Today is polling day across the UK.
We're all voting for our representatives in the European Parliament. Some of us are also voting for local councillors.
I've spoken to so many people recently who have said something along the lines of:
I'm not voting; there's no point.
This worries and saddens me.
Voting for European Parliament especially, seems to have a low voter turnout; people don't seem to care. Nobody's quite sure what they're voting for, and whether it really makes a difference. Voter turnout for European elections was just 34% at the last elections in 2009.
The European Parliament passes laws that affect the entire EU. In recent years, they have set a cap on mobile roaming charges across the EU, controls on food labels and pesticides, and ruled that airlines must show the full price of flights rather than advertising misleading prices that don't include tax etc.
The European Working Time directive states that nobody must work more than an average of 48 hours in a week. The UK have opted out of this directive, so that British people can work more than 48-hour-weeks if they so wish. In 2008, the European Parliament voted to cancel the right to opt out of this law, but our MEPs have been in talks to try and work out a new directive that will keep the European Parliament and UK residents happy.
All of these things affect us, whether we like it or not. When you go on holiday to Spain, you know your mobile bill will not be sky-high. You know the labels of the foods you buy there are subject to the same standards as in the UK, and that pesticides that aren't used in the UK, are also not used there. You know that your airfare home is the price quoted on the board at the travel agent's office, not that price plus a load of compulsory add-ons.
These, along with many other reasons, are why you should care who represents you in the European Parliament.
I live in what is deemed a Conservative stronghold. We have had a Tory MP here since 1924. I firmly believe that is because all of the people who support the Conservatives and want them to be in power go out and vote; and all the people who wish we didn't have a Conservative MP sit at home and think "there's no point in my voting; this place is a Conservative stronghold." If they all stood up at the same time and expressed their dissatisfaction at being represented by a Tory, they might just swing the vote in the favour of a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. As it is, they all sit at home and bemoan the status quo, and the status quo remains. In the last two elections, not one person from the block of flats I live in has voted.
To those who claim they don't vote because "they're all the same, it makes no difference," I say this: there is a difference between staying home and not voting, and using your vote to voice your discontent.
By staying home, you are saying to the government:
go ahead and do as you wish; make laws to govern my life, tax me as you see fit; I will do as you tell me and never complain. I am your willing servant.
By voting, you can say:
I disagree with your policies. I do not think you are fit to run this country. I want a change.We are very lucky to have the right to say this to our government in this country. We should consider it a privilege.
You don't have to vote for the Conservatives, Labour or Lib Dems. A lot of people are feeling disillusioned with all three main parties and are voting for other parties as a "protest vote." The problem with a protest vote is, if everyone has the same idea as you, that person may well be elected just because you didn't want the other guy to win.
If you have no faith in any of the candidates, that does not mean you shouldn't bother to vote. It means you should turn up to vote and write on your ballot, "I have no faith in any of these people to accurately represent my views." Or you can scribble on it, draw a funny face, whatever. By spoiling your ballot, you say:
I care who runs this country. I care that it should not be you.
The right to vote is so very important, and something that not everyone has. Not so long ago, women did not have the vote here. In Brunei, women are only allowed to vote in local elections; in Saudi Arabia, they are not allowed to vote at all. Black people were not guaranteed the right to vote in the United States until 1965. In South Africa, non-whites were not allowed to vote until 1993. Should I repeat that last one? In South Africa, non-whites could not vote until 1993. You have had the right to vote since you were 18. Bloody use it.
We have this amazing ability to stand up and say "I don't agree with what you are doing" and the powers that be have to listen. We have a coalition government in this country because in 2010, no one party won the election - and they had to listen to what the electorate had said.
At every election, when they read out how many votes each candidate received, they also read out the number of spoiled ballots. That number, that voice of dissent saying "I disagree with you" is counted and recorded and reported on. To me, that number is just as important as any other in an election. It shows the rising voice of discontent in this country. It shows government: you need to change what you are doing, because we are not happy.
There is a massive difference between not voting because you can't be bothered, and spoiling your vote because you do not support any of the candidates.
I am not telling you to spoil your ballot today; I am telling you that if it comes to a choice between not going to the polling station, and going but spoiling your ballot, then bloody well get down there and spoil your ballot. Make your voice heard.