Anyone who has ever knocked on doors seeking support for their party has heard the words: “I’m not interested in politics or in voting; I never vote; you politicians are all the same, you’re just out for yourselves.”
I have sympathy for those who don’t believe that their views are properly represented, or who feel that their vote can have little influence in a first-past-the-post voting system, but I have none at all for those who can’t be bothered to vote even as a gesture of protest.
Hearing the news each day from the Middle East brings home the stark contrast between those in Britain who hold our democracy in contempt and those who fight for it elsewhere.
People in Tunisia, people in Egypt, people in Libya have taken to the streets and laid down their lives for the sake of having what the complacent non-voters in our country appear to despise so much – the chance to influence the way they are governed through the ballot box.
I doubt that I would have the courage to face the wrath of authoritarian regimes as those seeking democracy in the Middle East are doing now, but I cherish what we have in Britain. It is very far from perfect but, in the words of Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
Some 37 years ago I joined the Liberal Party and first knocked on a door to ask for support. Over the years I have grown to respect supporters of all political parties who have done the same. Politics in Britain is tame by the standards of many places elsewhere but those who try to influence the decision-making process are standing up for the fundamental values of freedom all the same.
Maybe it’s time that the candidates of all parties, the people who put their heads above the parapet and engage with the democratic process, got together to tell the non-voters what we really think of them.
I cannot be alone in finding that a great many non-voters tend to be smug, superior and disdainful. So often they give the impression that they think it’s clever not to vote. In their arrogance they express the view that politics and politicians are simply beneath them. Some simply have no appreciation of the idea that anyone could be motivated by concepts of public service, or by a desire to achieve change for the greater good, probably because the thought of doing the same has never crossed their minds.
Non-voters can despise practising politicians all they like, the reality is that they have cast aside their chance of having any influence and have opted instead for impotency. The vote is power, and we who use it are pretty contemptuous of those who do not.
So, non-voters, hear it from one practising politician:
“You insult the memory of those who fought for the vote in Britain and who are fighting across the world for it now. Our law gives you the right to emasculate yourselves by choosing not to vote but don’t imagine that this wins you respect.
“We live in a democracy and while the views of voters matter the views of non-voters do not. By not voting you have made yourself irrelevant.
“We don’t care what you think. You have made the decision that you want no influence. So be it, you have none.”
I feel so much better for writing that. Maybe I’ll get some cards printed that I can carry with me to give to non-voters when next I go knocking on doors.
“SORRY,” they might read. “Sorry for having disturbed you and sorry too that I wasted my time. Perhaps if you suffered under authoritarian rule you might appreciate why the chance to vote is something to value and use.
“Fortunately we live in a democracy, but please don’t expect politicians to take any notice of your views, we serve at the whim of voters and you have chosen not to be one..
“If this annoys you there is always something you can do about it. USE YOUR VOTE!”