Stand up and be counted

P1000360_2So, Thursday is nearly here, and there’s one thing you really need to do on Thursday – and that’s vote! However you feel about politicians and politics, I can’t subscribe to the Russell Brand point of view that urges us not to vote.

Please don’t think your vote doesn’t count. It does for sure – someone in a community building somewhere will count it! Admittedly it is pretty exciting voting in a constituency with a majority of only 165! But however big the majority in your constituency, when the returning officer reads out the number of votes cast, yours will be included in the count. With the election being so unpredictable, who knows how everyone else will vote. I think we could see some seats changing hands unexpectedly. A vote for a small party adds weight to the argument that some kind of proportional representation better reflects the votes cast. And while we’re stuck with first passed the post yet likely to return a hung parliament, proportion of votes cast may well play a part in establishing which party has the legitimacy to form a minority government.

The right to vote has been hard won, especially for women, but also for anyone who is not part of the landed gentry. There are places round the world where the right to vote has yet to be won, or where it is meaningless due to lack of opposition or corrupt election processes. In the last election, more people did not vote at all than voted for any one particular party. What a difference all those votes could have made!

But voting is only the start of the democratic process. Democracy is not just about free and fair elections every five year. Democracy is about power, about power not residing with the governing elite, but with the people. On Thursday, we have power in our hands, because we are calling the last government to account. Do we believe they have done right by us? Or have they let us down? And do we believe that others who would stand in their stead would do it better?

And it doesn’t end there. We need to continue to hold our politicians and our government to account. To hold them to the promises they have made, to expect them to create a society where all can flourish and none is left behind. To do this, we need to pay attention to what is going on, to inform ourselves, to recognise what is happening to our communities, but also what is happening in communities that are different to our own. Which means we need information – good, accurate, unbiased information. Which makes a free press vital to democracy, and makes it essential that organisations and charities working on the ground have the freedom to speak out. It also means that we need to be able to hold the media to account if they hid the truth or fail to expose it.

Suddenly I’m feeling a heavy burden of responsibility! Who knew how much it takes to be a good citizen? Can’t wait to take that first, easy step on Thursday and put my X in a box.

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