Thursday, 7 May 2015

Not so secret Ballot

I voted in my first General Election a few months after my 18th birthday.
A friend of mine who missed the cut off by about a year, took the whole event very seriously.
  He purchased, devoured and analysed the manifestos of the three major players and informed anyone who would listen on the policies and promises of each party.  He wan't going to let a small matter of not having a vote stop him from influencing the election.  He was probably the most well informed person in the country who didn't qualify for a vote, whereas I, who was nowhere near as knowledgeable, did.

Voting for the first time was a complete unknown.  I still remember feeling very self conscious as I walked down the road, and up the hill to the mysteries of the polling station. I could imagine all the net curtains twitching in a Mexican wave of whiter than white window dressings, as I walked that lonely walk and I imagined what they would say as they noticed me slink past.
"There's been a steady procession of folks going to vote.  I just saw Jean's daughter walking down the road."
"Don't tell me she's old enough to vote.  She's only a kid! What does she know about politics!"
"The nations future will be decided by those who are too young to know anything!  It was 21, when I was young. Why did they bother to change it?"

I wasn't totally uninformed about politics. I grew up in a household where topical issues were discussed around the meal table. Political discontent and action had formed the backdrop to my childhood. These years were punctuated by low points such as the winter of discontent, the three day week, miners strikes, postal strikes, refuse collection strikes, and of course the frequent troubles at the nearby car plant at Longbridge.  It always seemed that the motivation for strikes was looking after your rights and holding your employers to random to meet escalating wage demands. Very little consideration appeared to be given as to how the action would affect others.  I remember my Gran being very upset that she hadn't been able to send a wreath, to her brother-in-law's funeral, because by the time she knew he had died, the funeral was long over.

I knew the importance of voting. My Grandmother remembered the vote being given to women.  Quite early on in my voting days, a local man renown for his ability to play ' Beautiful Dreamer' on the saw, failed to get elected by just a few votes.  My Dad pointed out that had I and just a handful more voted for him, then this guy would have gained a seat and been a very good representative.  I remember the realisation that my vote really could make a difference, but only if I used it.  An election that I had considered unimportant, suddenly was not. Since then I have endeavoured to vote at each election.

In a few years my daughter will have a vote, and needs to understand what is required. So that the polling stations is not a complete mystery to her, I have always taken her with me when casting my vote.  She usually manages to brighten the day of the incarcerated staff in some way, and this year was no exception.  After I was handed my voting slip, she followed me across to the polling booth and observed me making my choice
'You have to put a cross by the party you are voting for." I explained quietly
In her crystal clear voice she then proceeded to announce to the room
"...and you have voted Labour."
"Yes"
She pondered.  "What if you had voted UKIP?"
This drew a loud snort of amused laughter from at least one person in the queue, who could not help but hear this conversation. We left the voters and officials to the task of voting.

As I wandered home, I noticed the fresh new leaves.  I so want this election too bring hope to this nation, to safeguard the NHS, to stop removing benefits from the vulnerable, and to make food banks redundant and I hoped that others would also cast their votes for candidates committed to bringing about this change.
Sadly the Exit Polls make this look very unlikely.