Dawn Butler: “If we want to change things, we have to vote for it”

Disillusionment, lack of trust in politicians are just some of the reasons why people don’t vote. But, Dawn Butler writes, people must not give up their voice

PICTURED: Dawn Butler

THIS WEEK, Jacob Rees-Mogg thought it was okay to belittle the victims of the Grenfell fire which only illustrates how out of touch he and those in the Tory party really are. The Conservatives are full of people like him, but we should not put up with this level of arrogance.

Grenfell was an avoidable tragedy and for Rees-Mogg to suggest that the victims lacked common sense, is an insult of the highest order. Let’s not forget, the reason why Grenfell was covered in combustible material in the first place, the Tory council did it because some of the wealthier residents considered the flats to be an eyesore.

So what can we do to change the hands of power? What can you do to make sure that it’s not just white rich Eton-educated men who are making decisions that benefit them and their friends? YOU CAN VOTE!

The reality is until relatively recently, voting was reserved for the wealthy and landowners. It was only with the Representation of the People Act 1969 that it was extended to allow all adults over 18 a vote.

So it hasn’t been that long that we have been able to vote – now is not the time to give up voting. If we want to change things we have to vote for it!

Last year many people forgot to celebrate working class men getting the vote. There were many celebrations in honour of 100 years of women’s suffrage when some women won the right to vote, but I was the only one to mention in parliament that there should have been an official celebration of working-class men winning the right to vote, as this was just as important.

The fact is that working class people are less likely to be registered to vote and BAME people have a lower registration rate than their white counterparts. Our greatest hope of getting more voters could be left with the younger voters.

Almost 1.4 million people below the age of 34 registered to vote in the past five months alone. Compare that to the same period in 2017 and it’s around a 50 per cent increase.

This is in part thanks to some universities rolling out the automatic enrolment systems for their students, and the increased and targeted engagement of young people via social media campaigns.

Those aged 25 to 34 are still the highest age group demographic registering most actively, but in September this year it was the 18-24 year olds who signed up in the highest number, with more than 350,000 of them joining the electoral register. But we can still do more.

Back in the 2015 general election, 66.1 per cent of the UK population turned up to vote, and just under 35 per cent of those who chose not to vote were actually eligible to. Those people have become known as the ‘unheard third’ and if they had voted for the current ruling Government could look very different.

There are many reasons why some people don’t feel the need to vote. Disillusionment brought on because people are sick of the political elite, a lack of trust in politicians, and also a total lack of interest in politics are just some of the reasons why.

But if we want to see change then we must go out and vote. The right to do so has been a hard-won battle – the elites and the wealthy have always tried to suppress working class people from voting. That’s why I think we should consider the Australian model where everyone is obliged to vote but voters can also select ‘none of the above’ option.

In Australia, voting is compulsory and failure to vote at a federal election without a valid and sufficient reason is an offence that results in a $20 penalty. Perhaps this is the sort of motivation we need in the UK for all of our citizens.

So why have a winter election? It makes little sense but what we know is that on December 12, students will be travelling as universities break for Christmas.

Boris Johnson is also banking on the fact that people will not want to go out in the dark, the wind and rain to campaign or to vote. He is partly right – there hasn’t been a general election in the winter since 1923! It disadvantages those who feel vulnerable and basically everyone who does not like the cold and the wet.

But it is also true that we only know our own strength and resolve when we face challenges. This election will be a challenge, and it is a challenge where people must not give up their voice.

This election will be about lots of things, like Brexit and if you want the final say, the NHS not being for sale and valuing women and equalities with a stand alone department, but it will fundamentally be about whether you feel you matter. It’s about the people who fought, died and were imprisoned so that regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race or ethnicity, we can use our vote.

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