Why is it okay to talk about politics all year long, discuss the ins and outs of party policy, use politicians as front page fodder, lambast others for their political leanings, and fill Facebook feeds with politically engaged chit-chat – but when it comes to actually casting a vote, everybody clams up and doesn’t want to discuss their choice?
My parents, most notably my mother, have always emanated a hush-hush vibe around voting. I remember sitting in the car whilst my mum popped into her local polling place, and wondering what was happening in there. Maybe it was just my family and my parents simply weren’t particularly politically engaged, but as I get older I am inclined to think this is not the case.
Over the last couple of years, and most noticeably since moving away from the UK, I have become more and more interested in British politics. It all started with a foray into Feminism, a never-ending rabbit’s warren of issues including sexuality, gender, parenthood, and workers’ rights, to name just a few. I began to feel increasingly uneasy about things. All the things. A vast black hole of mind-boggling ignorance and seeming downright idiocy had opened before me, and I could not un-see what I had seen. The Feminist Spectacles would not be removed from my face.
And then (to stretch the glasses metaphor a bit further) I got bifocals. Finally seeing the world as the sexist, patriarchal, kyriarchal place that it is, also somehow allowed me to see the thinly veiled capitalist agendas, biased and often vitriolic newspaper coverage, disingenuous media campaigns, and sickening apathy of most people. I too used to be apathetic and I can, with hindsight, see why.
Political apathy breeds when we stop engaging, when we allow the ‘complicated’ political landscape to pass us by and allow the media to distract us with entertaining but ultimately inconsequential chatter. This becomes even more dangerous when that brand of distraction is then also used to mould our political views. Case in point: a photograph of Ed Miliband, eating a sandwich, placed on the front page of The Sun accompanied by the headline ‘Save Our Bacon: This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours he could be doing the same to Britain.’
There is no correlation between style or method of bacon-sandwich eating and ability to serve as an MP or even Prime Minister, not that I know of anyway. In the same way that there is no real link between what Rihanna wore to get coffee and the quality or likeability of her musical output. Yet these very ideas are paraded in front of us on a daily basis as some kind of proof of these human being’s validity and ability to do their chosen jobs.
Obviously I understand that this kind of character assassination via superficial analysis is to be expected, for both popstars and campaigning politicians. It is the go-to schtick of the media, particularly in this era of 24/7 news and views when column inches and internet pages need to be filled and updated incessantly. I understand that, but I seriously worry that others may not.
For some people who are just reaching voting age, that is all they know, that is their entire culture, that is how their opinions are formed. The same goes for those people that have always read newspapers like The Sun or The Mirror. Though they seem to understand that it is all a bit of nonsense, it often remains one of their only reference points and therefore becomes part of their culture, it is subconsciously (or consciously) weaving its self into their opinions.
I am in no way saying people are stupid or even ignorant, I am saying they are getting less and less choice in these matters and therefore it cannot be avoided unless one purposefully extracts oneself from the situation – not an easy feat. Arguably even those, like me, who feel they have got the hang of things in a lot of ways, are still subject to the influence. Unless you don’t take part in any social media, read any print media, peruse any newsagent shelves, watch TV, own a smart phone, have eyes to see adverts on the street, or basically have any internet access, you cannot avoid the pervasive and homogenous culture that literally penetrates our every waking moment.
And this culture screams political messages at you all.the.time. Whether you realise it or not. Messages about patriotism, money, the environment, war, health, food, shopping etc., guiding you where they want you to go in a sly and duplicitous way.
Duplicitous because these aren’t out and out adverts enticing you to give money for an object of desire or services.
Instead they are stories disguised as ‘news’ that in reality are policy biased brainwashing formulas in technicolour glory, designed to keep you on the precariously balanced line between quiet and grateful, and patriotic and outraged. And this is all to protect their financial assets – whether it’s the interests tied up big businesses and banks, as a part of their outrageous lobbying, or just good old-fashioned newspaper sales – it all boils down to money.
As you can probably tell I have strong opinions on this, and, as has always been a problem for me, I simply cannot understand why more people don’t too. I have never understood why simply explaining the problem does not equal instant outrage followed by logical fixing of said problems.
There is the proverbial elephant in the room, which everyone has agreed to pretend is not there, and that elephant’s name is Capitalism.
Is it because we all sort of agreed to go along with it for so long, that now we are all too embarrassed to admit it is no longer working as the basis for our whole lives? Or is it that it is actually so entrenched in every aspect of our lives that people genuinely cannot see a viable alternative? Or is it that they are so beaten down by it all that they just don’t want to try?
Perhaps everybody must is just ashamed of all of this. The secrecy must either be a result of people voting for something they know is not good for the country/their fellow humans, or due to people having no real idea why they are voting for the party that they are. What other reason could there genuinely be for keeping your choice, not just secret, but as some kind of personal information on par with your pin number.
I am not advocating the smug political tweet or Facebook post, and I am not trying to claim that those that discuss politics are better than those that don’t. But EVERYTHING IS POLITICS and YOUR VOTE MAY HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE WHOLE COUNTRY, so we need to talk about it in a healthy open way.
I know that I definitely want that for my children, and I definitely want it for all the other children too, because there is no progress without debate. If you merrily talk about political issues all year and then don’t discuss your actual choice, what are you really saying to those children about the vote, about standing up for your beliefs? Not much at all.
Coming from a family that did this I know that what it leads to, is a child that is unaware of politics, of choice, of a whole world outside of her immediate environment. And when I discovered it in adulthood, I was shocked by the mess it was in and felt overwhelmed by the scope of the situation. A feeling of powerlessness.
The journey I have been on, from cynical apathy to daunted despair, has now reached a point of optimistic action. I am 28 in two days’ time – imagine if I had reached this point at 16, what might I have done differently in the world by now?
You have the right to keep your own personal beliefs and to your privacy. You also are fortunate enough to have the right to vote.
The latter helps to ensure the continuation of the former. It is that vital. We need to consider our political choices carefully and compassionately, and we need to make sure everybody else does too.