Vote for a vote

Opening the gates of power to Downing Street. Photo: Tim Crook

Today’s General Election promises to be one of the closest in recent history. Polls across the UK opened at 7 am and will close at 10 pm tonight. In many of our boroughs there are also local council and mayoral elections. Turnout is expected to be high this year, reversing recent electoral trends. This suggests there is an engagement with political issues and the potential outcome of this election.

The television debates have galvanised interest among many younger and previously disaffected voters. The prospect of a hung Parliament offers a chance for real electoral change. There are campaigns for introducing new voting systems in which the single voter can count for a lot more. Even if one party gains an absolute majority on Friday it would seem that the appetite for democratic change among the electorate has been growing. Reform will be on the agenda whoever takes power.

As James Graham from the Campaign to Unlock Democracy says:

“It’s probably the best opportunity, in terms of driving the case for electoral reform, that we’ve had in a generation.”

The current first past the post system can lead voters to feel apathetic, with their votes counting for little in some constituencies.  Incumbent MPs with falling majorities retain power despite failing to get a majority of votes. In local and European elections a proportional system offers smaller parties such as the Greens the opportunity for representation and it has been argued that when elected they are given a clear mandate from voters who have specifically chosen them in a voting process that carries greater meaning. As Matt Sellwood of the Green Party points out:

“People want to be able to vote for the party they want to win.”

There are many types of proportional representation, some considered better and fairer than others. But whatever may come to pass, there is a political consensus that it is important for those currently disengaged to be encouraged to participate in democratic voting. It is argued that democratic culture and ritual needs to be renewed by the enthusiasm of young and first time voters choosing who represents them in Parliaments, assemblies and council chambers.

The Barack Obama US presidential campaign of 2008 showed how social media can be a powerful tool in doing this, while events in Iran, Ukraine and now Greece show how young people can use these new tools of immediate and interactive communication media to protest. However, it is not just about getting people out on the street, it is important that we vote. This is the emphatic view of James Graham of Unlock Democracy:

“The challenge is taking people’s enthusiasm and turning it into votes rather than facebook groups. “

The decision to vote is an exercise of our democratic right, and whatever decision is taken it is almost certainly right. James Graham’s political mantra is:

“participation is the key.”

The palpable enthusiasm for electoral change must continue beyond the election.  It is an opportunity that cannot be missed. By voting we show our desire for a more democratic process.

James Graham on the prospects for electoral reform

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