Voting

An Election Abroad: GE2017

This year I get the particular privilege of organising my general election vote via proxy as my Masters thesis means there will not be time to go back to London to cast it in person. The functioning of a proxy has amused a lot of my colleagues, many hailing from countries where you simply go and vote in your embassy, who find it a hard concept that you would trust someone else with your ballot. Fortunately I do have trust in my proxy – it is the broader public that I worry about making their own choices in the polling booth.

Watching your country’s election from abroad is an interesting experience. So much of the minutiae of campaigning is lost, – no flyers stuffed through letterboxes, or vote canvassers, or – you only get the headline news. This, coupled with late night viewings of the debates, has given me a surface view of what is happening without the fluff that tends to go with it.

As a result the stuff which cuts through generates more intrigue since you feel more assured that this is likely the same messages that are reaching those who don’t really follow politics on a daily basis. Unfortunately this has utilised by terrorists – the dominant message the past few weeks has been pushing out is one of fear, and of the need for more securitisation which over time will help to erode a lot of the liberties I think are vital for us to continue to grow into a proper democracy.

It is no secret that I will be voting for Labour. I want priorities to be focused on the NHS, on a Brexit that does not alienate us from Europe, and I want governments that are committed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and the privileges that a lot of us, including myself, take for granted. Combating extremism requires a more holistic approach than just treating symptoms, and part of that is creating a society where everyone feels like a valued member able to succeed within its bounds.

This is not to say I am an uncritical voter, even with the change in leadership since my last discussion on voting for the least wrong lizard in the race. As it stands the mess of both the PLP and the Leadership these past few years has just continued my disappointment in Labour. Labour are the party I desperately want to love, and instead I’ve consistently found myself just viewing them as the best of the bad lot as a result of their inability to put aside petty differences and work to create a cohesive impression, especially at politically opportune times. Their policies, especially on universalism, align to a large degree with my own beliefs but I continue to have doubts on the ability of everyone there to carry them out.

Sitting down to watch the debates has cheered me a little. For once we had demonstration that there would be a strong defence of positions. When Corbyn answers a business owner who queried Labour over rises to minimum wage and taxes on private schools he appeals to the importance of tax funding to support the broader society, the needs of low income workers and the priority of caring for one’s neighbour over individualism. This is a significant departure from most politician’s tendency when posed difficult questions to just opt for the safety of “the customer is always right”, never wanting to be seen telling a member of the public that they have a full ideological disagreement.

For voters in a lot of areas Labour are the party that will offer meaningful change focused in a positive direction. Ultimately it becomes the first step to a reformed system, included a reformed voting system, that we desperately need. It’s an unfortunate truth that in our political system the link between your vote and impact is quite tenuous. Move a few streets one way and you might go from being one of an 8,000 lead to a crucial decision maker in a marginal constituency where a win was a mere 27 votes. I am fortunate that my vote is in a more significant constituency where I feel that I can actually shape the course of the next parliament.

So now we are here, waiting to find out which polling companies adjustments (or lack thereof) are the most suited to this moment in time. Whatever happens though I am content with my choices and the values I defend. If you share these values make sure you vote in defence of them too.

Beyond Scare Tactics

The EU referendum campaign is in full swing, and Turkey is a problem. From Vote Leave a new leaflet highlights not only countries looking to join but spotlights Turkey by shading in the bordering countries of Iraq and Syria. Turkey is a good political pick because of its strong association with both the migrant crisis and the movement of terrorists. This insinuation that if we don’t vote to leave the EU Turkey will overwhelm us with migrants and terrorists from IS has extended to discussing how we’ll become the victims of crime due to a supposed Turkish predisposition. It is a dog-whistle at its finest.

One could argue the reason Turkey is featured in many Vote Leave advertisements is that it is simply one of the EU candidate states – yet one of the intriguing parts about the decision to highlight Turkey is how hard it would be for Turkey to actually become an EU member. To give a brief overview Turkey has been an associate member of the EU since 1963, applied for membership in 1987, got candidate status in 1999, and finally had their (still ongoing) candidate negotiations start in 2005 which – regardless of anything else (such as opponents using vetos, arguments about geographical relevance) – cannot be resolved until Turkey opens its ports to Cyprus. In comparison Croatia applied for membership in 2003, started negations in 2005, and joined in 2013. For many the question is ‘if’ not ‘when’; Turkey joining the EU is a long way off and requires a lot of political manoeuvring. Billboards are using a very distant possibility to drive fears of terrorism and free movement of Turkish people, relying on unfavourable associations being brought to mind.

Watch out, the Muslims are coming.

The campaign run by the Goldsmith team against Khan during the London Mayoral race was another demonstration of scare tactics that rely on this “scary outsider” bias. The absurdity of painting Sadiq Khan – as much a radical Muslim as a plate of custard – as a terrorist sympathiser demonstrates clearly how little interest modern UK politicians have in even pretending to be for all people in their push to exploit wedges in society.

The mayoral race was important because it came down to the Conservatives either genuinely thinking that the political blancmange of Sadiq Khan was a dangerous man and sympathetic to terrorists, or they pointedly decided that public perception of Sadiq Khan and other Muslims by extension as regular Brits with a multitude of opinions is fine to sacrifice for some political gain. When the PM uses fancy footwork to say a man supports IS knowing that people will interpret this as referring to the terrorist group and not just the ideological concept of a state based on Islamic thought to legitimate false criticism of his opponent he loses credibility to govern fairly for all his citizens. With scare tactics you not only say a huge segment of your population are inherently dangerous, but you also say you have no interest in dealing with the divides in society if there is a chance for you to make a personal gain from it.

A calculation was made; Muslims won’t vote for us so it is okay to demonise them in the hopes that we win. And again with the EU Referendum a calculation has been made; let’s just play up these divisive fears to attract those who don’t know the nuances of Turkey and EU politics. Yet this gamble entrenches divisions that have real and harsh consequences to the actual population.

This is not an issue limited to one end of the political spectrum. Most political parties and groups in the UK are only interested in a narrow section of people they feel represent their voting base and frequently throw those deemed outside of this under the bus. Both sides of the EU debate are trying to out terrify the other with what will make us more susceptible to terrorists. I’ve heard someone discuss how “the Jews” don’t vote for Labour anyway so why bother dealing with antisemitism? Scottish voters are demonised for voting SNP and therefore there should not be a solid Scottish policy because they are not on “our” side anyway. Rural and coastal voters don’t get talked about as much as London and other cities. And god forbid the vitriol for those who don’t vote. Huge swathes of people get their needs ignored, or directly worked against in vote chasing, and groups of multitudes are portrayed as monoliths in order to appeal to those opposed to them. In the midst the actual humans of this country are forgotten.

If political groups only existed to win that would be one (still terrible) thing but the policies and words a political group chose not only shape the conversation around an election but become the spectrum for what is possible to be implemented and who gets to be involved. Once something outrageous has been said everyone else has to respond to it, lending it some legitimacy and further exposing it to the public. We need to respect people who wouldn’t ever vote for us and appreciate their needs as citizens even if we disagree with their thoughts. Turning around and using dog-whistles against huge parts of the population only succeeds in spreading both alienation and extreme misinformation.

A lot of people believe it is better to have a chance in power than to remain in opposition and therefore these tactics may be undesirable but ultimately worth it. But opposition – true opposition – is the process of calling that power to heel, and articulating the voice of everyone else. And democratic power is supposed to be about ruling with consideration of everyone, even those who won’t vote for you, rather than just a chance to rule to ensure that you continue to have a chance to rule to ensure that you continue to have a chance to rule ad infinitum. MPs are not there only for the people that voted for them, or even just the people that voted. They are there to represent the whole borough and that thought has to come first.

This is partially the fault of our political system being so heavily tilted to “not them” voting. Voters are either seen as our tribe or our enemies. When the not-we voters start to be generalised in broad descriptors – Muslim, Asian, Jewish, Scottish – it triggers an opportunity to make use scare tactics rather than generating good policies and working towards opening up a political system that will naturally draw in people in a positive way. This obsession with voters is creeping into other aspects which will permanently tilt how politics is played out, with constituency borders based not on the actual amount of people living there but on those who are registered to vote, as if those who don’t could never have concerns in their borough.

Wedge politics pushes people out of having an actual voice as politicians pander to only those whose votes they may win (and frequently ignore “safe” voters concerns). Each time there is a vote people are chastised for not participating (or recently for signing up “too late” to participate, as if becoming engaged is something we have to decide months in advance or else we don’t deserve it) which takes away the responsibility of groups to look at how to appeal to them beyond scare tactics. Politics is meant to be about articulating a vision of the future – the best way to serve everyone in a society. To create a consensus where we abandon that for power is incredibly dangerous. It’s a slow dull trundle to a backwards and unrealistic representation of society and one where soon only an incredibly small sliver of people will be competed for and thus become the only ones who politically matter.

100% Factually Accurate: Pre-Election Special

After a range of pilot episodes and many discussions I’m very pleased that I can now release the first official episode of my new joint project ‘100% Factually Accurate’, a podcast about politics and the online media. In this episode I discuss with producer Cecile the mass twitter appeal of Ed Miliband, voter apathy, and Nick Clegg’s giant paddle-like hands.

Unfortunately Josh (@cromulentjosh) my regular co-host was unable to attend the recording session due to acquiring an amazingly adorable niece (and you all need to go to his twitter right now to see her very smooshable face!), but next week he will be rejoining me as we sort through the inevitable mess of coalition deals and media hysteria.

For the Love of Politics

I love Politics. Really I do.

Politics is great because it replaces all of your boring anecdotes (I genuinely told at least three people last week that someone I knew had met someone with almost the same name as me, and I kept insisting that this was hilarious because reasons. I may have been mildly sleep deprived at the time) with something constantly evolving and vibrant. You can discuss the impact of the recent Greek elections on Europe or Labour’s policies in the upcoming election, or the viability of UKIP, or how combating Islamophobia may be more beneficial to the causes of LGBTQ+ Muslims than just criticising homophobic imams. And if the personal is political you’re in for even more of a whale of a time.

This is relevant because I am so enthusiastic in a world where people claim that the youth are disengaged. The “Russell Brand effect” is mildly redeeming our apathetic bodies in the minds of the media, but not really to the correct cause.

We grew up in a world of disappointments – Lib Dems, student fees, coalitions, lack of AV. Of course we’re not happy when we get this reality whilst at the same time sitting down to the idealism of Borgen, showing us a golden land across the sea where problems are solved by passionate – and sexy – leaders. Leaders who both understand the concerns of ordinary people (because they are ordinary people) and care. It’s a form of politics that looks so distant from our own, and as a result it’s not surprising that many people my age can’t understand why I, as a Brit, would care.

It’s still not enough. I keep not responding to things or engaging in stuff and it’s driving me crazy because I realise – out of uni – how much I miss analysis things on a regular basis. When friends discuss their joy at finally graduating I grab them firmly by the shoulders and yell “Don’t do it! It’s too bloody scary out here with all the dull adulthood. Scary and boring at the same time.” (DISCLAIMER: I may have done a Politics degree and be far more into this than other people)

We need more public debate in this country on a day-to-day, ordinary person level that includes nuances, rather than just an adversarial style of “with us or against us”. If you are going to go outside into the world, do engage and encourage others to do the same. Okay, they will possibly resent you a little – but hey! that’s what life is about. Politics is about people, and as people it really does affect you. And if you go down the rabbit hole enough you’ll realise that everything affects everything in a very tangible way. The intersections are what makes it come to life. Nuance is both complicated and the only way to look at the world.

In this upcoming election we (young people/the “yoof”/category 18-25) should be doing more than just voting – we should be chatting about things beyond the bad reputation of local politics and about the despair of international politics. We need to revel in what we love with other people. We need to make all our personal conversations (okay, maybe just 95%) about the political. And then do vote, even if it’s just a spoiled ballot to show that there are people out there who are engaged, despite the party system itself being awful.

I’ve started with talking to my mother about decriminalising sex work. If I can organise the annual Christmas argument around that, then you guys can do anything.