an election today, so me and my Kiwi colleague have both ranted on at him for a considerable length of time. Just to bait us, he’s insisted that this is why women took so long to get the vote…yeah, whatever!

The fight for suffrage runs throughout history (in fact, I might suggest Women’s Suffrage as another ‘Happy History’ topic), but there is one particular moment which stands out for me as the reason why I will always make the effort to vote:

In 1994, many black South Africans voted for the very first time, in elections that marked the dawn of a new South Africa. Aged just 12, I spent the evening with my parents at a church service in honour of the elections. Shortly after it began, a woman in her early 60’s danced into the room.

In London, she was a successful nurse, but had fled South Africa many years earlier. Her final humiliation on arriving in the UK was having her passport destroyed in front of her at South Africa House. Yet on that day in April 1994 she returned to the scene of that humiliation to vote for the first time in her life. Her face shone, she was so happy that finally she had done something denied to her and her friends and family for so long. When I said she ‘danced’ into the church, I meant it.

And it’s because of her, and the millions of others like her, that voting is important. Even if it’s ‘just Europe’ or ‘just the local council’. There is no ‘just’, it’s democracy and we shouldn’t take it for granted.