Voting is something I feel really strongly about, for a lot of reasons – not least because people died for the right. But in my latest editorial for Epigram, I discuss the issue from a different perspective.
Lets, for a moment, hark back to 2013, when Russell Brand first argued that voting was effectively pointless in an article in the New Statesman.
‘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.’
Pretty passionate stuff – and I don’t completely disagree. Indeed, I’m increasingly sceptical about British politics, especially as it often seems like governments focus on short-term goals which will help them to get re-elected. But, contrary to Brand’s claims, this is exactly why it is so important to vote.
During my first year at Bristol, and a couple of months after Brand’s comments, I went to an inspiring lecture by David Blunkett. The Labour politician argued that if you don’t vote, you won’t be listened to, and there’s strong evidence supporting this claim.
According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, the average voting household saw an annual drop of £1,850 in their disposable income due to the coalition government’s austerity measures. This compares to an average, and significantly larger, drop of £2,135 in disposable income for non-voting households.
‘If more young people voted, and showed they cared about politics and the effect it has on them, national politics would begin to change; politics doesn’t exist in a vacuum’
My cynical side wasn’t, and still isn’t, surprised at Blunkett’s argument. Why would a government reward those who it cannot rely on for votes come the next general election? Basing decisions on electoral success it nothing new, and has clearly continued since the last general election.
In 2015, 18-24 year olds were the only group in which Labour had a significant lead. According to Ipsos MORI, 43% of this group voted Labour compared to 27% voting Conservative, while 47% of over 65s voted Conservative compared to 23% voting Labour.
Is it therefore surprising that the new government have promised over 75s a free licence fee and refuse to mean test the winter fuel allowance, while also cutting maintenance grants and excluding those under 25 from receiving a living wage?
Yet targeting certain groups is something every political party is guilty of – so perhaps I’m naive to believe that a government should work for the good of the entire country, instead of constantly worrying about how to get re-elected?
Following Russell Brand’s advice not to vote won’t achieve anything; abstaining doesn’t demonstrate you have a voice and it isn’t good for democracy.
On a more positive note I truly believe that if more young people voted, and showed they cared about politics and the effect it has on them, national politics would begin to change; politics doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Following Russell Brand’s advice not to vote won’t achieve anything; abstaining doesn’t demonstrate you have a voice and it isn’t good for democracy. If you feel so strongly against all choices on offer, ruin your ballot paper – that, at least, gets counted and is a statement in itself.
In May 2015, 58% of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to a national average of 66%. In the upcoming EU referendum, this figure needs to be higher; the referendum is the biggest decision in a generation and the outcome will impact the rest of our lives. Bristolians have the added significance of the upcoming Mayoral election – do we want to keep George Ferguson, or is it time for a change?
So, what am I getting at here?
Voting is important, so do it, and make sure you’ve registered. It takes 5 minutes, tops.
As Epigram has recently reported, many Bristol students are not currently on the electoral register – indeed, Labour have estimated that there are 7,000 young people missing from said register in Bristol.
This is partly due to changes in electoral law back in 2014, which meant that individuals had to register themselves; the ‘head of the household’, which for students was the University, could no longer register everyone. However, others are missing out because they have not responded to Council letters clarifying their address, which were sent to 9,000 students in Bristol this month.
Whatever the reason, you may not be registered – it’s clear that voting is important, so don’t miss out on a technicality. As Eddie Izzard commented in a recent youtube video, ‘don’t waste your chance to have your voice heard.’