Sunday, 21 May 2017

Can vote but don't? Shame on you.


Don’t tell me that voting doesn’t make a difference. Remain would have won last year’s referendum if those who could vote but didn’t had voted. 

Around 13 million people registered to vote in the EU referendum didn’t vote. But polls indicate that a large majority of them would have voted for Remain. Why didn’t they? 

What’s more, about 7 million people entitled to register to vote didn’t do so. That makes a total of around 20 million people who could vote but didn’t, not just in last year’s referendum, but in the last general election too. 

Those missing voters represent a huge dent in our democracy. If they all voted for the same party, that party would win the biggest landslide in history.

The deadline to register to vote in the forthcoming General Election is midnight on Monday 22 May.In England, Wales and Scotland it can be done online and takes less than five minutes: gov.uk/register-to-vote.  If you’re not yet registered to vote, please do so now without delay.

Why bother? I will tell you why.

The late and great Labour politician, Tony Benn, once succinctly defined democracy as: 'The right of the people to get rid of their government.' That’s a right all of us who live in democracies should cherish. 

Governments have power to completely control our lives, and whether we thrive or fail. That power needs to be balanced by that of the people, so that in unison, the people can vote out their government if that is their wish.   

In countries where there is no vote, dictatorship governments can rule for decades, with no opportunity for the people to get rid of them. 

Instead of the ballot, the peoples’ only chance is to resort to the bullet, at huge personal risk, with no guarantee of success, and mostly with the greatest chance that they will fail and be mercilessly crushed.   

Heaven help any citizen of a country who is powerless against a despotic, non-democratic government, with no means of redress. How much those people envy our right to sack a government with the simple, easy use of a vote.

Here we have a better life than most others on the planet because, and only because, of our right to vote. Without the power to choose or discard our governments, we would not have any of the freedoms and the better lives we have won through the ballot box. 

Yet, we cannot take those rights for granted. A government can easily take them away if we’re not on guard.

All democratic governments know that we, the people, have the opportunity to kick them out of office every few years. Without that, governments would never leave, their power would never end, and governments would be run only for the benefit of rulers, and not for us. 

The fewer people who vote, the more governments know they have more control over us to do as they want and not as we want. The message of the non-voter to them is: ‘We don’t care; do as you please; you choose how you want to run my life.’ 

When people don’t vote, who can vote, governments know they have fewer eyes watching them. They realise they can get away with passing laws that many voters will not protest or care about or even bother to find out about.  

In the 2015 general election, only around 40% of 18-24-year-olds voted, compared with almost 80%   of those aged 65 and over. Groups of people with low voting turnouts are of less interest to political parties seeking to be our government.  

David Cowling, a political opinion polling specialist at King's College London, said recently that this is a no-brainer.
“Why spend time chasing non-voters rather than concentrating all your energy and effort on those who do vote?" 
If young people voted like old people, and around 80% of 18-24-year-olds had voted in the 2015 general election, that would have equated to around two million extra votes. 
"If two million more 18-24-year-olds voted in elections do we really think that issues like housing, low pay, insecure jobs and student fees would not immediately move up the political agenda?" asked Mr Cowling.
The fewer people who vote, the less chance we have of getting the governments we want. With low turnouts, governments are less accountable to the majority. The more who vote, the more that governments represent us all, and respect that it's the people to whom they are beholden.

But there’s more. The right to vote was hard won, and took many centuries. 

Those who can vote, but don’t, are lazily riding on the backs of those who fought hard for our right to vote, and to have a say in who governs us and the lives we will lead.

Those who can vote, but don’t, dishonour those who lost blood to give us the ballot. The power of persuasion, the participation in democracy, the right to vote, seem to mean little or nothing to them.  

Maybe our nation's 20 million voluntary non-voters would be convinced of the beauty and brilliance of the ballot if they had to live in a country where people don't vote because they can't vote; where the brute force of unelected rulers control and subjugate them.  

But then, it'd be too late, wouldn't it?  

Please don’t reduce the power of democracy by not taking part in it. Democracy is not perfect, but it’s the best form of government we know. It gives the population the right to choose who rules.   

Governments need to know that we are their masters, and that can only come through the ballot.  And those who don’t yet have democracy need to know that we cherish it, that it’s worth fighting for, and that it’s a right we never, ever want to lose.

Please register to vote. And then, please vote. 
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