On December 12, history will be made. Whichever party wins and whoever becomes prime minister, the result of the general election will help determine the future of the country – and the people who live in it.
Millions will brave the cold to go out and vote, determined to have their say. The most keen among them will stay up all night to hear the results, forgoing Christmas festivities to track every loss, victory and speech.
But for those disillusioned with the current system – or against it all together – election day will be very different.
In 2017, more than 14.5m people eligible and registered to vote did not back a political party or candidate on polling day.
That wasn’t an unusual figure: the last time turnout edged above 70% was in 1997. So chances are similar numbers of voices won’t be counted this time. But why?
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“I’m not voting in the election,” says Steph Bichener, a stay-at-home mum to her five kids. While she usually votes Labour, “none of the policies this time are for me”.
We are in Clacton-on-Sea, near the high street, and the 37-year-old says politicians have focused too much attention on Brexit at the expense of other issues.
While they have been battling each other in Westminster and on the campaign trail over the UK’s relationship with the EU, she has seen things in her community nearby “going to pot”.
“People are waiting 90 minutes for an ambulance and there’s no police on the street,” she tells HuffPost UK. “The whole Brexit thing has got us all in a big mess.”
Outside the post office down the road, 71-year-old Brian is insistent he won’t be voting on December 12, either.
“I’ve only voted twice in my entire life,” says the retired courier driver, who has lived in Clacton for the past 20 years. “Once when we joined Europe and once when we came out.”
He only voted in the EU referendum in 2016 because he was sick of Europe “telling us what to do”.
“When I was a little boy, Britain was great,” he says. “We were called Great Britain back then. We liberated them and now they just want to tell us what to do.”
But there’s nothing that’s going to tempt him to vote in the general election.
“I’m sick of all the lies. It’s just lies and sweet talk,” according to Brian. “90% of the population believe in it, but I don’t. Everything I’ve got, I’ve worked for.
“Why should I vote? Why should I bother?”
And as for his thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson?
The Labour leader “can’t be trusted”, says Brian. “His policies are good for you youngsters. But for the rest of us, there’s nothing.”
Meanwhile, he likes Johnson “for Europe”. “But all he wants to do is Brexit. He won’t care once he’s got that done. How can you have someone like that running the country for the next five years?”
Demi Barthelmy is 21 and works in a factory. This is the second general election in which she is eligible to vote, but she is unlikely to do so.
“I’ve never voted and I’m not going to vote this time either,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you vote or not – they [politicians] decide what they’re going to do or not.”
Her words are echoed by Andy B, a builder, who is 10 years her senior.
“I don’t vote,” he tells HuffPost UK. “I’ve never voted. I’m just not interested.
“Everyone in parliament is fighting against each other – no one’s fighting for the country.
“I didn’t vote in the referendum either – I don’t understand it, so I feel like I shouldn’t get involved.”
Almost 200 miles away in the town of Bulwell, there are voters who are equally disillusioned with their choice of leaders.
In the 2017 election, Nottingham North – the constituency the town sits in – had the lowest voter turnout in the east Midlands, with just 57.3% of registered voters heading to the polls.
“I’ve not even thought about who I’m going to vote for,” says Shirley Cooper, a manager at a local bakery. “To be honest, I don’t always vote.”
She explains: “A lot of the time it doesn’t really matter who is in – I don’t think the working class ever really benefit. There’s never a lot left after you’ve paid your bills and all that.”
Carl P – who is 28 – has stronger views, having never voted. “I don’t agree with politicians, it’s all bullshit,” he says, standing with a friend near one of the town’s many market stalls. “They all go back on their word.
“My mum used to vote Labour because they’re for the people – but none of them are really for the people. I just don’t agree with them.”
For others, choosing not to vote is more than a sign of their disenchantment with the political system – it’s an act of rebellion against it.
Sam, 27, has been a volunteer at Freedom Press, an anarchist bookshop in London’s Whitechapel, for the past three years.
He doesn’t want to talk about his own voting history – or lack thereof – but says that for many anarchists, “we won’t achieve our goals by engaging with the electoral system”.
Anarchism exists in opposition to liberal democracy and “everything it stands for”, he says.
“Liberal democracy won’t offer long-term change, so why engage? By going and voting, you’re engaging with it and giving it legitimacy,” he tells us.
Peter Ó Máille, a member of the Anarchist Federation, is planning to spoil his ballot on polling day.
“I would never willingly hand my agency and responsibility over to someone else,” the 34-year-old says. “Let alone a self-interested body composed of career politicians whose actions are dictated on what would win the vote rather than what would actually be the best for the people.
“What do I care about which parasitic body sits at the top for a few years? Whoever is in, the injustice of capitalism and the state will remain. Why should I seek to collaborate with such a system just for the chance of a longer leash, bigger cage and softer whip?”
For Peter, it’s key that he spoils his ballot, rather than avoiding the polling booth altogether.
“If you are registered and choose not to vote, I think it’s important that you make the effort to spoil the ballot,” he says. “It’s better optics than simply standing aside.”
But it’s not just anarchists set to demonstrate their refusal to back a party at the polls by spoiling their ballots.
In the 2017 general election, 0.2% of all ballots were rejected – the majority because they were unmarked or “wholly void for certainty”, according to the Electoral Commission.
This time around, filmmaker Paul Sng is also planning to spoil his ballot, branding the Westminster system “unrepresentative, undemocratic and unfit for purpose”.
“It’s a protest vote against the Westminster system and first past the post, which seems set up to return one of two parties to power,” says the 43-year-old, who describes the majority the SNP has in the Edinburgh constituency he lives in as “unassailable”.
But he admits that if he lived in a marginal seat “where there was a risk of the Tories winning”, he would “vote accordingly and try to stop that from happening”.
Another voter planning to spoil their ballot is 27-year-old PR specialist Gemma Flinders, who lives in Huntingdon, a Tory safe seat.
“I usually vote for something, but at this point it feels like I’m being made to choose the best of a bad situation,” she explains.
In the last election, Gemma voted for Labour – but says every party’s manifesto in this election is “a bunch of expensive false promises”.
“I was okay with Corbyn until he released the ridiculous promise of free broadband,” she says. “There are so many issues in the UK – child poverty, homelessness and knife crime.
“Why does he think giving the unnecessary luxury of free broadband to everyone – some of whom can barely afford heating and food – is a good idea?”
Gemma adds: “It seems like spoiling my ballot is the only way to ensure I don’t feel responsible for whatever overblown liar takes the seat at the head of the table.”