Dr Rainbow Murray, Professor of Politics with the School of Politics and International Relations has written an opinion piece for The Conversation about why people should vote this election.
26 November 2019
If you live in a safe seat, don’t feel inspired by the choices on offer, and/or would rather spend December 12 doing your Christmas shopping, you might be considering not voting in the 2019 general election – then here are five reasons to change your mind.
The first and by far and away the most important reason to vote is that, regardless of what anyone might tell you, it matters. The ongoing saga of Brexit is very much a case in point. The way people voted in 2015 resulted in a majority Conservative Party government, which paved the way for the 2016 Brexit referendum. Regardless of whether you think that was a good thing or not, voting mattered.
In the referendum of 2016, a majority of those who voted, voted for Leave. Regardless of whether you think that was a good thing or not, voting mattered.
The way people voted in 2017 deprived Theresa May of a parliamentary majority – which meant the then prime minister was unable to get her deal through parliament, a problem inherited by her successor, Boris Johnson. Regardless of whether you think that was a good thing or not, voting mattered.
It is true that in many parts of the UK some parties utterly dominate. There are areas of the UK that have been represented by MPs from the same party since the 1800s. In areas where one party has a massive majority it may seem that voting will make little difference, which can be deeply frustrating. However, not voting is the one thing guaranteed to make no difference.
Even if voting will not affect the outcome of the result in an individual constituency, it will affect national vote shares for the parties. Parties that cannot win can still get their agendas taken seriously by the other parties if their vote share is strong. Part of the reason why the former prime minister, David Cameron, decided to call a referendum in the first place was the rise of UKIP as a political force. The newer party had no significant presence in parliament but had Cameron’s Conservatives running scared every time it increased its vote share.
In addition, national vote share is increasingly part of the political debate after elections and your vote can be part of that story, even if it doesn’t swing your constituency result. Again, voting matters.
Even if you have no hope of your vote making a difference in your constituency, at least consider going to your local polling station and spoiling your ballot paper. This is not a pointless exercise. If thousands of voters in safe constituencies spoiled their ballot papers it would give ammunition to those who are campaigning to replace the UK’s antiquated electoral system with something that gives votes everywhere more weight. The number of spoiled ballots is recorded in each constituency.
Having the right to vote cannot be taken for granted. Just as the right to vote can be obtained, so it can be lost. There are numerous examples of countries where democratic standards were undermined, sometimes fatally so.
The UK’s democracy is still seen as being in good health. However, the Windrush scandal, the government’s attempt to prorogue parliament to avoid debate, and the potential impact of Brexit on human rights shows that the freedoms we have now are not immutable. The most simple and basic thing anyone can do to keep democracy strong is to vote. Arguably, voting is not enough in itself to protect freedoms, but it is a necessary minimum.
Any complaints you may have about anything related to politics (and everything is related to politics) will ring rather hollow after December 12 if you do not do the absolute minimum to make a difference by voting. Quite apart from Brexit, the plans presented by the main parties in their manifestos offer radically different futures for the country.
Voting is the most fundamental way of expressing an opinion on what the parties are planning on doing if elected. Failing to do so makes any subsequent complaints about what the government is doing fairly hypocritical. Don’t vote? Can’t moan! Want to moan? Got to vote!
Having a system of government where ordinary people have a say in how they are governed is not automatic. Indeed, it was not always so in the United Kingdom.
The extension of the right to vote in the UK was a long and hard struggle with very real human costs – as exemplified by the 18 killed and hundreds injured during the Peterloo Massacre just over 200 years when cavalry (yes, men, on horses, wielding swords) attacked protesters demanding a greater say in how parliament was put together. This atrocity, and the brutality experienced by those who fought for the right of women to vote remind us how controversial the right to vote really is. Voting is a way of paying respect to those who suffered and died to secure that vote.
And finally …
One last reason to vote, if the above still aren’t good enough, is that if people didn’t turn out on election day, we would not have #dogsatpollingstations.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Conversation on 26 November 2019.
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