To Vote Or Not To Vote Should Not Be The Question

Polls(Image: dawgpoundnation.com)

If you live in the UK, you may be aware of a teeny tiny event event taking place on 7th May (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock). In just under a month’s time we will be taking to the polls and offering our views on who we want to run the country, and then anxiously awaiting the results. The General Election is almost upon us, and as a result politics has been increasingly prominent in the media, with the various parties making ever bolder attempts to grab our attentions. From the bright pink Labour battle bus aimed at the female voter (because obviously we can’t be tempted to show any interest in politics unless it is suitably colour-coded according to gender stereotyping!), to the new big idea: Have a Cuppa with Cameron et al. The party leaders are falling over themselves to throw open their doors and drag journalists into their kitchens for a chance to promote their ‘off-duty’ credentials. Look, I have a family and commitments, just like you, but I have chosen to selflessly commit myself to running the country on behalf of us all. Isn’t that altruistic of me? And it’s a struggle, but I am willing to make that sacrifice and be your Prime Minister for you. Come and have a cup of Earl Grey/Builder’s/Green Tea with me in my normal kitchen that looks just like yours, and let’s discover together how alike we really are…

OK, I may be exaggerating a little, but I’m sure you know as well as I do that this is all posturing on the part of the party leaders. I readily admit that, at the moment, I have no idea who I’m going to vote for on May 7th. The news coverage and leaders’ debates only seem to serve the view that politicians are all six of one and half a dozen of another. No one seems to offer something new and refreshing that other parties don’t offer (unless your idea of ‘new’ and ‘refreshing’ is getting rid of racial discrimination laws, because according to Nigel Farage we don’t need them anymore. Tool…)

But despite my reservations I will be casting a vote on Election Day. I couldn’t not. I see the right to vote as an absolute privilege, and one which was hard-won at that. Women campaigned long and hard at the turn of the 20th century so that their daughters and granddaughters could have the same rights as men to have a say on how our country is run. And I find it a sign of utmost disrespect for their sacrifices to disregard that and not vote. I have only abstained from voting once in my adult life, and that was when I was suffering from period pains so bad I couldn’t leave my then boyfriend’s house, let alone walk the mile and a half to the polling station (that may not sound like far, but believe me, even standing was a challenge!)

And the reason for my rambling today (yes, I promise there is actually a reason!), is due to an ongoing argument I’ve been having with my flatmate, Jon. We have rather differing views on politics, and on his return from an Easter weekend spent at home, we somehow got round to a discussion about the election, during which he casually dropped into the conversation, “My family and I have all decided to spoil our ballots.” This simple sentence was like a red rag to a bull. I immediately flared up, as Jon knew I would, and we engaged in yet another heated debate on the subject. I just cannot countenance how something which so many people in so many countries worldwide do not have can be so casually cast aside.

I understand that Jon is disillusioned with the main political parties, and I understand that he can’t find any one party which he can ally himself with on every level. But I don’t agree with the sentiment of spoiling a ballot. What is the point? He claims that this is a statement, that it says that he is interested in politics but doesn’t find any of the parties on offer a tempting enough prospect. I retorted that it will make him look like an idiot who doesn’t know how to fill in a ballot paper. Although the number of spoilt votes are counted,  who really cares what statement is behind them? I doubt Messrs Cameron, Clegg or Miliband will lose sleep over the number of people who spoiled their ballots rather than make a choice and stand by the party they’ve picked.

My argument is that it is far more valuable to have a say than to try and be clever. None of the parties we have on offer are perfect. If you’ve grown up in or lived in Britain for a while you will know that, if we’re being honest, the political contest is pretty much a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives, and always has been. A vote for the Green Party, however laudable their principles, just seems like a wasted vote, and Nick Clegg has done himself out of a great deal of supporters following the concessions he made on Lib Dem policy during the coalition (the fateful student fees choice). And I would rather stick pins in my eyes than vote for Nigel Farage…

But the thing is, we cannot afford to let these things put us off. We have to, essentially, suck it up and look for the party which offers the most conditions we agree with, and throw our lot in with them. It’s a best of a bad bunch kind of scenario, which is not ideal. But if we do not vote at all we only have ourselves to blame. It is empowering to be able to have a say, however minor, in the way our country is run, and I cannot understand Jon’s ability to disregard that. But he is not alone, and it is concerning to see that women are turning away from the polls in droves.

As I’ve been writing this I’ve been listening to a Woman’s Hour episode from February. Woman’s Hour poll – Research company TNS BMRB conducted a poll on behalf of Woman’s Hour at the end of January. The results were discussed on the episode, and the results of the poll can be seen in full here. But the most significant results that were mulled over on the show were as follows:

  • 48% felt none of the party leaders understood what life was like for them
  • Just 55% of women said they were determined to vote in the May General Election (65% of men said they would)
  • 24% of women aged 18-34 (nearly 1 in 4) are unlikely to vote in the election
  • 35% of women (over a third) don’t know who they will vote for in May (10% more than men, at 25%)
  • 48% of women with children claimed that they did not vote in the last election

These statistics are shocking and worrying, and only confirm the concerns that I was harbouring alone. Women are increasingly disillusioned with the politicians they see as so far removed from themselves. The Woman’s Hour show spoke to a group of women in Bexley in South East London, and the prevailing view was that the politicians were too stuffy and, in a direct quote “There’s no one normal in Westminster.” They feel that politicians will only lie to them, and that they are not connected to the struggles that they themselves encounter every day. I don’t think that they’re alone in their views either, and that this is true, to a degree, for many male would-be voters as well. The women of Bexley want someone whom they can relate to and rally round, and the sad truth is that there is no woman in Westminster in a position of power that they feel fulfils that role.

If you have been struggling, as I have, with the decision of who to vote for, you could try this website. It focuses on policies instead of parties. You can pick the issues that matter to you, and then it takes you through the different parties’ policies for each issue, without telling you who they’re from, and you choose which policies you would consider voting for. It will take a while if you spend the appropriate time and effort on it, but at the end it spits out a percentage result of the party whose policies you aligned with most. But I promote it with a word of caution: it’s not always helpful. Having taken the test, I came out with a four-way split. Wonderful…

I am not here to tell you how to vote on May 7th. The beauty of living in a democratic society is that you can pick whichever party you choose to champion your cause. All I’m asking is that you make a choice and cast your vote for someone. Please. Don’t just sit back and think that it doesn’t matter. You have a voice. Find it and use it.

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