I was going to think of a snappier title to this article but actually the above message is simple and clear. It is my upmost belief that every person should vote on any opportunity they get. Local Councillor? Vote. Student Union Chair? Vote. Police Commisoner? Vote. General election next year? You MUST vote.
Russell Brand said last year “I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”. In a polite article I can’t say what I actually think of these comments. Needless to say I disagree and here’s why. Mr. Brand is worth an estimated £15m and is dating Jemima Khan. Jemima Khan is the daughter of former Conservative MP and millionaire Sir James Goldsmith. How many millionaires do you know? Any Lord’s? Brand lives in a world the majority of us will never encounter. To him voting doesn’t matter because the lives that can get changed by voting are below the 1% he lives in.
Don’t vote!! Was the rallying cry from multi-millionaire Russell Brand last year.
Brand is wrong
Why do you think University fees for you are £9000 a year? Because it was unaffordable? No. This system will take less money. Why do some of you no longer receive EMA (Educational maintenance allowance) for attending sixth form? Lack of money? In the long term attending sixth form or college will pay 10 times over this. Why are both major parties saying benefits will be cut for young people? Because they are lazy? On average for every vacant job there are around 15 applicants, this does not sound lazy to me. FOURTY FOUR PERCENT. That is the reason these things are happening. 44% is the number of 18-24 year olds who voted in the General election in 2010. Why is the state pension not cut? Why do pensioners get free bus passes and eye tests? SEVENTY SIX PERCENT. That is why. As you can probably guess this is the number of pensioners that voted in 2010. If you want change, vote.
You may not think it affects you, that voting doesn’t matter. If you do think that then expect to keep getting more of the same. In 1945 General election just after The Second World War people were expecting the triumphant war leader and Conservative Winston Churchill to romp home in the General election. But instead, 20 years after universal suffrage, Clement Attlee and the Labour party gained control. What happened then was the foundation of the NHS, millions of homes built and the introduction of the welfare state. It was no longer good enough to expect people to go off and die for their country whilst others came back to poverty. The NHS I assume most of you were born in was won by voting, it may be saved by it too.
Now here I have to make a slight confession. I am an elected politician for the Labour party. In May this year I became a Councillor for Church Ward in South Reading. It was one of the proudest moments of my life that a Whitley boy born on a Council estate is able to some degree represent the people living there. My life is now endless meetings, School Governing, talking to residents and helping them get problems solved (which usually revolve around grass verges and parking). But it is great. It is not the life some of the media want you to believe. I am not the son of a politician or Lord, my parents had never voted until this year. I am not fecklessly spending tax payers' money on moats. And I am not a fraud or liar Mr. Brand. I would just like to help the types of people that I grew up with and those most vulnerable in society to have a chance. This is not party political, there are many many good and honest Lib Dem and Conservative Councillors across the country too (UKIP not so much) who just want to help their local communities. If you have a bad one, it may be that too few have voted to change them.
Why do people not vote?
In the local elections of May 2014, voter turnout was 36%. That means that a party with as little as around 10% of the total population of that area is ruling and making decisions for everyone else. Does this seem right to you? Decisions for the many will be decided by the few until people vote en masse.
Like anything in Economics or life, problems can be solved, voter turnout is a problem and economics gives you the tools to solve it through policy evaluation. You will be familiar if year 13 and will be soon if year 12 with STRIPS. The various policy routes to solve a Microeconomic problem. Let’s look at a few here.
In Australia voter turnout was 94% last year, why do we think this is? You HAVE to vote that’s why. It is compulsory by law to vote in these countries. If you do not vote, then you can be fined, albeit a mere $18. Is this right in a supposedly fair and free society? You certainly can’t complain the people have not had their choice and those in society haven’t participated. But like all statistics (as I covered in the last Piggonomics), they hide something. Not everyone is registered to vote, around 10% are not, 6% didn’t vote and 6% of ballots were spoilt. Whilst better than the UK, it is not 94%.
So if not forcing people to vote what else can we do? Many complain of lack of engagement, that politicians are not listening to them. Could a wider spread of people from society encourage greater participation? The Labour party are attempting to achieve 50% of their MP’s to be female, many times through all women shortlists for seats. Whilst admirable, lack of women is far from the only reason people feel let down. What about race? Or class? Or education? These too need a greater spread.
One route through which political engagement could be encouraged is through education. Political education in most Schools is at worst non-existent and at best token. With teachers being set target after target and schools resembling exam factories more and more, a wider social responsibility is being neglected. Pupils leave school unaware of how their democracy works, what their parties stand for or even what and when they are voting on. A place for debating, engaging and learning about these issues is vital. This can start with action in schools. Most student’s first taste of democracy is some form of school Council. Students are asked their opinion on a range of topics from uniform to the canteen and then……they are ignored. This is a student’s first taste of their democratic right. I have an opinion but it is not really being listened to. This stays with people. “You are all the same” and “what’s the point” I have heard frequently.
As well as education a route through which to encourage people to vote is to lower the voting age to 16. If young people (I’m thinking my GCSE classes here) were voting next year in the general election, they would be inclined to be more interested and in turn politicians more interested in them. The old arguments that they wouldn’t know what they were voting for are nonsense if combined with a decent political education at school. It is also patronising. Of my GCSE students this year I know one of two going to Africa to help some of the world’s poorest people be given a chance in life, many have part time jobs and many will achieve grades higher than their parents. Good enough to wash dishes below minimum wage but not good enough to vote for the right to a higher wage? I think not.
My last help to voter turnout is to make the process itself easier. Some cannot make a polling station on the day (work, age, families), some are intimidated or unfamiliar with this and some are unaware of a vote at all. This is where technology can help. Online voting or a voter app for a smart phone are both possibilities. Some would say this is open to fraud. But in 2000 in the US election we all KNOW that the person and party with most votes did not win and fraud was rife. Do any of us believe Vladimir Putin is receiving 99% of the votes in Russia? Even in the UK no ID is required and we could all just turn up to a polling booth with a name and matching address and vote for someone else. No system is perfect and fraud will always be attempted. But some things are worth the risk. Democracy is too precious and the damage caused by seeing it peter out too great to not attempt to save it.
One hundred years ago females could not vote. Non property owners could not vote and only 3% of the UK’s population were eligible to vote. Many were sent to die for a country that they had no say in running. If we do not want the few ruling the many there is one way to stop this. Vote.