Russell Brand has been castigated for his refusal to vote although he is adamant that his decision is certainly not the result of political apathy. As the election looms I have to ask myself why I have chosen not to 'bother' either. I am not alone, apparently 7 million in the UK are not registered to vote, and millions of others, like myself, will abstain on election day.
I studied International History and Comparative Politics at the LSE, I even considered doing a PhD under the guidance of Dr Chun Lin, lecturer at the Government department, so it seems somewhat ironic that I have never harboured the desire to vote, despite a sustained and continued interest in domestic and global politics.
Politics features in my poems and art. Everything that I do and the way that I think is subconsciously a political act. Yet I am more inclined to make a political painting such as my Bosnian War series than to actually vote.
Bosnian War Part 1 (oil on canvas, 16x14, 2013)
It's quite simple, I don't relate or identify with any of the current crop of candidates. Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband's recent interview with Russell Brand did make me warm to him a little. His decision to adopt Brand's 'accent' and interpolating the occasional 'ain't' in his sentences was slightly vexing, but who couldn't be impressed by his passion, enthusiasm, his belief in the power of government and politics to instigate change.
Of course I want a decent NHS, good schools, fairly priced housing, less inequity, better infrastructure and one rule for all; this is what I've been hankering after for decades, but we are not any closer to achieving this. The super rich are richer than ever after the financial crisis while those at the bottom continue to languish and do you really think that the government, or any government, will or can possibly change a status quo that has become entrenched?
David Cameron, our current PM, I can't identify with him on any level, I tweeted his deputy Nick Clegg (so called champion of mental health) about my book, Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too and he didn't reply, while Ed seems a well-intentioned, sincere enough bloke. Out of the bunch I'd settle for him, but is that really good enough, to settle for someone as PM because no one else is credible?
There's the political joke that is UKiP and Nick Farage who blames the immigrants for everything, does that include my Bangladeshi parents who've worked all their life, paid taxes and never sponged or milked the system? As for SNP's Nicola Sturgeon, she's formidable, she says she wants real change, her manifesto is impressive, but I remain cautious. The SNP is new political territory and I observe, tentatively, from the sidelines.
My reluctance to vote probably took root very young. When I was old enough to understand the concept of 'government' Margaret Thatcher was in power for eons and this was my political landscape. Her hair never moved, when she spoke in those affected, deep tones she commanded your undivided attention, members of her government were compliant, unfeeling robots without a shred of spontaneity and she seemed unbreakable. The ITV programme Spitting Image parodied the politicians. Comedians like Ben Elton had a field day and politics was ruthless and cutthroat. When Thatcher was ousted and John Major became PM, the political landscape became dull and grey. Politics was a profound turn off. When I turned 18 I contemplated voting for the first time because I couldn't stand to see the Tories re-elected again, I was sick of them. I'd seen my family suffer and profit under them, albeit indirectly. The exorbitant rise in interest rates almost crushed us with the crippling effect on mortgage and loan repayments, while simultaneously the hike in house prices enabled my parents to step up the property ladder. When John Smith died and Tony Blair was elected the new leader of Labour, he was charismatic, he looked the part, he didn't need my vote because it was a foregone conclusion the Tories were on their way out.
I remember the optimism after that landslide victory, the excitement that there was a shift in the political landscape that would be long lasting, but all the good that Labour did was eclipsed by the Iraq war further cementing my disillusionment with politics. I participated in that protest along with 1000s of others, but did it make any difference - not a jot. It comes as little surprise to me that a minority, including bright school kids, across Britain are surreptitiously sneaking off to join the ranks of IS rather than build a life in a country where they feel they don't count, their views don't matter and they are invisible.
When I met the late Tony Banks MP in 2002 after he came to my book launch at the House of Lords, he very quickly took me under his wing. We struck an unlikely friendship and he would talk more about football and pigeons than politics. I have met a steady stream of politicians, too long to list here, including even Gordon Brown when he was PM, but the one thing they all had in common, with the exception of Tony Banks, was that I was unable to have a basic conversation about the issues that mattered. If politicians can't engage with the 'little man' on the street, unless the cameras are rolling, they don't deserve my vote.
My parents have always voted Labour and so it was a given that I would vote Labour too, inside I prefer the politics of the left to those of the right, but it is the political system that leaves me cold.
There are many countries where politics is not transparent, there is no structure of accountability, there is no vote and political dynasties hold onto the reigns of power for decades sucking their countries and people dry. Shame on me then for not exercising my fundamental right. However, UK politics is still not that representative, it remains an elite club for a privileged few whose lives in politics have been preordained and even those who get a shot and enter the system eventually mutate into the politician that is often bland, self-serving and turgid.
Admittedly Nicola Sturgeon seems different, forceful, powerful and she's a woman, perhaps she will be the equivalent of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Will the prospect of Sturgeon's presence on the political stage compel me to exercise my right to vote? I very much doubt it since I still don't relate to her that much.
Russell Brand might be a controversial figure, but he makes politics interesting and injects it with a spark with his talk of anarchy. And there's definitely something of the anarchist within me, but I am not sure I would vote for him either if he was running for PM.
What would compel me to vote?
The right person
Someone I respect
Someone I think could make a tangible difference
To the ordinary man on the street
And the little person like me
Who is a bit leftfield and doesn't quite fit
In this weird world of ours.
Author of Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, Q.S.Lam
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