It’s easy to moan about politicians and claim they’re all the same, but they’re really not. Don’t find that out the hard way by sleepwalking into a society run by people who really don’t represent you, and don’t care either.
So, there’s an election in May and thanks to this ghastly new fixed-term arrangement, we all know when it’s coming which means we’re already being inundated with campaigning propaganda. My twitter feed has gone berserk with political posts, to the point where it’s almost as bad as Eurovision – and likely to go on a lot longer.
First thing is, are you registered to vote? The deadline to register to vote is Monday 20th April. Many people – especially students – have been wiped off the electoral register by new rules disallowing group registration. It was meant to stop election fraud, which is a good thing (the stopping of it, not the fraud) but it’s also disenfranchised a lot of young voters. If you’re not registered, or you’re not sure then check with your local council.
Second thing is, are you going to use it? Lots of people don’t, and I think, in my atheist way, it’s a sin. This is your country and these people are going to make decisions that affect you. Even if you live in a walloping Tory or Labour majority seat, you should still make your point. Maybe it’s easier for me as a woman to remember the people who died to get me my vote here, but round the world people are still dying for the right to put a cross on a piece of paper. Honour them by exercising the right.
Thirdly, how are you going to use it? I’ve been chatting with a perfectly nice person who is going to vote for a particular party just because, he says, he wants to make a protest. But a protest vote for that particular party endorses a whole bunch of people who would be happy to see him gone, in one way or another. So, even if you want to make a protest rather than vote for the person who best represents what you want for this country and yourself, it’s worth checking out what the candidates really believe. Because you don’t really want to back a homophobic bigot or someone who thinks people with HIV should be denied treatment, do you
So, how to choose? What’s important to you? I’m not so simplistic as to believe that being gay or being in an ethnic minority or having HIV is the only thing that will motivate you but for me, being LGBT and a woman does eliminate some candidates. I don’t like being a turkey voting for Christmas and, while there are individual bigots in all parties, I’m not going to vote for one where the leadership fails to discourage (or even sometimes encourages) prejudiced views about women and gays. And as for people who think having HIV makes you unfit to live in the UK, or disqualifies you from using the NHS (a view recently aired by one candidate) – I’m not voting for any party that welcomes candidates like that.
How do you find out what those standing in your area think? If you’re lucky, they, or their canvassers, will turn up on your doorstep and you can ask them – so it’s worth having one or two questions in mind about things you care about. Canvassers note down what comes up on the doorstep, so it’s a good way of making a candidate think about your issues. My mother, a woman noted for her ready wit and her sadistic tendencies, used to live in a constituency represented by a very right wing Tory called, funnily enough, Terence Higgins. When his canvassers came knocking she would beam at them and say, wasn’t he wonderful to help all those poor gay boys with the AIDS? And the canvassers would be torn between setting her straight or keeping her vote. (Actually, she always voted Lib Dem because it was tactically the best hope of getting the old bigot out.)
You can also look at their national policies, at least for the main parties who expect their MPs to stick to them (UKIP and the Greens are a bit more anarchic). Do you want to bash the big tax avoiders or the benefit claimants? Do you want to go it alone without Europe or stick with it? Do you care more about the NHS or tax breaks? Personally I care more about having good universal healthcare and good schools with sex education and anti-bullying policies than I do about reducing the state, not paying mansion tax (chance would be a fine thing) or devolving everything in sight. But I’ve looked and made that choice; you might make a different one.
On a more local level, there’s also their voting records if they’ve been in Parliament or on your local authority previously. If you like a bit of armchair surfing, go to www.theyworkforyou.com, which will tell you all about your current MP’s voting and attendance habits. For your local authority, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper but googling their name should find reports of what they’ve said in the council chamber.
And then there’s the personal factor. I know it’s unfashionable, but is your local MP a good person who looks after their constituents, or would you be better off with someone else? After a bad start with Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman (who notoriously approved of an arson attack on a gay paper), I have been exceptionally lucky with my MPs. In Islington, I could canvass happily for Chris Smith because not only was he gay but I was privileged to know his principles and personal kindness. And now, in Cardiff, I have Stephen Doughty who works his socks off for his constituents and who was on the committee that saw through equal marriage. How good is your local MP? Are they sitting on their laurels and a big fat majority? Give them a fright by voting for someone better, even if you can’t get them out. Those votes add up and sometimes cause big spills, like Michael Portillo losing to Stephen Twigg against all the odds in 1997.
What I’m really saying is, don’t be lazy. It’s easy to moan about politicians and claim they’re all the same, but they’re really not. Don’t find that out the hard way by sleepwalking into a society run by people who really don’t represent you, and don’t care either.
Lisa Power (@alisapower on twitter)