As the UK prepares to go to the polls this week for local and European elections, Grazia magazine reported that a survey found 59% of 18 to 21 year olds don’t intend to exercise their democratic right to vote. Part of the reason given was the age group’s transient existence leading to a failure in them registering to vote in the relevant constituency, and also not applying for a postal vote or appointing a proxy. I think it’s generous to attribute lack of voter turnout within this age group to laziness, as my perception would be that it’s more likely to be apathy, a feeling of learned helplessness, or lack of education on the importance of voting. As I’m not a Member of Parliament, I can’t do much about the learned helplessness, and I also can’t force people to care, but I can try and point a few things out.
The thing which excited me most about turning 18 was gaining voting rights, even though I’ve lived most of my life in stronghold constituencies (albeit of different Parties). Like many teenagers, it took me a while to warm up to the concept of politics – I thought it was just boring old men debating tedious issues, rather than what it actually is. I had no idea that, without the Conservative government which was in power when I was born, the UK wouldn’t have started paying VAT (sales tax) when it did, and that it certainly wouldn’t have risen to the rate we pay at now (VAT is a huge personal bugbear at the moment, but that’s a post for another day). Predictably, other issues which concerned me as I got older were the rates of tax paid on items such as alcohol and petrol, as well as the cost of road tax and insurance premiums.
Of course, the list of decisions made on our behalf by politicians is endless, there isn’t a single person who isn’t impacted by politics, and the breadth of impact is the reason that each and every one of us have a duty to ourselves, never mind our fellow citizens and future generations to care. In addition, there are still states which aren’t governed democratically, or only operate partially democratic systems. Women over the age of 30 gained the right to vote in the UK in 1928, with the current policy of gaining rights to vote at the age of 18 – whether you’re male or female – being implemented in 1969. Less than a century ago, women in the UK died for the right to vote, ultimately securing the future not just for themselves, but for those of us who were still to come. Which is why, for me, what matters is that citizens exercise their right to vote, even if they don’t share my political stance in terms of Party supported.
The UK goes to the polls later this week, and there will be a General Election no later than this time next year. This year, Local and European seats are being contested: some people see these as less important than General Elections (as an example of EU legislation which has an impact on at least half of us, VAT is charged on tampons, sanitary towels and other related items at the behest of the EU – something women have little choice but to pay for, something men don’t need, yet it’s a product which we pay tax on), and some people would rather pay to pick up the phone and vote in a TV talent contest than take a few minutes to register in advance then visit their local polling station and put a cross in a box.
If you don’t think you have the time, or the need to vote, please consider those who have put their lives on the line, and those in other countries who continue to do so. We are the lucky ones: we have a say, and it is our responsibility to use it.
For more information on voting in the UK, visit About My Vote – this gives details on how to make sure you’re registered in time for GE2015 (those who live abroad – even if you were born abroad – are now entitled to vote for 20 years after leaving the UK, and can do so via post or by appointing a proxy).