Please go out and vote – who else can speak your truth but you?
Have you lost your polling card? Me too. I have two children under five, so I’ll find it in a few months stuffed down the back of the sofa with wobbly portraits of me scrawled across it in blue felt tip, or pictures of spiders and imaginative beasties. I can barely tell the difference. The good news is, if you’re registered to vote, you don’t actually need it, spiders and beasties or no.
It’s a curiously British thing, a card dropping through your door with a footnote on it saying it’s surplus to its own requirement, but I suspect it serves as a reminder that there is an election coming up, for those not permanently embroiled in the inner scandal and machinations of the Houses of Parliament. To vote without your polling card, simply find your nearest polling station (link here), turn up, and state your name and address. If you had a postal vote that you haven’t posted, just complete it and hand it in. I was advising people to take some form of identification with them yesterday, but was widely assured that it wasn’t necessary – however I get asked for ID for everything from cider to hotel bookings, so I always carry my Provisional Driving License to be on the safe side. Not being a car driver, I suppose it cheers me to give the small piece of green plastic some purpose.
But polling card or no polling card, postal vote or hastily-completed-and-handed-in-vote, please do vote. And vote with your heart. Or your mind. Or your conscience. Or your gut. Or an other indeterminable part of your anatomy. This is your slice of representation, this is your voice, your chance to be heard. Who else can speak your truth but you? Who else can colour your beliefs and ethics and convictions and priorities and moral fibre into the great tapestry of our diverse and wonderful country, but you?
It’s easy to cast a sweeping glance over a bunch of people in smart blazers and think they’re all the same. They aren’t. One is an immigrant who used to be a journalist. One set fire to money in front of homeless people for laughs. One is a former banker bankrolled by 90% of the donors to party he claims to be so different from. One has inspired an entire fan club of teenage girls into a One-Direction-esque rapture. Their histories form their priorities and their priorities form their politics, just like you, and just like me.
If your conviction is that you don’t want to vote, then fine. If you are genuinely apathetic about the potholes in your roads, about the price of your train tickets, the price of food, the cost of your rent, mortgage, stamp duty, inheritance tax, if nothing in your day to day life matters enough to you to take ten minutes out of your day once every five years to make a decision about it, that’s fine. If you don’t care about school places for your children, or the quality of their education, the cost of higher education and the accompanying debts that young people are saddled with as they face a hostile jobs market and the likelihood of being one of twenty people to apply for every job at their local coffee shop, that’s fine by me. If you genuinely think that over the next five years you won’t need to see your doctor, or visit A&E, have a baby, call the midwidfe, call the Police, or the Fire Service, okay, don’t go out and vote.
The reality is that ‘politics’ isn’t restricted to the catcalls and baying mob that pantomime on Prime Ministers Questions. It’s not the select few flicking through ringbinders with prepared answers on BBC Question Time. It’s not just homogeny in suits making decisions on our behalf – it’s all around us. Politics is life, and all aspects of life are deeply political. Admittedly a First Past The Post system is clunky and not truly representative, but the less of us who vote, the less representative it becomes. I hope for a proportional representation system in the future, but we need to vote for it if we want it. We need to vote for progression, if we want it, or austerity, if you really believe that’s the answer, or whatever you believe in or the closest thing to it you can find.
If you really believe you are too small a cog in the system to change anything, remember that constituencies have been won and lost on a single vote.
If you really don’t know what a difference you could make, remember that three years ago I was a single mother, unemployed, with my Housing Benefit suspended and a Section 21 eviction notice through my letterbox. I felt helpless, hopeless, at the bottom of a scrap heap and resigning myself to it because I couldn’t imagine anything else any more. A chance glimpse of a headline in a local paper enraged me enough to write a letter to the editor. I started my blog. The rest is history. Now I register young homeless people to vote. I’m canvassed for my opinion on news sofas as a ‘social commentator’. I write for national newspapers. I have been on Question Time. I forced a debate in Parliament with a relentless and furious campaign. I’m nothing special. I had no media training, no ‘friends in the know’. I just got involved. You could do that too.
And if we wake up on Friday morning with the possibility of a Government that we would rather not see in power, if all your dreams didn’t come true at the ballot box, it is not the end. It is just the beginning. You do not have to accept the top-down cuts and austerities and policies that will directly negatively impact on your life. We can rally. We can protest. We can organise. We can campaign. We can petition. We can scrutinise, pressurise, but we must not give in.
To quote my late friend Hetty Bower, who I campaigned with in 2013; “We must fight. Yes, if we fight, they might win. But if we don’t fight? Then of course they’ll win.”