It must be increasingly clear that living in a democracy as we do, and I use the term loosely, the citizen has but two powers of influence remaining.
The first resides within our pockets and purses. The ability to choose how we spend our money! I accept that for some this power is far easier to exercise than for others. For most, the low pay, high energy bills and increased living costs that go hand in hand with a consumption based economy, the opportunities to buy local produce or better quality products are less and less frequent. Nonetheless, every time someone chooses to buck the system and make an independent purchase, however small, we the people gain because that purchase supports a local business, a local wage earner and the local economy.
The second power to which I refer is the right to vote. To periodically elect representatives to serve on our behalf. Whether at parish, town, city, county, national or european level, we still have the ability to determine who that should be.
Furthermore, those politicians elected to serve can be held to account. Not by the press and media whose owners have their own agenda, but by we who elect them. That so few, if any, MPs are made to answer for their misdemeanours these days, is not their fault. It’s ours. That so few, when caught out, are willing to apologize for their abuses of power and privilege demonstrates the real disconnect between electorate and elected.
Many of us vote religiously but far more of us don’t bother at all. It’s no wonder we find ourselves governed by those who increasingly seem to do as they please without fear of retribution.
Despite widespread difficulties suffered by many in our society, repeatedly we find the moral compass is abandoned in favour of political dogma. Sure, your MP is willing to help an individual where he or she can, but on national issues, few are willing to challenge the party line. On national matters they retreat behind soundbites and, as is the modern politician’s trait, blame the previous incumbent whilst avoiding answering the question put.
There has been debate about why so few vote, the so called “political disconnect”. It should concern us all but in reality, who cares? Mainstream politicians don’t. Corporations certainly don’t. A culture that fosters an electorate which lacks motivation and abdicates the responsibility to question serves them well.
Consider the recently passed Transparency Bill, referred to by opponents, charities, environmental and other pressure groups as the “gagging law”. Intended to ensure the identity and activities of powerful lobbyists are a matter of public record, those very same people have ensured the cloak of secrecy is maintained. Whilst on the other hand, what has transpired is that charitable organizations and pressure groups are now prevented, in law, from campaigning on national issues such as food and fuel poverty or the consequences of welfare cuts being endured by so many of us in the months preceding a general election.
If we cease to hold our politicians to account, who will guide them to act in our best interests? It won’t be those who already lobby on behalf of big business or corporate interests. It won’t be those who contribute to party coffers or individual campaigns and wait patiently to collect on their investment.
Governments of all colours would be far less willing to pursue self serving policies if they knew that come election time, 95% of those eligible to vote remembered broken promises and harmful policies and were prepared to hold them to account. Living in a democracy carries responsibility. A responsibility to ensure our national assets, health, education, welfare, the environment or our emergency services, are handed onto our children in a state fit for purpose.
Not voting says you don’t care, that you accept you have no value as an individual. Real respect doesn’t come from owning shiny status symbols. Real respect for you the individual, comes from demanding respect for others who will in turn demand it for you. Don’t roll over, use your vote!