A friend told me today that he never votes, as it’s a waste of time. This is my response.
Tony Benn once defined democracy very simply: 'The right of the people to get rid of their government.' That’s a right I cherish.
Governments rule us; they rule you. Please don’t be fooled into thinking you are above and beyond democracy, or that it doesn’t involve or touch you.
Governments have the power to completely control your life, and how you live it, and whether you may thrive or fail. They have the power to decide whether you live here or not. They have control over your childhood, whether you will have an education, and even whether you can have children yourself. They have the power to take you away from your parents, or to take your children away from you.
They control access to healthcare and if you may survive or die from an illness or an accident. They have power to help you, or not, at your times of need. They can control your right to earn a living, and whether you will be properly paid or enslaved at work. They have power to control whether you can run a business, and precisely on what terms. They have the power to say where you can go, and at what times of day. They decide whether you can have a passport to enter other countries, and whether you will be welcome back on your return.
They have the power to take away some, or all, of your money and property. They have the power to use, control and store every piece of information about you. They have the power to take away your identity, even to take away your life.
The government has power to put you into prison; the power to send you into exile. They have the power to take you and your country to war, and to insist that you fight in that war or be shot or imprisoned if you don’t.
The power of the government is supreme. Heaven help any citizen of a country who is powerless against a despotic, non-democratic government, with no means of redress.
The power of government does not represent empty words. The power to control your life and the lives of all around you is real and potent. That power needs to be balanced by that of the people, so that in unison, the people can vote out their government if that is their wish.
In countries where there is no vote, dictatorship governments can rule for decades and decades with no opportunity for the people to get rid of them. Instead of the ballot, the peoples’ only chance is to resort to the bullet, at huge personal risk, with no guarantee of success, and mostly with the greatest chance that they will fail and be mercilessly crushed. How much those people envy our right to sack a government with the simple, easy use of a vote.
Please recognise the difference between ‘don’t vote’ and ‘can’t vote’. Those who don’t vote, but can, are lazily riding on the backs of those who fought hard for our right to vote, and to have a say in who governs us and the lives we will lead.
Despite our moans, in the United Kingdom we enjoy among the best lives on the planet, with those on just an average wage belonging to the world’s top one percent of earners.
We have a right to a childhood, to universal education, to healthcare, to clean air and water; the right to free movement, to use the roads and pavements and parks; to leave and return to the country; to be protected at home, in the street and at work and in times of need; to call for help in an emergency; to go about and enjoy our lives in relative freedom. We have a right to resolve disputes in government courts, and even to take the government to court if they overreach their power.
Here we have a better life than most others on the planet because, and only because, of our right to vote. Without the power to choose or discard our governments, we would not have any of the freedoms and the better lives we have won through the ballot box.
All governments know that we, the people, have the opportunity to kick them out of office at least every five years. Without that, governments would never leave, their power would never end, and governments would be run only for the benefit of rulers, and not for us.
The vote gives us the power to hire or fire governments. By not voting you diminish and weaken all of us. You reduce and ridicule our power of emancipation. You are lessening by one vote, your discarded vote, all our powers of choice.
The fewer people who vote, the more governments know they have more control over us to do as they want and not as we want. The message of the non-voter to them is: ‘we don’t care; do as you please; you choose how you want to run my life.’
When people don’t vote who can vote – in local, national and European elections – governments know they have less eyes watching them. They realise they can get away with passing laws that many voters will not protest or care about or even bother to find out about.
In the last European Parliamentary elections in the UK, only 34% of the electorate voted. So most people who had a vote chose not to use it.
In those EU elections, UKIP won 11 of Britain's 73 seats in the European Parliament. That may have been a fair reflection of just a third of the electorate; but was it really representative of all those who could, but didn't, vote? That's the problem with low turn-outs in elections: the results are fair only for the minority who voted, but not necessarily reflective of the true feelings of the majority who didn't.
The smaller the turnout at elections, the less chance we get the governments we want. With low turnouts, governments are less accountable to the majority. The more who vote, the more governments represent us all, and respect that it's the people to whom they are beholden.
It matters less who or what you vote for. It matters most that you vote at all; that you use your right to increase the electorate by the power of one, you. It’s important by your vote, whatever your vote, that you tell governments you care about how your life, your loved ones lives, and your country, are run.
Those who can vote but don’t are taking advantage of all of us who can vote and do. They live the good life with us, without having contributed to our right to have that good life in the first place. They benefit from all the hard won rights of the people, but feel disdainfully above any obligation to help to win and retain those rights. When things go wrong; when there’s a fight to make things better; they absent themselves from any need to become involved, even though the effort to enter a cross in a box on a piece of paper is miniscule.
Those who can vote but don’t vote dishonour those who lost blood to give us the ballot. The power of persuasion, the participation in democracy, the right to vote, seem to mean little or nothing to them.
Maybe our nation's voluntary non-voters would be convinced of the beauty and brilliance of the ballot if they lived in a country where people don't vote because they can't vote; where the brute force of unelected rulers control and subjugate them. But then, it'd be too late wouldn't it ?
Please don’t reduce the power of democracy by not taking part in it. Democracy is not perfect, but it’s the best form of government we know. It gives the population the right to choose who rules. Governments need to know that we are their masters, and that can only come through the ballot. And those who don’t yet have democracy need to know that we cherish it, that it’s worth fighting for, and that it’s a right we never, ever want to lose.
©2013 Jon Danzig
image: © secretlondon123