A Century After Women Won The Right To Vote, I Can't Bear To Vote In Another Election

I am a politically-engaged mum-of-three – a worker, an earner, a tax-payer, but who is representing my political interests and my values?
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I remember, at school, learning about the Suffragettes: a movement born and flourished down the road from my Manchester classroom. I was transfixed. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters became fascinations and inspirations of mine, just as with so many other women engaged in social change, politics and gender equality.

In my twenties, as political correspondent for one of the UK’s big regional newspapers, I often felt their legacy in the people and issues I encountered. And I recall an early work trip to Westminster where one of the city’s MPs showed me that infamous broom cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison holed up on the night of the 1911 census, allowing her, a woman, to record the Houses of Parliament as her address and in so doing furthering the fight for the vote, first taken by women 100 years ago this week.

As a citizen, I have always – and I do mean always – thought of those trailblazers as I walked to the ballot box to cast my vote in elections and referenda; feeling that, even more so than our male counterparts, it was absolutely a civic and personal duty to do so.

And, so it is, that my current dilemma sits uneasy with me. The simple truth is I cannot bear to vote in another general election.

As the stability of national politics has unravelled, along with the yarns that campaigners have spun us over the past three years and more, talk of a general election has crept in and out of the press as each self-appointed leader incumbent has got his or her mitts on the cranks of the party political machine.

Who would I vote for? I have asked myself, over and over. No, seriously, who? Who, today, is representing my political interests and my values?

Take the two main parties: on one side an ideology too unjust for me to abide. On the other: an ideology too unsubstantiated for me to buy into. Add to that the fact that I am a traditionally observant Jew who feels betrayed and uneasy – actually, I’ll go the whole hog, unsafe – in the hands of the leadership of the party to which my beliefs have always felt most aligned.

At last year’s local elections, disillusioned and p’d off, at one point I contemplated a protest vote, spoiling my ballot paper with a big old religious star in lieu of an X. Manchester is a one-party Labour state and I could think of no other way to let them know I was not on board (should they be bothered). I even hoped that some unfortunate series of events would derail my plans to get to the polling station so I didn’t have to make a decision that I felt would betray the women who went before me - a bit like when you have an exam looming and you contemplate whether you’d be happy to break a bone in your leg to get out of it.

This is absurd. I am a politically-engaged mum-of-three: a worker, an earner, a tax-payer. I am a part-time university lecturer - it is my job to keep future journalists ( who are also voters) engaged and inquisitive. And yet I am pinned between wanting to care about having my small say in the way our country is won and feeling that I’d be better off if I no longer cared at all.

Covering politics for a living did not help; more so, the few short months I spent hired as a media consultant on a political campaign after turning freelance. I have peered through the looking glass and it is ugly.

Covering the lives of wonderful people whose lives are more like the rest of us, as I frequently now do, afforded me the chance to reflect on how utterly ludicrous and self-serving our party political machine is: little space to hear the voices of the revolutionary and far too much noise made by those who are boastful and autocratic, or excitable followers of them. I know; what’s new?

I suppose my years close to the machine made me jaded: I would stop short of cynical as I do not believe my observations are clouded by it, merely informed.

Each time another headline hits: Labour MPs demand Jeremy Corbyn table immediate motion of no confidence in Theresa May, I think ‘Oh god, don’t do that, I’ll have to vote.’

I’m not alone. I have discussed it with family and friends and with Brexit’s every laboured breath they’re none the clearer. They’re not ignorant people. They read the news, some of them write it. Like me, they’re just stuck between i) voting for a party that doesn’t represent them but is one of only two that will win; ii) voting for an outsider who will never yield substantive policy influence or iii) (gasp) not voting at all. But what on earth would Mrs Pankhurst say?


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