Today, most British adults get to exercise a remarkable privilege. We have the right to walk to a polling station near our home, and cast a vote for our representative in Parliament. Together these votes have the power to change governments and therefore lives. We will not be threatened when we do this, we will not be harassed or intimidated, we will not be prevented because we are the wrong gender or because we do not own land. This right puts us in a tiny minority of people throughout human history and, indeed, the history of our country. Even in the 21st century there are some 70 countries in the world which are not democracies, and many more which are democratic in name only.
And, as everyone learns at school, with rights come responsibilities. In this case, it is the serious responsibility to go out and cast that vote. People have died for this right, have been tortured or raped for trying to exercise it, and many more are spending their lives fighting for it still. It is an insult to each and every one of those individuals if we take a decision not to vote because we can’t be bothered, or we’re not interested in politics, or we don’t think it will make a difference. Of course it makes a difference.
The system of first past the post has been criticised for effectively disenfranchising voters who live in a safe seat. This demonstrably is not always the case, as even safe seats can change if enough people will that change and vote for it. Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency of Finchley was once one of the safest of safe Tory seats, and today is a Labour-Conservative marginal. Seats in Glasgow which until recently seemed as if they would be Labour forever are very likely to be claimed by the SNP today. And even if your vote doesn’t have the power to change your MP, it is still counted. All the votes cast for every party are added up and, especially in what is almost certain to be a hung Parliament, the number of votes cast for different parties may well help in adding legitimacy to a Coalition, albeit unofficially. If you choose to vote for a smaller party, that will still be noted, and the major parties will factor these votes into developing their future policies. A surge in Green votes, even if not Green MPs, will indicate to the Labour and Conservative leadership that environmental issues should be taken seriously because voters around the country are taking them seriously. We have seen how an increase simply in the number of predicted votes for UKIP has influenced policies on Europe and immigration.
And don’t fall for the spurious argument that all the parties are the same. There may be areas of centre ground on which there is consensus, but in my constituency alone we have candidates from parties as diverse as the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and the UK Independence Party. You may not agree with either of their manifestos – I certainly don’t – but they could not be accused of being particularly similar to each other.
I don’t care how you cast your vote. Well, no, that’s not strictly true. I would much rather you cast your vote for a progressive party who believe that taxes on the wealthier should be used to protect the vulnerable, promote equality and create a fairer society for everyone, and that Britain is strongest when it is open to the world rather than closed to it. But, even if you believe the exact opposite, go and make those feelings clear at the ballot box today. I hear people say that they’re not interested in politics. I don’t believe them. I’m sure many people are bored by the minutiae of party political debate, but I have yet to meet someone who isn’t interested in the NHS, or education, or the taxes they pay, or their energy costs, or unemployment, or housing, or social services or pensions, or in at least one of the issues which deeply affect our day-to-day lives and our children’s futures, the decisions on which are made by elected politicians. The very same people that you have the right, and the responsibility, to elect today. Happy polling!