The only thing I learnt about Politics, I picked up during my Law A-level at college – and even that was much more about the set up of the House of Commons/House of Lords and how laws are created and passed – not really about the voting stage.
My lack of knowledge and ignorance has meant that I was pretty nonchalant about voting and dismissed the idea of doing so, but, thanks to my passionate friends and the buzz about voting around my University at the moment I did a complete 360 and got a little invested in the voting shenanigans.
My friend recommended picking up ‘None of the Above” by Rick Edwards – a book highlighting the need to vote – even if there’s no-one you want to vote for  - and also took the whole election/parliament process back to basics, simplified the jargon and highlighted the key manifesto points of each of the main parties (Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Green Party and UKIP).
I think Rick has done a fantastic job of simplifying things without being patronising – and keeping it very neutral and unbiased. Although, I do feel it was a little anti-UKIP I have absolutely no problem with that.

The voting process annoys me a lot, because of other people’s ignorance. Perhaps studying PR means I am much better at reading through the lines, digesting the media properly and understanding how statistics are manipulated to suit different parties. But the comments people make are so ill informed – what they think different parties stand for is widely off the mark and they can be very narrow-minded. My biggest pet hate, is basing their election choices on events from 20 years ago… either actions by political parties or general country events. I think Rick summed this point up early on: “there are such compelling reasons right now to vote that we don’t need to lean on history” and again in the ‘Broken Promises’ chapter – “It doesn’t even really make sense to vote on the basis of frustration over a promise broken years ago.”
I also strongly believe that you don’t have a right to moan about the state of the country or “the government” if you don’t vote and have your say when you have the chance.

Rick highlights how important it is that young people especially, vote. This doesn’t even mean that you should vote for one of the parties – if you can’t find a party that supports your needs or your voice – then just go in and “spoil” your ballot paper – at least that shows that you actually give a XXXX! In the last election 56% of young people didn’t vote – because of that, young people are considered disengaged and “apathetic” – and if young people don’t care – parties do not waste time creating policy to suit young people or addressing their needs.

Another couple of things that Rick highlights that I strongly agree with, it the fact that young people are “digital natives” and this means a couple of things. Voting should be online and registration should not be needed. And, politicians should be using digital means and social media to engage and converse with the younger electorate.  He discussed the compulsory voting system in Australia and the different versions of democracy around the world – I haven’t formed an opinion on these issues yet but it was incredibly interesting to read and learn about them.

When it comes to voting, I think you need to think about the issues that are important to you RIGHT NOW and for the next 5 years. As a student, about to graduate – of course I am pissed that the fee’s rose – and although that means that I am dubious of trusting Nick Clegg this will not form the basis of my decisions – as Uni fee’s do not apply to me anymore.
As a soon-to-be graduate, a strong economy is incredibly important to me. I want to know that our economy is growing, there’s more job opportunities for me as a graduate and room for progression and big earnings. Although I am empathetic to people struggling on minimum wages and I think apprenticeship schemes and  help for young people is incredibly important – that isn’t my personal priority.
Living at home is slowly driving me mad(!) and hopefully over the next couple of years I will be hoping to get onto the property ladder. I need a party who is committed to building new houses and making things affordable. On a side note, I am not interested in moving to London, so I am not invested in London house pricing.
Whilst we are on London, and having touched on the economy, as I am currently seeking internships and placements at University, a lot of the opportunities are in London. Coming from a Yorkshire based working class family, I cannot afford to be in London (temporarily or permanently) and so this is a disadvantage. However, focusing on the bigger picture – I don’t want more money/opportunity to get to London, I want to improve the economy and making these opportunities available in the North – thus decentralising business control from London!

Travelling and speaking to people from around the world has highlighted to me how important the NHS is, and how lucky we are to have it. I want to make sure that access to free, efficient health care is protected. On saying that, my boyfriend works for a private company that supplies IT services and software to the NHS and so I do support the notion of privatising parts of the NHS in order to provide a more streamlined, efficient service to the public.

When it comes to the countries finances and more specifically, tax payments, I am sitting on the fence. I strongly believe that there should be an incentive for people to work harder and earn more money (without being ridiculously taxed)– however I do believe we need to be chasing down those big companies who have been avoiding paying tax in the UK. I also think we need to abolish or amend inheritance tax – it’s awful knowing that your parents/grandparents worked hard for their money to have it taxed after death!

I am very passionate about benefits – and am always one to have a rant about people on benefits. – unfairly may I add - I do support the welfare system and supporting those in need but I am dubious about how benefit money is spent. Admittedly, I was extremely surprised to learn lots of different statistics, such as 13million people live in “poverty” (by our average earning evaluated definition) in the UK and actually only 0.7% of benefits – as oppose to the 27% the public thinks – is fraudulently claimed. I think that would come as a shock to a lot of people and the media are very guilty of over playing this and making the problem worse than it really is and its true that “in tough economic times, we look for scape goats.” I fully support a benefit cap, and it’s extremely important to make sure that it “pays to be in work” and not on benefits. The book discusses possible reforms to the benefit system which are very interesting. Again, I haven’t formed a full opinion but it was great to read and learn about and there is a need for some kind of reform to the system.

Finally, a topic of a lot of controversy is Immigration and the EU. So here goes for my opinion, we need to allow immigration. Immigration can be good for the economy - 11% of the NHS is made up of immigrant workers, tax paying immigrants benefit the economy and we have  a mismatch of what young people are training for and what jobs are actually out there, and thus some immigrant workers are in demand worldwide. I cannot begrudge anyone who wants to find a better life for themselves and their families and for a lot of people they see that better life in the UK – sometimes we forget how lucky we are to be born British. I understand that integration of immigrants is a problem – but I do believe that ignorance and lack of education on culture and religion and stereotyping for young people is a massive contributor to that. “RE” was a joke for me in school and so people learn a lot about different cultures and immigrants from ill-informed, biased (and sometimes racist) relatives and a propaganda-style media!  I do think that we need to reduce the amount of immigration whilst there is a housing crisis in the UK, and there should be a system in place to ensure immigrants are somewhat skilled, able to work and contribute to the economy and reduce the issue of “health tourism” and people coming to the UK to manipulate the benefit system and the NHS.  Some parties are basic racists and their views on immigration are disgusting, but I think it’s good that the conversation is being had.

I also believe that we should stay a part of the EU. Although admittedly I don’t know a great deal about the EU, I do believe it is good for trade, free movement around Europe and generally being a part of a “team” on issues such as national security and terrorism. Although some people argue that the EU passing laws for us is a problem, it also acts as a control over our Government which can be a good thing.

There are so many important issues, which differ for different people. I know I glazed over the NHS, but that isn’t a priority on my personal agenda at the moment. There’s a lot about devolution of power, Climate Change and the environment etc. again, all very important issues – but when you are trying to make decisions on who to support, I think it’s important to really focus on areas that are of most importance to you at this time and for the next five years or it becomes impossible to make decisions about who to vote for.

I also avoided discussing the chapter on drugs. I am extremely undecided on drugs and the “War on Drugs” – I personally am very anti-drugs, but I do understand the argument around alcohol and tobacco and the need to perhaps take a different approach. I know a lot of other American and European countries are trialling new successful approaches and I would welcome the UK doing the same.

The main message of the book and this blog post is that you must have a voice. You must go to vote, if just to “not vote.” There definitely should be a “None of the Above” option.
My main thought that kept returning whilst reading the book cover to cover, was EDUCATION – or rather lack of. People need educating more on politics and the political system, on cultures, religion and immigration, on how to read the media properly and understand the campaigning and PR(?) methods. And we also need more education and training to get people into work and earning money. Whilst we are blessed to get a free education (up to 18) in the UK, this can also mean it is taken for granted. Schools are failing in teaching essential, core life knowledge (as mentioned above) that can help them make informed decisions and opinions. We rely on their families, to give them that knowledge which is often very incorrect, prejudiced and out dated!

The parties can appear to be very similar and so it’s hard to decide who to vote for – and in many aspects they are. But, there are key differences in the beliefs of different parties, and it’s not that some of them are wrong – it’s just important that you identify those differences and see which fits with your belief and what you agree with.

If you want to check out the book, to learn more about politics and the different parties in a digestible form, check out Rick Edwards' book: http://amzn.to/1JiqRMx

He is also doing an evening in Waterstones, Leeds on May 1st for those interested locals: http://bit.ly/1D1wEAZ

And don’t forget to register by 20th April here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

And VOTE on the 7th MAY!

Your Vote is your Voice.

M x

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