Thursday, May 6, 2010

Democracy

Today, after getting a trip to the doctor's to sort out my head-problems out of the way, I proudly slung J-cub onto my back, walked round the corner to our local community centre and cast my vote in the 2010 General Election.

I feel very strongly about my right and my duty to vote. We only get the chance once every 4 or 5 years to have even the slightest say over who makes the decisions which affect every single minutiae of our daily lives. It makes me crazy when people say that politics doesn't affect them, that they don't see the point in voting because 'they're all the same', or think that their views, opinions, worries, concerns and objections cannot be heard in Westminster.

It does. Of course it does. The people who say these things are the same people who complain when their taxes go up, and their benefits go down, and petrol prices rise, and cider costs more, and smoking gets banned, and house prices are too high, and house prices are too low, that they don't get seen quickly enough when something is wrong with them because the NHS is rubbish, but don't appreciate what a privilege it is that they don't have to scrape together thousands of pounds every time they have to stay in hospital, or hundreds of pounds every time they see a doctor, or having to pay more than a nominal amount for drugs.

As a new mother, all manner of privileges have become relevant to my life, in the same way that they have for other parents for many years. Child benefit, working family's tax credit, child tax credit, the child trust fund, SureStart centres, tax relief on childcare vouchers, no VAT on children's clothes, 24-hour support from NHS Direct, out-of-hours GP surgeries, Midwives and Health Visitors, libraries, public swimming pools, free pre-school places, maternity leave, paternity leave, dependency leave, and most importantly, CBeebies - most of these were entirely irrelevant to me at the last General Election.

But, if all doesn't go to plan tonight, the UK could return to a place where these privileges are reduced, or revoked entirely. And that's why I've voted the way I've voted today. A vote not for change, because all these things and more is what's important to me. Not every party is perfect, not every politician is perfect, and the last 5 or 6 years have more than adequately highlighted exactly how much a government can fuck things up. But it's still better than the 1930's and the 1980's. Black Wednesday anyone?

That's my party political motivation for voting the way I've voted, but alongside that runs my duty to vote, a duty that stands on the shoulders of the women who fought and died for my right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst is a trending topic today on twitter, with tweeters making comments such as:
@loumorgan Tremendous to see Emmeline Pankhurst trending. Hope every woman uses her vote to pay tribute (& say thank you). #ukvote

@barrypilling Was proud to vote with Chellington today. Round of applause to #Emmeline Pankhurst and all the other women who kicked ass for equality.

@robertsofhood Emmeline Pankhurst is trending in the UK. Women only got the vote on equal terms with men 82 years ago. Who would she have voted for today?
When you think that someone like Emily Davison was compelled to throw herself in front of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby (and, although her reasons may have been unclear, her life was certainly dedicated to furthering the cause of the Suffragettes), is it really that difficult in the run up to an election to watch the news a few times, read a couple of newspapers or look up some policies online, then make a decision and walk round the corner to your local school or pub or community centre and put an X in a box? As long as you're not voting for the BNP, your political affiliation is entirely your own decision, and I would never dream of attempting to question or influence someone else's vote. But vote, dammit, get out there and vote. Or shut up.

The first General Election I remember, in 1992 (I was 12), my Dad told me that if Labour got into power, I'd have to sell my pony. Living in beautiful, rural mid-Devon, with a few acres of land, a pony a-piece for me and my sister, I was happy and carefree. It was the first time that I'd shown any interest in politics, and that was the extent of the answer I got to whatever question I may have posed. Over the next few years, I became aware that my views on things like the only black family in our village, and the trans-gendered local bus-driver, and our gay MP, didn't exactly marry with my parents views. Insular and entirely (to my mind) irrational, I learnt that there was no point going to them to learn about the way our country was working, and the way it could work if a different party was in power.

They never encouraged me to have a questioning mind, and I recall being given the answer "I'll tell you when you're 18" so many times that I wished I'd written all my questions down before I forgot them. I was still too young to vote in 1997, although as my birthday falls at the end of August, all of my peers could. I felt left out of conversations in the run-up to the election, I didn't understand what was going on, and I had nowhere to go for answers.

When I got to University, my newly-politicized housemates and friends were all far more informed than I was, and yet again I didn't want to show my ignorance by asking questions. It wasn't until I met Jamie, who had dropped out of his politics degree in his second year, that for the first time I found someone who was not only idealised and passionate and informed, but was also willing to sit talking to me for hours on end about things that I didn't understand, helping me to shape and tie together my knowledge of world history and sociology and politics, until I started to understand.

10 years later, I still feel stupid when electioneering is going on. The friends I follow on twitter and facebook who are proper clever, who I could never sit and talk to about this stuff because they'd start using names and references that would mean nothing to me - they are so much more adept at making statements and explaining to people why to vote. They post links and videos and stories which I don't understand, and I feel awkward and confused and embarrassed that I still don't know enough. But I still vote, and I know today that I cast the right vote.

I took J-cub with me today, in his sling on my back, just as I took him to the local elections when he was less than 3 months old. As J-cub grows up, I want him to learn to ask questions, and to form opinions, and to realise that he can make a difference. By registering to vote wherever he lives (not that he's ever going to leave me, you understand), and casting his vote each and every time he gets the opportunity.

I don't care how J-cub votes when he's older, I just hope that over the next 17 years, I can inspire him enough to look up to me; to learn, to ask, and to care about the workings of the country in which he lives.

General Election 2010
Local Election 2009

5 comments:

citrusgirrl said...

What an incredibly inspiring blogpost. If you speak as passionately and clearly to J-Cub, he'll be well informed about things when it's his time to vote.

My parents explained to me about politics if I asked, and watched the news every day without fail. It was 50 times more boring if I didn't ask questions and try to understand, so I did, though most of the way the world works still makes no sense to me. The one thing they won't do, and haven't ever done, is indicate how they vote. They think it's some kind of vital secret, which is fair enough, but I really hope I will be able to talk to my child about my beliefs without trying to persuade them to take them on.

Anyway, thanks for a brilliant read:-) xxxx

barrypilling said...

What a brilliant article. Thanks for featuring my tweet, I feel v.honoured.

I'm sure your little boy will grow up to be a fine young man who values democracy just as much as you.

Viva Beth!

Baz
barrypilling.co.uk

Heartful said...

Here here!! Even with all the knowledge and facts at hand, I still think that our reasons for voting for a certain party remain deeply personal. They are for me anyway.

Thanks for an inspiring post.

Beth said...

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments.

Citrus - I half feel the same, that my vote is between me and the ballot paper. At the same time though, it's fairly obvious which way I lean, politically, so there's no point hiding it. I think you're absolutely right, to explain your beliefs to your child without forcing them to share your views is the way to do it.

Barry - thanks for your comment and your lovely tweet. I struggle with having any sort of self-esteem about my abilities as a mother, so for you to say I'm a great writer AND a great mother completely made my day ;)

Tammy - Absolutely, I think that all your life experiences and your current situation are going to shape the way you think, and therefore the way you vote. As I said, as long as people aren't voting BNP (in which case I'll happily spend time pointing out the error of their ways - or just run away screaming), then their vote is their business. I just want people to get out there and do it.

Looks like we'll have another opportunity in a few months, anyway.

cartside said...

what a fab post, so inspiring to use that privilege of a vote!

I also found myself at odds with my parents' views, although they would never disclose who they actually vote for. That's fine, and we've had many heated discussions over the year, and I actually enjoy those discussions. I hope it can be the same with our kids when they get older, to encourage debate and openness even if views diverge.

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