How I Learned to Stop being Cynical and 💖 my Right to Vote
Jade French takes a little look at why you should drop the cynicism and learn to love the vote. Register to vote to have your say in the EU Referendum by 7th June. And order a postal vote if you're away!
I’m not particularly enamoured with the ‘Westminster Elite’ (Andy Burnham Labour Leadership Elections 2015™), or particularly the way big politics pans out on a local level. But I love voting. For the recent elections, I went to vote on the way to work. Stepping into the local community centre, they ticked my name off and handed me some paper. I stepped behind the screen and wrapped my arm around my paper (just in case anyone was peeking). Then I marked my ‘X’s’. It’s an extremely exhilarating moment – one of the only ways we get to have our say in this democracy. You could be on the furthest right, or fumbling with a copy of Mao’s Red Book (oh hey, John McDonnell) – and in that moment, it actually matters. Your vote is your voice, and in that ballet box it chimes with all the other people who’ve passed through that local church, community centre or school.
Forget the echo chamber of Twitter, unless you actually turn out and vote then your opinions matter z-e-r-o. The rise of the online petition seems funny to me – we’re more than happy to leave our opinion there, but when it comes to the voting booth we are jaded? We see no change happening… I’ve seen a whole load of change happening in my local community thanks to the Tories – libraries closed, rent rising, communities retreating. When you don’t vote, that’s when you’re allowing the status quo to remain.
I understand why people who don’t vote might be disillusioned, that all those white men with clipped voices look and sound the same, but there are nuances to their policy. Sure, I’d love to change the system but I also believe in working with what you’ve got. And it’s also a slap in the face to the pollsters – young people are the least likely to turn out and vote. So guess what, policy doesn’t take you into account. Wondering why rent is so high, you’re not on the property ladder, student fees tripled, junior doctors are penalised? Because they think we won’t vote. A stereotype that I hope isn’t true.
It goes without saying that being brought up working-class (and you know, being a woman), I take my right to vote very seriously. People died for this right – and there’s a long history of working class people fighting for their place in democracy, to get their voices heard. Pissed off about gentrification? Don’t want another cereal café bumping up rent prices? It might not be the Peterloo Massacre, but it’s an class issue at heart. Voting for the London mayor should be a step you can take to empower your communities. I italicised should, because we all know politicians break their promises. But as voters, we need to put our cynicism to one side and to vote on good faith.
I guess I can understand why local elections don’t inspire or seem the most glamourous time to exercise your (hard fought for) right to vote, but it worries me as we approach the question of voting for staying or leaving the EU. The people who will turn out to vote? Those in favour of Brexit. And I won’t judge the people who want to leave – they have their reasons. But the reasons for staying in don’t seem all that inspiring, based, as they have mainly been, on economic equations.
Pro-EU spokesperson Wolfgang Tillmans has summed it up best with his series of posters: “I feel that we have reached a critical moment that could prove to be a turning point for Europe as we know and enjoy it – one that might result in a cascade of problematic consequences and political fall-out. Firstly, the weakening of the EU is a goal being actively pursued by strongmen like Vladimir Putin and European parties on the far-right. Brexit could effectively spell the end of the EU. It’s a flawed and problematic institution, but on the whole it stands for a democratic worldview, human rights and favours cooperation over confrontation.”
The question of Brexit should be framed differently than it has in the past – in a world built on technology and the internet, the question of borders is a blurred one. Boundaries can be crossed without ever leaving your seat. So, on 23rd June – get excited about your right to vote. To have a say. Go down to your polling station, organise your postal vote – it might seem ineffectual, but your vote joins all those other voices. It can make a difference.