May 7th is polling day, but I wonder if, when Big Ben chimes 10pm, and the last minute voters scramble to cast their votes, and the process of counting the votes takes place...we will actually have a result. When we wake up on Friday morning (if you are planning on staying up like me, it'll go on for a long time, although Sunderland fans can be pleased as their team will be near the beginning), will we still be waiting for a coalition of the next best agreement to be formed, or do we have several more weeks of negotiation, bickering and political ego? Will we indeed find ourselves with Nick Clegg with the deciding factor, but unable to compromise because of his red lines on the NHS promises, education spending and the EU? Will Nicola Sturgeon be the one who needs to negotiate, with Labour, who refuse to do a deal with the SNP? Will we see a UKIP surge, but in a close seat in Thanet will their leader fail to be elected?
For once, I agree with Ed Miliband. Voting matters.
In many countries, voting against the state is punishable by law. In may countries, a fair and free election does not exist. In the UK, nearly everyone can vote, therefore nearly everyone can affect the decisions that are made in Westminster.
In a previous job, I spent time working with young people, some who were engaged in politics and others who were not. The campaigns workshop I designed explored the role politics played on a daily basis to everyone and anyone. In one focus group, a campaign explored charging extra for condiment sachets in fast food chains. In another, local bus transport was discussed, particularly regularity and accessibility for disabled users in this particular area. We talked about how we could talk to people who could improve things and change things. We talked about who we would need to talk to, and how we would need to go about it.
Just the other day, I was in a newsagent, and overheard that the owners were potentially going to be evicted, because the landlord wanted to make room for a housing development, where they would get more money. As a local issue, this matters from a human perspective as well as a political issue. (I would add, I am sure there are arguments on both sides).
Politics is relevant. The difficulty is distancing ourselves from the tradition of the Westminster establishment, and the language of politics so far away from everyday life. It can appear an alien environment for the Oxbridge privileged who have studied at Eton. Sadly, looking at the outgoing cohort, it is easy to see why there is so much apathy towards the political establishment, like some extension to the club they were once part of at university. We need to move away from this image, to elect a new one, of diversity and representation of modern Britain. We need more young people involved in politics, more women, more people of ethnic origin and more disabled MPs. We need a house which isn't afraid to challenge some of the pageantry to engage with the public, but is respectful of the existing tradition which is admired by so many. Critically we need a house which understands the needs of the public.
Does politics ever make a difference? Following on from the prognosis that I wasn't deemed ill enough to meet the NHS criteria for my eating disorder, I complained to the mental health hospital, I complained to the Chief Exec, I followed up with the CCG, I found out it was NHS England, and complained to them, and decided whilst I was doing this to take up matters with my local MP. He raised this, and sped up my response from the various people I had been liaising with. In between time, I moved out of his constituency, and so another MP of a different party ended up taking on the caseload. I met with her, she raised it with another MP, and also wrote to the Department of Health. I made progress, but the greatest progress was with a meeting with Norman Lamb. Meeting with him added additional impact to an already full caseload, and with the media work I was doing, helped to push a significant announcement on eating disorder funding through earlier than it might otherwise have been. The announcement of £150m towards early intervention in eating disorder funding is badly needed and was an incredible success story.
I was told I wasn't sick enough to meet the criteria for my eating disorder. I used politics to change this picture. Yes there's still along way to go, but without campaigning on this there may not have been any funding. Use your vote wisely on Thursday, and if you do nothing else, make sure you vote.
This post is intended to be politically neutral and not biased towards any particular party.