I haven’t always voted

Many’s the time recently  when I’ve spoken to residents when I’ve been out canvassing that I’ve expressed disappoint ment when they’ve said they won’t be voting for anybody because they don’t vote.

The reasons are generally one or other of ‘it doesn’t make any difference’, ‘you’re all corrupt’ and ‘can’t be bothered/not interested’. I then do my best to point out the error of their ways and, especially if it’s a woman, how the right to vote has not easily been established but, by and large, I’ve known that I’ve been wasting my breath.

I make no apology but I am being a tad hypocritical because I didn’t vote for the first time until I was in my late 40s and I haven’t exactly been a regular voter until very recently. What gives?

The first general elections I remember were those of the 1960s. The first was in 1964 when Harold Wilson’s Labour Party defeated Alec Douglas-Hume’s Tories and won a majority of just 4. It was in the days of ‘proper’ campaigning and I went along to a lunch time rally at the car park by the Central School in Shotton where the latter spoke. The second was in 1966 when Mr Wilson won himself a majority of 98. I recall attending a rally this time as well, at the Queensferry secondary school.

I didn’t vote in either of these because I wasn’t old enough. The voting age was still 21 but even if it had been lower I would not have qualified. It was in 1970 that it was reduced to 18 but that was too late for me to benefit from it.

The next general election was in 1970 when Edward Heath beat Harold Wilson with a majority of 30 parliamentary seats. I was interested in the election, it was one of those occasions when the Liberals were going to make a break through, and I was old enough to vote but I didn’t. Why not? I guess it’s because I was living in rented accomodation and my landlord had not registered me. Or maybe I moved into the flat after such registration might have happened. Whatever the reason I was insufficiently motivated to get registered so that I could vote.

The same happened in early 1974 when Harold Wilson regained power after Heath went to the country asking ‘who runs Britain’ after the miners strike of that winter introduced us to rolling power cuts. That was clearly a silly question to ask and the electorate threw him out even though it did not give Wilson a working mandate. I was still living in rented accomodation, this time in Clapham, but I was shortly to move to the US so perhaps there’s more reason for me not bothering to get elected so that could vote.

Wilson called another election later in 1974 when he did win a working majority but by then I was gone and it was not until the election of 1997 when the Labour Party under Tony Blair trounced John Major’s Tories that I would be able to vote again in a general election in the UK.

Of course general elections are not the only elections. There’s also the whole raft of local elections which happen to some extent every year. Before I left the UK in 1974 I was largely blind to them but I do remember that I voted in 1995 when I lived in Wilmslow and then in 1996 I not only voted but I was also a candidate losing by just five votes as I stood as the Lib Dem candidate in the Lacey Green ward for Macclesfield Borough Council.

But I have to confess voting did not become a habit until the turn of the century. I don’t think I voted in Tony Blair’s first two successful elections, I remember being in the US at the time of the second one. I voted sporadically until 2005 when I was a candidate again and successfully became a county councillor, a position I held for 16 years before standing down this year. Since 2005 I have voted religiously.

So: on reflection I shouldn’t be too hard on those who say they don’t vote. Even at times when I’ve been interested in the election I haven’t always voted because it hasn’t seemed that important to me at the time. I know that’s sad and wrong and that more people should vote but how do we make the compelling case that they should? If they don’t we run the risk of forever being governed by a party that doesn’t command a majority but profits from they way that elections are run and are organised. Maybe if we had a visibly fairer voting system that would help …

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