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To vote or not to vote?

Concrete takes a look at the arguments on both sides of the debate on whether it is worth voting.

Yes – Emily Fedorowycz

Over the past few years, the lines between the political parties have become increasingly blurred, and for some this has been a source of discouragement when it comes to poll time. But don’t let it! Just because the politics scene isn’t quite as clear-cut as it used to be, doesn’t mean we should just shrug off the whole thing or vote for the first candidate that says something we agree with.

Your vote matters. We often take it for granted that we live in such a free and democratic society, but people have fought long and hard to get us here: some have even given their lives. To date, it’s not even been 100 years since women first won the right to vote, In the past century we’ve come a long way towards equality and each being able to have our say, so making the most of your vote is important, if not for you, but for every person who has fought to give you that right.

But don’t just do it for them. You should do it for you more than anyone! Politics affects everything in your life: your education; your work; your community; your roads; your justice system; your healthcare. Your vote today will change the way everything around you will develop in the next few years, and all of these things will impact your life in unimaginable ways, as well as those who will come after you. Your choice now will have a huge influence on the society the children of today will grow up in, and perhaps, someday, even your children. So when you vote for party policies that will make education better, vote because you have the power to make studying at UEA the best it’s ever been, now and for all the students that are to come.

Speaking of the ways in which politics will directly affect those at UEA (and in the Norwich area), voting also gives you say on who will be representing you locally, and knowing what they hope to do within your community can sometimes mean more than national party politics. The policies your local MPs propose can also give you a small-scale insight into the priorities of the party, whilst showing you which ideas you can really get behind to make your local area a better place to live.

However, when all’s said and done, nobody can make you vote; it only matters if you make it matter. But many people will agree that if you don’t vote, you can’t really complain. Sure every political party has their flaws, but the only way to see change in politics is to get involved. Even if you vote and your candidate isn’t elected, at least you can say you took a shot, and at least your one vote went towards trying to put someone sensible in power or get some good policies passed (and one less for the not-so-good parties, ensuring that some racist or homophobic totty doesn’t take over).

Yes, it might involve a little bit of research, or even having a quick glance through a few of the election leaflets before they go into the recycling bin, but it’s worth the effort now for the impact it will certainly have on you later. Plus, it’s never been easier to do the research in the first place. You have the great advantage of living in the age of technology, so this research is possible to do anywhere, anytime, on the go or from the comfort of your own home, so you don’t have to go out of your way to listen to party reps spiel on at a public event. There are also hundreds if not thousands of websites to help you collaborate all of this information, and quizzes to help you understand your own political views. (Try whoshouldyouvotefor.com)

And whether or not you’re one of the inordinate amount of people who are put off thinking that their vote won’t make a difference, know this: Your vote will make the difference. According to The Mirror’s statistics, in 2010 nearly 16 million people didn’t vote. That ended up being 5.2 million more than the winning party recieved. If even half of those 16 million had voted, they could have completely changed the 2010 elections and perhaps some of the issues we have today might have been very different. Plus, of all the years to vote, this year is looking to be “the closest election in living memory” according to the Telegraph, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that your vote is going to have an even bigger impact!

So vote for the people who gave you the right in the first place, vote for the things that you believe in, and change will happen.

No – Susannah Smith

To not vote in elections, especially to the progressive university student, is often seen as a grievous crime. Yet in the past abstaining from voting has been a powerful tool for showing public dissent; there is more to the choice to not vote than something Russell Brand said. If you feel that our current political system is broken then next election could be your chance to show it.

It is clear to anyone who looks closely that first past the post is broken. Any system where 49% of the votes are wasted cannot be fair or representative. I don’t have enough time to relate all the failures of first past the post, but if the electoral system used does not reflect accurately who the people voted for I would say that it is not doing its job. By continuing to vote and partake in elections we legitimise this system that isn’t representing us. It’s highly unfortunate that the referendum on introducing the alternative vote system closed down this debate but by not voting you can show your dissent.

Another failure of our voting system is the number of safe seats. 59% to be precise. Over half of the seats in the House of Commons will not change and so if you are living in a safe seat there is no point voting. If you agree with the prevailing party then your choice is secure and if you disagree your vote will be wasted. So you feel as if your vote doesn’t count. Once every five years you supposedly are able to change your country’s political landscape and you might as well not have wasted the ink.

Once every five years. But what about between elections? We are all part of a social contract where we agree to give the government day to day responsibilities of running the country in exchange for a vote that is most likely useless, once every five years. So what if you feel the election system used is unrepresentative or you feel government favours privileged Oxbridge graduates or that you aren’t listened to between your potentially pointless vote? What if you want to opt out of this social contract? You can’t. Not voting is the only way you can show your displeasure with the government’s side of the deal. Join a pressure group, go to a protest, but if you feel the contract isn’t working you can’t vote.

Though there is another option. By not voting you risk being lumped in with that group of lazy, disinterested folk who politicians demonise and dismiss. When you choose to abstain from voting you have no way to tell them why you didn’t vote. So go to the polling booth, make the effort and spoil your ballot. Spoiling your ballot counts, it says that you do care about politics but don’t want to vote for any of the candidates.

Yet should we have to spoil our ballot if we disagree with the small selection of candidates available to us? Some countries have ballots with a ‘none of the above’ option so that citizens can democratically express their dissatisfaction with the candidates. If enough people spoil their ballot or tick ‘none of the above’ then it illegitimates government and sends a clear message that the people didn’t vote for them.

So why do we need a ‘none of the above’ vote? Because the major political parties are all the same. What is the point in voting if you know that no matter which party gains power, the outcome will be virtually the same? Before the 2010 election Labour was planning on implementing 80% of the cuts the coalition brought in since. So even if the election system was representative, even if you are in one of the few swing seats, if you don’t want to spoil your ballot and haven’t got a ‘none of the above’ option, then your vote still makes very little difference.

However, don’t choose not to vote because you don’t care about politics, or because you don’t know what each party stands for. Most of all don’t choose not to vote because you can’t be bothered. Once every five years we are asking you to have a peek in a newspaper, switch on your television or to just be on the internet for a while, and if then you still don’t want to vote, that’s okay. Make an informed choice and make sure to show your disillusionment because sometimes disengaging with politics can be just as powerful as engaging in it.

01/05/2015

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emilyfedorowycz



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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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