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Hate Politics? Get Involved!

Counterintuitive as it may seem, our editor argues that doing more, not less is the answer if you're disillusioned...


One night this week I went delivering political leaflets for the party I’ve supported since I was about 12. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a personal party political broadcast…) It was about 7pm and the rain had just stopped; the sun was out and shining and I pounded the streets happily for about 15 minutes before stopping to ask myself ‘Why?’ Why was I delivering leaflets for free when I could be making money or having fun with friends and family?


The answer came quickly; it feels good. It’s good to be out and about, going places I don’t otherwise go and doing something. But I could be paid to deliver leaflets for, say, takeaway food outlets. What’s so special about delivering political leaflets that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people across the UK regularly do it for free?


People often complain that voting doesn’t make a difference, and in a system like ours, where a minority (36.9%) of voters can elect a majority in the UK parliament that’s understandable as far as it goes. And misses a major point beyond that...


Your single vote only really counts for anything under First Past the Post, the voting system we use in UK-wide general elections and English and Welsh local council elections, if you're in a ‘marginal’ seat (one that has changed parties in a recent election and/or could change this time). But the fact that your single VOTE probably doesn’t count for much doesn’t mean YOU don’t count for much.


You can count for a disproportionate amount, and getting more engaged in politics, whether with a political party, a charity or campaign or on your own, is the best way of doing that. It's one of the main reasons people do it.


Delivering leaflets is just one of many things you can do to make a difference. This week I delivered about 150 in 75 minutes, and each of those leaflets will, I’d guess, have been seen by 2 or 3 adults – not just voters but non-voters who may influence them too. In elections to your local council, where the outcome can often be decided by fewer than 100 votes and sometimes by a single vote, that many leaflets can have a critical impact. Political leaflets are not just a key ingredient in the mix that inspires people to vote for a candidate (or party) and convinces them to actually get out and vote on the day; they also prompt people to donate, volunteer and maybe even join a party or campaign, thus enabling its message to reach even more people.


The idea that voting doesn’t make a difference can only really be true when you're voting for your local councillor or member of the UK parliament and you live in a ‘safe’ (non-marginal) seat.


Writing exclusively for Impolite Conversation, James Cox, who covered more elections and by-elections than he cares to remember as a political reporter for the BBC, says: “Even then a vote can count, even if it doesn't go to electing someone. I'd even argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘wasted’ vote – votes can accumulate to such an extent that they have a force of their own. There’s a rather mysterious thing called the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’, which means, I think, that though individuals may think they’re working in their own interests, jointly they can have such a cumulative effect that even politicians have to take notice of them.”


On Thursday 5th May this year every voter in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London has the chance to help pick their members of parliament or assembly members, and Londoners are electing a new mayor too. All of these parliamentary and assembly elections are held under more ‘proportional’ systems than First Past the Post which means that, unlike in elections for local councils in England and Wales and for the UK Parliament, there are no wasted votes.


Every vote really can count.


Click here for an explanation of all of the different voting systems used in UK elections.
You may be surprised how many there are...


Also on Thursday 5th May, 16 million voters in England are choosing their councillors, and thus councils. If you’re one of them, and your local council seat has changed parties over the last few years, it's most likely considered a marginal seat. This means your single vote could make a difference and any votes you inspire through getting more involved could make a massive difference, the difference between your preferred candidate(s) winning and losing, and possibly which party runs your council for the next four years. (Just one extra councillor either way could be enough to make that difference).


In many council elections in England and Wales, every vote can count.


And then there’s the referendum on Thursday 23rd June to decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the European Union, when the fate of the nation will be decided by a simple majority – theoretically as small as one vote.


“Certainly voting – or, in this case not voting – could have a tremendous effect on the EU referendum,” James Cox continues. “It’s a striking psephological finding that older people are likely to vote Brexit, and the younger to vote to Remain (which strikes me as a curious inversion in itself). But voting indicators always show that the old are much more likely to vote than the young, so the result could reflect not the view of the whole people but only that of those who take part in the process.”


Every single vote really will count then…


“But should I bother getting involved? Why would I want to spend any of my time and/or money helping any of that shower of s***s?” You might ask, perhaps continuing, “They’re all the same really anyway, aren’t they? All out for themselves…”


A few answers from the top of my head…


1)  Getting involved doesn’t have to mean helping politicians and/or a political party; you can take action on your own or get involved with non-political groups: Write letters to your local newspapers and politicians, go and watch local council meetings or even your assembly or parliament, volunteer for a charity or campaign, or contact your local residents’ association and see if they’re doing anything that interests you – or if there’s anything you can do to support them.


2) Getting involved is infinitely better than sniping from the sidelines or doing nothing.


3) It can make you feel good!


4) ‘They’ – politicians – are not all the same; most are actually decent people like you or me.


5) The only way to prove or disprove 4) is to get in touch with a political party (or perhaps three, if you’re not drawn to one party much more than the others) and go along and meet their representatives. If you don’t like and trust them, at least you tried – and at least you know for sure. Just please don’t tarnish ‘them all’ with the same brush if you happen to come across some lousy ones! And you might just find people you do like and trust...


6) Whatever you think of politics, politicians, political parties and the political system, getting involved is the best, if not only, way to make a real difference in modern society.


So whatever your political persuasion, don’t be disempowered and despondent. Whoever you are, you’re a powerful person – perhaps more powerful than you imagined, perhaps far more so. You can influence many more votes than your own and make a huge difference where you might have thought it impossible. In the end, it’s up to you – you’re the one thing you can’t hold anyone else responsible for...


Image Credit: CC Impolite Images - you may reuse this image in any way as long as you credit it with a link to this page



At Impolite Conversation we’d like to broaden our political coverage, and if you’re interested we’d appreciate your input. Tell us why you vote the way you do – or why you don’t vote at all. Share your experiences of getting involved, whatever that may be (taking UK libel laws in account, of course!) and make another difference by telling our readers what you have found...

Click here to contact us.

Matthew Wherry

About the Writer

Matthew is Impolite Conversation's editor.


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