There are certain behaviours that remain pretty constant over the course of your life. Values and behaviours that are baked into your DNA. Things that you take for granted that you will always do. Things you could never imagine not doing. Voting is one of those things for me.
It may be to do with the number of people in my family who worked in public service, or going further back in my family history, the political involvement of my grandmother in the struggle for Irish independence.
Several years ago my husband and I had a heated argument with our son when he told us that none of his friends voted. I trotted out the usual reasons as to why that was a bad thing, about the immorality of not voting, about removing your right to complain if you absented yourself from the political process, about the disenfranchisement of women and the fight for Irish independence and finished by paraphrasing the Churchill quote about democracy not being perfect but the best thing that we have.
But after he went to bed I remember feeling more than a bit dishonest because the reason I argued so fiercely was not because I really believed what I was saying, but because I would have felt it immoral to encourage my son to distance himself in any way from the importance of the democratic process, quite frankly I would have felt like a bad parent crossing some rubicon that would take me away from everything I’ve believed and that my family has believed for the longest time. For a nice middle class woman like myself it would be the equivalent of getting a tattoo.
Roll forward to 2014 and I realise that in the near decade that I have lived in London, in the same place since we emigrated from Ireland in 2005, not a single politician has knocked on our door to ask us for a vote. I’ll repeat that.
Not a single politician has ever knocked on our door.
For five of those years there have been three adults of voting age living in our house. Now I know, because I spent a good part of my career in government, that elections are all about numbers and its only the swing votes that matter but there is something staggeringly arrogant about politicians thinking they don’t even have to get out of bed to secure our votes. The clear message they are giving is that either (a) they know which way we vote making assumptions on the general political make up of the ward (b) they have enough votes already in the bag not to care.
It’s kind of a Ryan Air approach to politics - you don’t have to provide the equivalent of any customer services because if you need the product then you’ll take what you are given. Now that approach is proving less successful for Ryan Air (having been named by Which magazine as one of the worst 100 biggest brands serving the British market) I wonder how long it will take the political classes to wake up?
So I’m guessing if I sit the next one out it won’t make the slightest bit of difference. I’ll still pay my tax, I’m still happy to contribute to the welfare state and I won’t complain about any policy decisions because I absented myself from the process. I just don’t want the experience of making the effort to get to the polling station, trying to decide between candidates that I’ve never met and then being asked to give my polling card to the local councillor or party hack waiting outside so that they can calculate not how I feel but how many others they need to round up to make up their numbers.
I don’t know how I will feel about not voting and whether the ghost of my grandmother will return to haunt me admonishing me on my lack of civic pride and for abandoning a principle she fought for so hard. But I do promise to spend the time thinking about how I can be a better person in the world and what contribution I might make to improve the world for my fellow man. Because if we matter so little to them perhaps its more important that we matter more to each other.