Thursday, 22 May 2014

Your right not to vote

It's Polling Day!  The most magical day of the year!  Children awake at the crack of dawn, to find the stockings they had hung up beside the fireplace, so empty and unfulfilled the night before, stuffed full of shiny new polling cards and campaign literature; the whole family gathers to exchange election gifts, and then sit down so a sumptuous home-cooked Polling Day dinner; we sing election carols, which tell and retell the glorious tale of that first election, all those many years ago - it is a story everyone knows, but which never gets old.

I have voted in every election since I turned eighteen.  I consider voting to be an important part of citizenship.  However, I also fully support the right of those who don't wish to vote - for whatever reason - not to do so.  It's a shame not everyone feels like this.

In the past few weeks - as in the run-up to every election - politicians, activists, celebrities (whose own feeling of self-importance won't allow them not to stick their oar in) and ordinary people have been reminding everyone to vote.  "Remember to vote!" they say, in a patronising, mothering tone - as if those who don't are simply forgetful, careless, or plain lazy.

Campaigns like Never Forget To Vote use powerful, emotive rhetoric about "Nazis" and "protests" to encourage people to go out and vote on Polling Day.  We are told time and time again that people "fought and died" for our right to vote - not to use that right is an insult to the brave men and women who fought for freedom and democracy.  We are told that, in many countries around the world, the right to vote is still very much in peril - if we don't vote in our own elections, we are insulting those who don't have have the same democratic rights we in the UK enjoy.  For women, especially, the emotive spectre of the Suffragettes, and their struggle to extend the franchise to women, hangs over anyone who dares not visit the polling station.

It's all a load of hyperbolic rubbish, really, isn't it?

We in Britain are fortunate to live in a democratic country.  We are not hapless subjects writhing beneath the heel of some despotic tyrant.  But democracy is, above all else, about choice; those wars we fought so long ago to preserve our freedoms were not waged so that we should have the right to vote, but so that we could choose to vote.

I know (or know of) many people who are choosing not to vote in today's European Elections.  These are not people who do not care, or who have simply "forgotten" to vote - they are interested, intelligent, politically-active people, many of whom have, in the past, been members of political parties, or even stood for election themselves.  Their choice not to vote today is exactly that - a conscious, informed decision to abstain from voting.  That is as valid a choice as any.

There are many good reasons to vote today.  But there are also good reasons not to.  And in the end, it is each individual's choice whether or not to exercise the right to vote.  Not to do so in no way diminishes the struggles or accomplishments of those who put their lives on the line in the name of democracy or freedom - indeed, that is a big part of what those people were fighting for.  A conscientious abstainer is as much a part of the democratic process as anyone.

Let's drop the pretence that anyone who doesn't vote today will have blood on their hands once the cyborgs rise up and enslave all of the free peoples of Europe (or whatever).

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