Voting has always been really important to me.
I can’t explain why, because it wasn’t something drilled into me as a duty by my parents.
Maybe it’s because the bungalow across the road from our house was a polling station. I remember the excitement of crossing the street to complete my ballot paper for the first time in 1997.
Recently I’ve had a few conversations with friends where it’s been clear they often struggle to see how politics is relevant to their lives, and they don’t know how to work out who to vote for.
Because I work for an MP they’ve wanted me to explain it all to them, but where to start?
You can’t do anything if you’re not registered to vote. Do it here. The deadline is 20 April.
A lot of people are frustrated by politics. I get that.
But politics cannot change anything overnight, and it probably can’t make the world exactly how you want it. Because there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect society'; everyone has a different vision of perfection. In many ways, that we live in a society where all these different views are allowed – that is already perfection.
Politics is often about compromise and finding a solution that most people can get on board with. I understand that Prime Minister’s Questions and those debates you see on TV – with all their traditions and heckling – turn some people off. But when you strip away the playground antics, it’s just about people saying, ‘this is what I think, and this is why I think it’s right’, then someone putting over an alternative view, then either reaching a compromise or agreeing to disagree.
Ignore the media
Well, don’t ignore it, but take what they say with a pinch of salt. They’re usually in the business of getting you to watch their shows or buy their papers, not ensuring there is a well-rounded and well-balanced political debate going on. Broadcasters have some obligation to be balanced in their reporting, newspapers don’t. For example, most newspapers tend to support the Conservative party.
Understand ideology, not policies
You often hear people saying of the main political parties, ‘they’re all the same’. They’re not, of course, but because of our voting system, they’re competing for the votes of a lot of the same people, so sometimes they can seem to be singing from a similar hymn sheet. So how do you make up your mind?
Understanding how each party fundamentally sees the world will help you work out which one you’re most aligned to. At the moment, we’re being pretty much bombarded with policy announcements: things each party promises to do if they’re elected and form the government. Most of these policies are the icing on the cake. They’re not the most important thing about the cake. What the cake is made of, that’s the most important thing. Understand the ideology – values and outlook – each party is built on, then you know the kind of policies they’re likely to implement and the people they’re likely to look after.
What is important to you?
That said, there might be a particular policy that is really important to you. You might want to vote for whoever is going to help small businesses, or care for the environment the most. If so, great! You’ll probably find deciding who to vote for much easier.
Personally, I vote for the party I think will build the kind of society I think is right, rather than the one that I think will most benefit me or our household.
I’ve seen a few people are taking this Vote for Policies survey. It lets you choose which policies you support, without seeing which political party they belong to. (Although if you follow politics even a little bit you’ll recognise the language and probably quickly identify who has said they want to do what).
Likewise, you can take a short quiz on Vote Match and it will tell you which party’s policies you’re most aligned to.
This BBC guide gives quite a good explanation of the background to each party and summary of their 2015 promises.
Get to know your MP
In a general election, you’re voting to elect a government but you’re also voting to elect your local MP. Because of our first-past-the-post system, some constituencies always tend to elect a politician of the same party. These are called ‘safe’ seats, or ‘marginal’ seats if they’re more unpredictable.
This person who you’re voting for will be representing your area for the next five years, so it’s worth getting to know a bit about them. You might decide to vote for someone because you like the sound of them as a person, rather than the colour of the rosette they’re wearing.
Most MPs have advice surgeries every couple of weeks. You can make an appointment and go and speak to him or her about something you feel strongly about, or just write to them if you’d prefer. Read their website, see what they say on Facebook or Twitter. All the candidates will be delivering leaflets through your door, which will have their contact details on.
Speaking from experience, being an MP is definitely not cushy. It is a 24-7 job, you work damn hard, you struggle to see your family and friends, your every word is scrutinised and then most people are cynical, sceptical and derogatory about what you do.
Despite what we can be led to believe, politicians are not a corrupt, self-serving species. We are all human. We are capable of good and bad, but most people simply want to do a good job at what they’ve chosen to spend their life doing.
I’ve recently watched the filmed about Mandela’s life. He was a politician, and a human (albeit an incredible one). The film ends with this amazing Mandela quote:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin. People learn to hate. They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”
Which brings me neatly onto…
When we think negatively, when we blame others, that is dangerous. When pessimism thrives, that is when parties that blame all our ills on a certain section of society become the answer. We are all in charge of our own lives. If something’s not going right, it’s usually our own or nobody’s fault. I’m 99.9% sure it’s not the fault of that bloke and his family who live round the corner. I’m sure you know what I’m getting at.
For me politics should be positive, because moving forward is better than back. Back never works, when most of the rest of the world is going forward. It’s like trying to walk the wrong way down a busy street.
Take a minute to think about the positive progress politics has made in just our lifetime: maternity leave, civil partnerships, people staying in education, steps toward equal pay for women.
This is what we’ve got
Russell Brand has been really annoying me of late. He says he favours a revolution, but he doesn’t seem to have any answers about his supposed alternative. I’m not inclined to take lessons from a millionaire who lives in LA-LA-land! If you think MPs don’t live in the real world, celebrities live on Mars, surely? If you get to know our democracy, and the people involved in it, you might realise it’s not so bad.
Your voice does count
In 2010, 80% of over-65s voted but but only 47% of 18-24 year olds. The result was protected pensions but tripled tuition fees. I really want younger people to vote. Let’s all do it and see what happens.
I hope this doesn’t sound preachy because that’s not my intention! This is just my opinion and I realise opinions vary. Like I said in the beginning, we’re lucky to live in a country where that’s OK. We’re also lucky to live in a country and a time where every adult gets to have their say on how things are run.
How do you feel about the election?
Do you always vote or do you usually not bother?
Have you already decided who you’re going to vote for?