At approximately 2:30 last Friday morning I had a wobble.
Surrounded by people that have become friends, I forcibly vented my frustration and all but declared my resignation from political activity for life.
“What is the bloody point?!” I declared as the pile of votes increased before my eyes and the effort put in by our candidate and multiple colleagues over many weeks looked like being for nought.
What was worse, our opponents had not done a stroke. One had resigned from his party following comments on Twitter that had received national media coverage while the other’s sum campaigning effort appeared to be a single leaflet.
As the local Labour Party election agent, I realised I was going to have to pull myself together and present the optimistic front that I had been employing up to that point but this was only after two people in particular had pointed out the folly of throwing in the towel. They were absolutely right and I thank them for the verbal slap around the face.
“You have to keep fighting.”
Thankfully, our candidate took the seat and we were able to briefly celebrate before retiring to our beds after a very long night (the count finished at 3:30). When analysing the result the next day however I wondered whether we were losing a much larger battle. I present the result as it was written on the night:
Note two things: Firstly, the turnout was 36.9%. Secondly, 444 people voted for a candidate whose resignation from his party had been covered in the national press (see link above) and television not to mention being the front page lead in the local paper that broke the story.
How disengaged have we become?
We have had countless bits of analysis on the “UKIP surge” and the implications for the other parties but no-one seems to be addressing this serious threat to our democracy.
Politicians of all colours have spoken of addressing the “concerns” of those who voted UKIP, who only number around 10% of those eligible to vote, while seemingly not worrying themselves about the approximately 60% of registered voters who didn’t bother, or didn’t see the point, of attending a polling station for five minutes.
This is an entirely negative way of conducting politics. It means that policies are devised to appeal to those who are most likely to vote, not those who would benefit most from state funded facilities or services. That is why wealthy pensioners get a free TV licence whilst anyone under 40 struggles to find an affordable place to live.
It also suits those with the most power and the most to gain from the status quo if casting a vote is seen as “a waste of time.” So celebrity gossip takes precedent over politics in an increasing amount of the media and people are encouraged to think that issues that affect their lives are something that they shouldn’t worry their heads about. “They’re all the same aren’t they?”, “the government always gets in”, etc. etc…
A healthy democracy is essential for a more cohesive and contented society. Not voting gives those who do an unequal say and allows their opinions to be presented as a majority view even if they actively encourage division.
This weekend the former Conservative MP and now Times writer Matthew Parris wrote an excellent piece on the dangers of not challenging misinformation and allowing divison, in this case racism, to flourish. A section is included here:
The point made is not party political, it is saying that politicians are being too timid, too concerned at upsetting those who currently vote, to call things as they are.
As a society we should encourage clear expression. Accept that having different views is perfectly legitimate, as long as they are not deliberately promoting division, and that debate about the best approach and policies to run our society is something that is desirable and should involve as many people as possible.
I would clearly prefer it if the majority of people agreed with my political views, but I would be a lot happier than I am presently if I felt that policies enacted in parliament or the council chamber had been put before an engaged populace, had been debated in some form and that the majority of an electorate representative of all of society had given their verdict.
That is why I will continue to “keep fighting”. Keep active in my local party as far as I can, try better to engage others with an interest in politics and issues even if we disagree, do what I can to encourage debate and do my bit to raise issues that I care about via my newspaper column and Educating Brentwood.
As a parent, I will encourage our children to engage and question and, when they are 18, I expect them to have formed their own opinion and express it at the ballot box. I will do what I can to encourage others to do the same.
I needed to write this down to refer back to when I think it’s all a bit hard and time consuming. Also to remember to thank Julie & Sue for telling me to get a grip last Friday morning.
You don’t have to do any of that. But please, when the time comes, at least vote.