The General Election is here. If you didn’t vote, it’s too late now and I’d like to address this article to you.
If you’re not British you could be forgiven for having no idea that our elections are on today. After all, our elections (unlike those in the US) don’t cause people around the world to start wearing t-shirts with images of the contenders and turning the whole event into international hysteria. For in the UK, the foundation of modern democracy, we do things in a far stiffer way. There are two parties with leaders now indistinguishable from one another, and a third party who seem to have come from nowhere and brought their contender, Nick Clegg to astonish everyone at some TV debates for a couple of hours. There are of course many other choices, including numerous independent (and some rather odd) parties too.
Ever since I’ve had the opportunity to vote, I have. And I have been confused by those who don’t.
I have spoken to many people over the past few years who have said that they haven’t, or didn’t vote or won’t vote as it doesn’t matter who they vote for, or that things don’t change anyway. Consider for a moment, if you aren’t a ruthless dictator and if you don’t live behind a firewall that filters out any mention of freedom or democracy, that you probably live in a civilised country and benefit directly from rights that have come directly from the right to vote.
The privilege of the vote used to be reserved exclusively for Royal and Aristocratic people who would use their own voice to influence their government for their own interests and it has been this way for as long as recorded human history and still is in many parts of the world. The vote was eventually given to professional men and then married women. And let’s not forget how the right to vote, in our living memory, whose suffrage was earned by women and African Americans and how the vote has been the tool by which the human condition has been dramatically improved. And yet people think it doesn’t matter and that they’re not bothered to vote.
As I write this, the Sunderland South vote is in. Just over thirty-five thousand people voted (that’s just over half of the eligible population). Almost two-thousand people voted for the British National Party – a demonstrably racist political “party” who wish to send bona-fidé British citizens and taxpayers overseas on the basis of the colour of their skin. They have other, similarly bizarre skin-colour related policies, too.
Considering that the BNP have 5% of the vote here (it’s much higher in some of the other constituencies, they even have two seats in the European Parliament) when you don’t vote, your implicit support for the BNP increases the weight of the BNP voters votes. And voter apathy is how these “grass roots” extreme parties gain very real and disproportional power.
If you think that you’re not voting is somehow counted as a protest – it’s not. In Sunderland South we have no idea why 45% of the population did not vote. They could have a good reason, like lost poll cards, or they could be making a politically salient protest outside a polling station. Or they could be watching other people vote on the telly. Whatever the reason, the non-voting vote is lost. There is a better way; you can “spoil” your vote. Instead of putting a cross by a candidates name you can put something else instead – I’ll leave the choice of what you might want to write on the polling card up to you. These votes are all recorded, including the reason for the spoilt vote, so at least your opinion is counted.
If you didn’t vote and you’re reading this, I think I know what you’re feeling; it’s very easy to be cynical about democracy when you’re IN a democracy. Whilst our democracy fails, terribly at times – it is still much better than many of the other systems around the world. Some of these alternative systems, such as the one from which my mother came from, would have you killed for anything less than complete support of the reigning rulers. Think about that for a second.
If you want the right to complain, to effect change, to protest, as far as I can see you can only do this if you exercise your vote. And remember, in our current system by you not using your vote: You are implicitly lending your support for the extreme parties.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi
Oh yeah, voting makes you sexy and intelligent.
By Mike (written on an Apple iPad) 🙂