Thursday, January 22, 2015

register to be part of a momentous year

I've been sent a copy of Andy Flannagan's new book Those who show up by the lovely people at Muddy Pearl, who are publishing it. I've promised to blog a few thoughts as I work my way through it.

But I thought I'd preface those comments by saying how important it is that people register to vote in the forthcoming general election. This particularly applies to people younger than me who might not see anything on a ballot paper worth getting out of bed for. I have to say I sympathise with them.

And I'm not writing this because Andy's book is yet another appeal to people get involved in the political process by voting. Indeed, he kicks off by suggesting that the book will be urging its readers to consider putting their names on the ballot paper so others can vote for them. I'll return to this when I've read beyond pxii.

But I do want to return to the issue of registering to vote. This is probably the most important election for a generation. It will determine the shape of our country for many years to come.

I have just returned from having coffee with a bright, energetic, capable friend who has given the best part of 20 years to working in local government in a bid to improve the lives of ordinary people. He is severely disillusioned and between jobs. In one sense he is an example of someone who has been broken on the wheel of a malfunctioning political system. But his passion for the process is undimmed; his desire to see justice and equity at the heart of decision-making at all levels in the country fires everything he is and does.

I'm sure there are lots of people like him all over the country. All of us need to be registered to vote in May and get out - and encourage our friends to get out - and cast our vote. We cannot have another government that is elected by 30% of the 60% or so who turn out. On any way of doing maths that is an underwhelming minority. The current government wants to change strike ballots to mean that workers can only withdraw their labour if more than 50% of their workplace votes in favour. This from a government with a mandate of considerably less than 40% of the electorate. Pots and kettles, hey?

Such things make people cynical. But what we need to do is seize the debate back from the cynics and start talking about the kind of society we want to live in, what we want to see our taxes used for (as no party if offering to abolish taxation, we'll be paying it anyway, so it might as well be for something we support!). Our debates, however, shouldn't begin with what things cost; they should begin with whether they are desirable and how they would work and how they would benefit ordinary people. We can cost things later.

And yes, some cynics will respond by saying that this will result in all sorts of uncosted pledges being made. Well, maybe. Both major parties already have a list of uncosted pledges up their sleeves, so let's add to them. If we do, we will see the quality of the conversation rising. The election will become a genuine battle of ideas rather than a race to the lowest common denominator, where parties  pledge the lowest spending for the maximum benefit of that party's natural constituency.

When that happens, it's little wonder people are cynical. So, let's hear ideas being debated, visions of the world we want to live in being sung to the rafters. And let's turn up at meetings, urging those on the platform to take our ideas seriously, debate with us, respond to our ideas, argue with them; and let's do this courteously and kindly, recognising the humanity of our opponents and the common good that we are all working to achieve.

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