Unless you have been hiding under a rock or more likely a stack of anatomy books for the past few weeks (although by now it seems like years) it will have been impossible to ignore that the election is looming. You may even be having nightmares of Ed eating a bacon sandwich, or David Cameron repeating, broken-record style phrases like ‘balancing the books’ or ‘hard working people’. You may even awake in a cold sweat thinking of Natalie Bennett’s ‘brain-fade’ on LBC or even worse of how tired Nick Clegg looks, after 5 years of showing us that he has a spine of cottage cheese. Perhaps it is the thought of Scottish independence that has your heart racing, or even the terrifying possibility that Nigel Farage might actually snap himself a spot on the famous green benches. Or maybe, just maybe, you won’t have thought about any of this. If you haven’t then it seems you are in good company.
In 2010, only 44% of 18-24 year olds voted, leaving an entire 56% that decided, for one reason or another, to stay at home.
One can make all sorts of arguments at to why voting doesn’t matter: what difference does one vote make? They don’t work for us anyway? I don’t like any of the leaders, its boring, the list goes on. Well let me try and address those points one by one.
To those who claim that an individual vote counts for little I show the example of Fermanagh & South Tyrone, which went to Sinn Fein in 2010 with a majority of only four votes. FOUR votes. You can fit that many people on one motorbike. So yes, in short, every vote does count. If you need an example closer to home and in fact a place that many of you probably do call home, just look at Withington. The seat is currently held by the Liberal Democrats with a slim majority of only 1, 850. But I hesitate to say that a vote in a marginal area matters more than a vote in another. All votes count, and although the first-past-the-post system means it is harder to make a parliament that is truly representative, I believe we should all stand up and be counted. Even if you turn up to scribble all over you ballot paper, this act will be noted and you send a message that you feel no-one is working for you. If you turn up to vote green in an area so Tory you can see the Emma Bridgewater mugs from space, you are saying you believe in an alternative. Voting is not just about who will be Prime Minister but also about once every five years having the chance to state what you believe and where you hope this country will be going in the future.
On the second point, I agree that it does somehow feel as if politicians don’t work for the public and certainly not the majority, but again the only way to try and influence them is to vote.
Only by voting can you hold politicians and parties to account. Politicians are in a perpetual battle to be elected or to maintain power and to do this they try to woo voters. If only 44% of young people bother to show up, where is the incentive to make policies that help the young? Not voting gives politicians more fuel to demonise the young and make policies that disproportionately help the middle aged and better off. Why were the conservatives able to raise tuition fees? I would guess its because they knew that it wouldn’t lose them any votes, as 66% of those likely to affected didn’t vote. Admittedly we wont be young forever and in ten years time most of you will probably be more worried about the cost of childcare than the cost of university. But, what many of you will be doing in 10 years is working in the NHS, and whichever way you cut it this institution has become a political issue. So if you weren’t planning to go to a polling booth on Election Day let the thought of your future career be what changes your mind. Many pledges have been made about the NHS over the past few weeks, from 7-day GP appointments to ‘a midwife for every woman’ and you can bet that by the time we graduate we will be affected by the decisions made at this election.
If that still hasn’t persuaded you lets move onto the next problem people seem to be citing as their reason for not wanting to vote, that they don’t ‘like’ any of the party leaders. Well, simply put, we aren’t voting for the leaders, we are voting for our MPs who will make up our parliament who will then choose a Prime Minister. Yes, of course, it will be the leader of the biggest party and therefore it will be either David Cameron or Ed Miliband. But what it won’t mean is that they wield much real power as individuals. The Prime Minister is really only as strong as his party. A whole cabinet of ministers sits around him and are in charge of everything from housing to culture. So when you think about who to vote for, or whether to vote at all, don’t think of Ed’s goofy face or David’s Eton past, think about what they stand for, their ideologies and what that will mean for the population. Somehow our media has fallen into the American beauty pageant style of presenting the election as a vote for an individual and have led us to believe that we should pick the person we would most like to go to the pub with. This kind of personality-based approach is no doubt where Nigel Farage draws a lot of his support from, presenting himself as a pint drinking, fag smoking man of the people. And he has been given the media platform to do it. But really if you vote for him you aren’t saying, ‘I like that guy’ you are saying ‘I agree with that guy’. So forget what you think of them as people and how funny their jokes are and think about what they are trying to achieve.
And on the final point, the dreaded, ‘its boring’, well I haven’t got much to say on that front except that I think its ruddy exciting! (But what do I know?)