Thursday, 3 May 2012

Please vote. I wish I could

Voting is a wonderful thing. It's a chance to voice your anger, dissatisfaction or, as the case may be, approval of those in power. We often take it for granted, but when you go into your local polling station and put a cross next to your preferred candidate's name, you're making a statement, a statement which many thousands of people the world over are forbidden to make: "I am a citizen of this country, and I have a say in how its run". 

Cynics, please put down those pitchforks. 

Our system is nowhere near perfect - and if you follow me on Twitter or know me in real life (you lucky thing, you), then you'll be aware that I have no qualms about saying so. Often with lots of swearing. But I do not buy into the apathetic cries of "all politicians are the same" or "voting is pointless". Yes, party politics is often a royal pain in the arse, and the two main players have far from squeaky clean records. Yes, corporations, the financial sector and media monopolies have too big a sway over the agenda. Yes, cash for influence is a huge problem. And yes, the First-Past-the-Post system is an utter joke. But you still have that unalienable right, you still have that unsilenceable voice, and if it didn't matter, the folk in Westminster would not have sleepless nights over opinion polls.

And we should not just bitterly accept the things that make modern politics such a dirty and depressing business. Be active. Join a party that best fits your principles, and if you want to change it, work with others to do so. Write, lobby, campaign, organise - for more transparency, for electoral reform, for money and politics to be separated. Go on protests, occupy shops, shout until you're listened to. Join a union and withdraw your labour. Voting is not an entity in and of itself, it goes alongside the many rights we have as citizens and which enable us to call ourselves a 'democracy'. 

It's very easy to complain, but we forget that we are the ones with the power. We elect individuals not to tell us how to live our lives, but to represent our views. Maybe if we stopped being so apathetic, politicians would stop breaking their promises. Maybe if we stopped lamenting that our vote means nothing, and instead fought for a fairer and more pluralist system, we'd find that a cross on a ballot paper can truly change things. 

These are just local elections, but the point stands. MPs and councillors work for us. If you find their service lacking, bloody well tell them so. If they fail to change, fire them. Don't stay put and capitulate to the lie that there is no alternative. 

Democracy is one of humanity's greatest inventions. I'd like to see it improved - by, for starters, adopting a better electoral system, doing away with safe seats and lowering the voting age (this irritatingly opinionated 17-year-old does not like being disenfranchised). As a socialist, I'd also like to see it extended beyond politics and to the economy, to all aspects of public life. But fundamentally, I'd like to see it valued. Current democracy is imperfect, warped by vested interests, hijacked by oligarchs. But that does not mean it should be rejected by us. It's too important. It's something so many do not have, something so many are fighting and have fought for, often with their lives. It's time we reclaimed democracy and transformed it into what it should be - the voice of the people. So please, don't shun your civic duty. Go out. Organise. Change things. And vote.