Why I still think you should vote

The general election is rapidly approaching and yet again the news is full of depressing vox pops with people who seem to think they’re somehow gaming the system by not voting, people who think they’re being big and clever by not exercising their democratic rights. I’m here to tell you you’re not big and you’re not clever if you don’t vote.

A quick Google throws up some interesting market research by Survation on behalf of  Lodestone Communications. The biggest reasons for voter apathy are:

  • don’t believe vote will make any difference;
  • parties are all the same;
  • not interested in politics;
  • not enough information to make an opinion;
  • my views aren’t represented by any party.

These are a completely unsurprising set of reasons and each of them is really flawed if you only spend a couple of minutes thinking about it:

don’t believe vote will make any difference

Really? I can’t quite bring myself to answer this one earnestly because I’m afraid it’ll come across as patronising. Instead please watch this biting piece of political satire:

parties are all the same

It’s no secret that Labour have been moving more and more to the centre over the past few years but branding them all the same is more than a little facile. Yes, politicians as a breed are generally quite similar and fit into several different categories- the Eton boys who’s want to run the world for each other, the career politicians who aren’t particularly interested in anything other than their career in politics and the backbenchers who, if they’re Tory have a weird obsession with Europe, or if they’re Labour probably spend half the day publicly eating bacon sandwiches to show it can be done but generally care about their local constituents and work hard.

There are some pretty fundamental differences between parties at a basic level though. As I wrote in my God vs Politics post, if international charities and the Church of England are taking the unprecedented step of criticising social welfare policy, then there is definitely something different between the two main parties. The problem really lies in the vicious circle of news reporting and press releases written for news reporting. We now live in a society where if it can’t be said in a catchy soundbite, it’s not said or reported, which means plenty of political difference just isn’t reported.

not interested in politics

I’ve never understood this one. Not interested in politics? Tax levels and VAT rates affect everyone on a daily basis. Who decides them? What’s taught to our kids in schools, the schools admission process and cost of further education, all decided on by politicians. Grumbling about your bins not being collected every week? At some fundamental level that’s down to politics too.

not enough information to make an opinion

Find it then. Stop being so lazy and expecting everything on a plate for you. There are plenty of free resources to read at your leisure online that can educate you. Get off your apathetic backside.

my views aren’t represented by any party

That’s probably because the country isn’t run for the sole benefit of you. Sorry if that sounds harsh but nobody can be all things to all men. What you have to do is act like a grown up and weigh up the pros and cons of each party and it’s policies, and then take a big breath and consider whether any of their election pledges will be ditched if they get in to power (Lib Dems, we’re looking at you here). Once you’ve done that, you should vote for either the party you most agree with or against the party you disagree with the most. Just vote. Please.

Voters are important. Incredibly important. How important? Well for example the government has just spent £300m to make the lives of pensioners better by issuing Pensioner Bonds- a way for the well off elderly to get a good return on their savings that the market can’t/won’t provide. (£300m is the estimated cost to the government of running the scheme). Any demographic analysis of Tory voters shows that their largest group of supporters by some distance are the over 65’s. Voters are so important the government have just spent £300m to remind their core voters that they still need their support. Make no bones about it, Pensioner Bonds are completely against the free market ideology of the Tory party.

Is it a coincidence that the age group that votes the most gets the most?

Haven’t quite got this parenting sussed at the moment

I’m very busy at work at the moment. That’s to be expected in the world of accountancy at this time of year- lots of December year ends to deal with and all that jazz- but I’m finding it hard going at the weekends too at the moment. Whether it’s the pressure at work or something else, I’m finding the constant intrusions and demands from the kids very irritating. Even I as I write this, I can hear a voice hollering for me from 4 rooms away, demanding my attention. This is no different to usual of course and for the most part it’s normally water off a duck’s back- I just turn on the inbuilt filters and ignore it. Currently though, I feel excessively tired and more than a bit grumpy when the kids kick off.

And this starts at around 6am, through until 9pm.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time the kids play happily by themselves but as soon as the phone rings or I try to talk to wifey, as if by magic a child appears to make it almost impossible to have a grown up conversation. The only time they need adult interaction is when they perceive the adult is doing something important. It’s uncanny.

It’s not just their presence during adult conversational moments that is wearing, it’s the incessant repetition. “Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit? Can I have a biscuit?” until you just wish every biscuit factory in these fair isles suffered a catastrophic failure three months ago and there was now nothing named “biscuit” available in this country. The kids have even learnt to speak on the intake of breath so there is literally no pause in the relentless barrage of repetitive demands.

Last night we finally managed to get them all gone at 8:40pm. You know what? I’d turned the lights off and was asleep by 9 o’clock as I’d just thoroughly had enough.

I thought I’d conduct an experiment today. We’re having a roast for Sunday lunch and I thought I’d see how many interruptions could happen in the 5 minutes it takes to peel the potatoes. You can see for yourself in this video (boring bits sped up X4, don’t worry, you don’t have to watch me peeling spuds in real time):

That’s not too bad- only 3 interruptions and only one leave the kitchen moment at that, in the five minutes it took to peel the spuds. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man now I’ve turned 40…

God versus the Government

I’m kneeling on the floor
Staring at the wall
Like the spider in the window
I wish that I could speak
Is there fantasy in refuge?
God in politicians?
Should I turn on my religion?
These demons in my head tell me to

Dream Theater, Voices, 1994

The question is there God in politicians? is one that often troubles me. Many politicians of all political bent can and do wave the God bothering flag when spin doctors tell them the opinion polls show they should.

Oxfam has shown that charities have to tread carefully on speaking out against social hardship lest they are deemed to be meddling in politics, which is verboten for charities. Ironically Oxfam had a strong religious (Quaker) influence when it was founded, and it is perhaps this sense of moral responsibility that drove it to take out it’s perfect storm posters in the first place, laying poverty squarely at the door of Government policy.

The sad thing is, if we were to look back at the great reformers in our parliamentary history, Conservative (with a big and little “c”), Liberal and Labour alike, there is a strong theme of Christian belief behind almost all of the progressives, from William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, who’s work lead to the abolishment of slavery, through to Lloyd George (the Chancellor behind the People’s Budget of 1909, which paved the way for the modern welfare state), who had a strong nonconformist upbringing which coloured his views on the rights of the underclasses. Yes, some of the politicians that did such great reforming work may have had some decidedly odd views on other things we’d now consider rather unchristian but by and large things like the Temperance movement, the Rational Recreation movement (which gave us a lot of privately funded public parks), simply wouldn’t have happened without the religious conviction of the individuals involved.

So it’s in this context that the Bishop’s of the Church of England have written an open letter entitled Who is my Neighbour? to every parishioner under their care about the state of British politics, with some very strong wording about government policy like;

“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed.”

This has been rightly construed by many commentators as an attack, similar to Oxfam’s, on a culture of demonising the poor and unemployed, who have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, in policy that has long ceased to be about balancing the books and moved onto ideology.

Yes it is easy to pick paragraphs out of the 52 page letter (it’s a big colourful document; all that’s missing is “Don’t Panic” in friendly letters on the cover), and it does specifically says, “If anyone claims that this letter is really saying vote for this party or that party, they have misunderstood”, early on but given the context- this is the first such letter that the Council of Bishop’s have ever written preceding a General Election, given that Archbishop Welby has spoken out about pay day lenders, tax evasion and has said he was left more shocked by the plight of UK’s hungry poor than by suffering in African refugee camps, there is little lee-way to see anything other than a repudiation of the Westminster incumbents policies. After all as a friend of mine (married to a Vicar) recently said, “Human dignity, common decency and compassion are not politics. Certainly not the politics of Westminster, and certainly not Tory politics.” he also went on to say, “Labour is hardly the party of a march from Jarrow is it?” which is just as telling, showing that the swing to the centre right from Labour has left a lot of people politically disenfranchised as well as marginalised by society.

God has been exorcised from politics and replaced with a new master. There has been a suspicion that I amongst others have held for a while now over just who the recovery is actually for. Again, Oxfam has pointed out that globally the number of billionaires has doubled since the financial crisis, while the man on the Clapham Omnibus has struggled on. You can even see it in HMRC- they have considerably less resources focused on investigating big corporate tax evasion than they do on ensuring 30 somethings from Margate get custodial sentences for over-claiming benefits. When you have regular celebration of new jobs by the Government that are either zero hour contracts or below the living wage, where you have more children from working families living in poverty than at any time on record, you have to wonder whether big business now runs the country in all by name.

Of course the unspoken irony is the very votes the Conversatives are wooing with a massive shift of wealth from the young to the old are those that predominately fill the Church pews on a Sunday. Therein lies the problem- Conservative and UKippers are mostly elderly, both parties have the lion’s share of their votes in the >65 category. The Pensioners Bond’s that The Prince of Darkness has thrown to the elderly show how important their votes are to him yet for the most part these people will be receiving their copy of Who is my Neighbour? soon and they will have to face up to a real choice: vote for personal interest or vote as their Christian upbringing and moral compass tells them to.

Good luck to them; it’s a decision I wouldn’t like to have to make in their position.