You have pulled into a polling station carpark. You’ve walked inside, volunteered your address and confirmed your name. You have been handed two slips of paper, been advised that one is for local elections, whilst the other is for the general election. You have approached a booth, scanned the list of candidates and deliberated your options. After you have selected/defaced your entry, you swagger up to the ballot box and post your vote. You strut out of the polling station, high on the sense of influence you posses, all the while sharing with the world the fact that #IVoted. Job done. Lord it over those who can’t quire be bothered to toil as you have today. You are a hero!
Except, you’re not. And I, certainly am not. To quote Russell Brand, politics isn’t something to be involved in once every five years, democracy is for every day; the election is the beginning, not the end. Which is why I am pledging – no, too much commitment – why I intend to undertake a more active role within my community. The vote I have placed today is not for David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg after all, it’s for my local Member of Parliament; for the conditions my neighbours, family and friends will experience over the coming five years. I should therefore make an actual contribution to those conditions, rather than delegating that responsibility solely to the MP/councillor of my choosing, who based on prior experience, can/will do very little to alter our circumstances.
This sudden thrust was brought about today by the realisation that I can, but opt against, supporting and contributing to those around me. Although I think I’ve kept abreast of the various commentary and rhetoric flying around about the general election: the latest polls, potential alliances between parties and countless other soap-operatic aspects, I am truly disgusted that I hadn’t the faintest clue of enormous social warfare happening on my own doorstep, here in Manchester. The Central Library opposite St. Peter’s Square, described upon opening by King George V as providing ‘inhabitants of the city magnificent opportunities and pleasant use of leisure’, is currently the setting of an anti-austerity demonstration and has been since 15th April. Brilliant. However, the library is now declining entry and the use of facilities to homeless people part of this demonstration; the very people most harshly impacted by austerity, those most entitled to protest against the conditions they are exposed to, and those whose population has increased by almost a third over the last five years. Unable to access public facilities, including the privilege of a toilet, people at the scene are left branded as ‘second-class citizens’ and ‘members of the underclass;’ this is happening HERE and NOW, and more alarmingly, there is no mark you can place on today’s ballot paper that will alter this.
Whilst there has been an emphasis on encouraging the youth vote, with extensive measures such as blocking access to The Big Bang Theory and Charmed (thanks a lot E4!), Twitter campaigns such as #generationvote, and projecting Brand as the beacon of the young, and although it is encouraging that such factors seem to have had an impact, is it really enough? Should we be commending ourselves for the manner in which we diligently ‘x’ed that box? It is the youth I aim this article at; those with perhaps the most apathy towards politics, who had their tuition fees trebled, those fluent in social media and the influence we can have from behind our iPhones. Yet those, including myself, so preoccupied with the drama of a televised debate, so enthused by a catchy hashtag and so impressed with our box-ticking capabilities, that the issues idly discussed on our TV screens and on our news feeds is bypassing us in the street.