S&C Contributing Editor Christine Lawrence reflects on the General Election many people – including her – didn’t want, but nonetheless accept as a legacy of the struggle for democratic rights in this country.
I hate elections. They intrude into my life and make me feel uneasy. I don’t like all the shouting and arguments – it reminds me of my childhood when I would hide if people around me got angry with each other. But there we were again, another election came along a few weeks ago and it seemed at first that it was pointless because everyone was saying that the Tories would get in again. My heart sank at the thought of having to listen to smug and desperate MPs venting and slagging off each other for another month – and to seeing the press and TV companies with their biased views trying to tell us who to vote for. Not to mention all the vitriol which would appear on social media.
I shut the door in the face of the local candidates, refusing to enter into conversation with anyone, whatever party they were from. I knew who I would vote for and it was no one’s business but mine. I confess openly that I still run away and hide whenever there’s the possibility of an argument.
However, I am passionate about having the right to vote. My own mother is 89 years old and that is exactly how long women in this country have had the right to vote on the same terms as working men at the age of 21. Before that, they were only allowed to vote if they were over 30 and owned property. It seems scandalous today to think that women were treated as though they had no voice such a short time ago. We have come a long way since then. (Even working men didn’t have the vote at 21 until 1918, after World War I ended. Suffrage was not only for women and many men also suffered in their fight for the right to vote.)
But even in my own lifetime, rights for women have changed. When I was a young woman and separated from my first husband, I tried to purchase myself a TV for my now single home. I was told that I could not take out hire purchase (a way of paying for new items in monthly installments) without my husband’s signature. The only way I could get over this was to get my brother to take on the payments in his name.
But back to the election. I heard many people saying that they weren’t going vote – they didn’t see the point because they thought that nothing would change, that no party ever keeps their promises, or it was useless because however they voted, their choice wouldn’t get in because the odds were so against their party. There is a bit of truth in all of this. But things can’t change if we don’t fight for them. We didn’t get the vote without fighting for it so it seems deeply wrong not to use what is our right. So, even though I run and hide from a fight, I did vote.
Each party that gets in knows that a lot of what they’ve promised would be too difficult to change in one term of parliament. Even if they really wanted to and really believed that they could keep their promises, it is never going to be easy. And the choice of party that you want to get in will not get in if not enough of us vote. There’s no point in us having a voice if we don’t use it.
It’s a few weeks after the elections now and I am heartened that so many people seem to be realising the power of having the vote. Whatever the spin politicians put on it now, that it was the ‘student’ vote in Portsmouth South that gave Labour the win, for example, or whatever other reasons they use to excuse the outcome of the vote, nothing would have changed if we citizens, who have the right to a say in who runs the country, had just stayed at home, whingeing about things instead of going to the polling station to make their mark on that little piece of paper.
Every time I get angry about having to go through the election business yet again – listening to the claptrap that is on the media every day, I stop myself, take a deep breath and remember what those people in the past have fought for so that I could have the right to vote. We owe it to them and to ourselves to listen, to read, and to make informed decisions about who we wish to vote for.
Image by Jack Caramac.