Get out and vote!

Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. Northumbria University graduate. Opinionated, my aim is to fuel debate. My favourite questions in life are Why? How? And What? My Favourite answers tend to start with It depends or Yes & No.

It was Winston Churchill who described a democracy as “The least worst option”, yet it is a system that has stood the test of time. In Britain, though, it seems to be facing a crisis.

In the 2010 general election only 65% of eligible voters cast their votes. The Conservatives (36.1%) and the Liberal Democrats (23%) came to power with 59.1%. The Last European Elections saw a UK turnout of 34.7% – nearly half the European average. Why are people not more concerned about low turnout?

It’s true that for the first 18 years of our lives the world of politics and governmental affairs may seem insignificant to us. Unless you were a politico, you might not even have known who your local MP was or what party they represented. Some of you may have shown an interest when you were able to cast your first vote. Yet political engagement with the younger generation is at an all-time low. In the 2010 general election voter turnout amongst 18-24 year olds was at 51.8% with 25-34 year olds not fairing any better at 47.7%. Compared to the 65+ who had continued the trend of over 70% turnout at 74.7%

The voter turnout figures plummet when it comes to the European elections. At the last election in 2009, UK turnout was 34.7%, Nearly half the European average. Local elections show a similar trend (outside of a general election): in 2012, the average was 31.3%

With the European and local elections on Thursday 22nd, and less than a year to go until the next general election, I am writing to urge you to get out and vote rather than abstaining or worse not bothering.

I would argue that the state asks little of us. Pay our taxes, bring our children up right and vote in elections yet the figures suggest near to 1/3 of us don’t vote in a general election and near 2/3 don’t vote in Local or European elections.

The word Democracy comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘Rule of the People’. We don’t have direct democracy but a representative democracy, by where we once every so often vote for an individual/party to represent ourselves in the corridors of power. The party with the most representatives will then lead the government and set the agenda.

When people are disgruntled with their elected officials we have the power to vote them out, yet we appear to do something quite harmful to the democratic process. We turn away from it all together, often leaving the people we are so disgruntled with in power and in some cases with more of a majority. This is the wrong attitude to have. Elected officials should fear the people. They should worry about the ballot box as it’s where the people have their say. It may just be a cross on a piece of paper but it is probably the most powerful mark you will ever make on any piece of paper. We should tell our officials we are not happy with them by voting for someone else and not by ignoring the vote.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah nice idea, but there are no differences between the parties.”

I would agree in part. In the parties’ continual fight for the political centre-ground, they have begun to sound rather similar. However if you look at the parties beyond the centre-ground issues, that’s where you’ll find the differences.

All parties want a strong economy and believe they have the answer, but if you examine the arguments closely you will find where the main parties begin to diverge.  This does involve a bit of research but instead of throwing that campaign leaflet in the bin, just browse it quickly. Do you agree with anything on it? What do you disagree with? Now pick up that second leaflet. Do you agree with this one more or less than the first? Why?

Do me another favour: talk to your friends. Who are they voting for? Why are they voting that way? Like the parties’ pages on Facebook so when you are scrolling through your news feed on the way to work you see what they are talking about. You don’t have to be an expert on politics or ideology to look at the debating points and decide which party speaks to you most.

In my view there is no reason not to vote. Even if you go to the ballot box and write on the paper “none of the above”, at least you have made an effort and have voiced an opinion. I would argue for a “none of the above” option on the ballot papers – though I doubt politicians would allow it for fear of being beaten by said option.

Fundamentally there are people fighting for their freedom to vote, risking life and limb for the chance to even have an election. Even when the first vote comes around they are under threat to just cast that vote. How do you think nations such as Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine and South Sudan look at us when we have this right to vote yet we produce such low turnouts?

I remember my first vote. It was the European elections back in 2009. I remember going to the polling booth and taking in the long ballot paper. Some parties I hadn’t heard of because they hadn’t factored in to my following of general and local elections.

I re-read the instructions, determined not to spoil the ballot. I put my mark on that piece of paper, took one long look, and then folded it up and placed it in the big black box.

Every vote since I feel I have performed a civic duty and am proud to have voted. Proud to have taken part in a system handed down from the Ancient Greeks. Voting is a process practiced all over the world and hungered for by those who are not given this simple yet fundamental right. So vote and return power to the people.

For an easy-to-use quiz to find out which party most aligns with your own beliefs, try this.

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