A journey into Political Engagement
During the election campaign I was disheartened by the amount of people who said they weren’t going to vote, or who claimed they still didn’t know who they were going to vote for. Someone kindly pointed out that it was actually me who was the strange one; most people don’t go knocking on people’s doors or think about the election all the time. People are entitled to vote (or not) any which way they want and I only have to refer to my own past lack of interest to show that I’m in no position to criticise anyone.
Ben Pickles has already written about 16 and 17 year olds having the right to vote. I agree with him and am really impressed when young people are enthusiastic about politics as it’s so different to what was my own attitude at that age. With issues as important as whether or not to stay in the EU, it’s surely better to make an informed choice rather than a clueless decision. What is it that makes people engage?
Ben told me he had an inspirational politics teacher. Thinking about this, I was reminded of my own experience at school and a quick internet search of my old Modern Studies teacher threw up the headline, ”Real ‘red’-up as Comrade Conal says farewell.” Check him out! How could I fail to be inspired? But it was too full-on for me. I’d rather be doing maths, thank you. If he couldn’t get me interested I was obviously a lost cause on the politics front. In fact, I remained a lost cause for several years, well beyond the time I finally started making my own clueless decisions in the voting booth in my twenties.
But things change and I got older. I slowly cultivated a sense of unfairness that until that point had mainly involved being disgusted at how all the aging, fat, ugly people on television are white males. Then the eternal enigma of local council elections was solved when I finally figured out that each ward has more than one councillor. And I began to notice that if I watched Question Time it was the voices of the Labour party politicians that really resonated with my views. Coupled with all this was the dawning realisation that politics actually impacted on me. Politics is phoning the Environment Agency every day on your maternity leave to register the abominable stench in a residential area on a scale from 1 to 5 where 5 is vomit inducing (and this in the UK, in the 21st century). Politics is moving house to guarantee your child a place at a good school (in the UK, in the 21st century). Politics is waiting ages to speak to your local councillor only for him to tell you to “take it to the women’s group” (in the UK, in the 21st century). Politics touches everyone’s life in different ways but it takes some of us longer to notice.
I remember vividly the one day last summer when I ran the trail race at Bingley Show. Walking home all happy from running through bracken and mud, I paused by the Labour Party stall, captivated by its mysterious allure, or possibly just the pretty red balloons. Susan Hinchcliffe asked me a question about me being better or worse off but then I lingered for a bit too long, hoping she would ask another question and contemplating how I could make the moment last when she didn’t. As I had caught a glimpse of something almost in reach, although I didn’t know what exactly and I couldn’t think of anything else to say so eventually I just didn’t say anything and it was possibly a bit awkward. With hindsight I was on the cusp of signing up there and then so if you had asked me then I’d have been yours. As it happens it took me a few more months.
Going by my own conversion story you can see that engaging people is likely to be an extremely long and tedious process. Relying on passers-by at Bingley show being tongue-tied weirdos already secretly stalking Shipley CLP online will probably have a low success rate. I think a regular leaflet through my letter box educating me on political issues and which side Labour sits on would have made my own seed sprout a little quicker.By keeping people informed we can make more of them feel we’re their natural choice in the voting booth and maybe some will eventually even join the Labour Party themselves.