A Great Fear of the Future

I began writing this essay on the night of the UK 2015 General Election when the Exit Poll came in. I began to wonder where we go from here when everything seems so very gloomy, and it feels like my fate is to be a cliché millennial always wanting more than I deserve. I continued this on the same morning that a friend moved across an ocean and I tried not to cry about the fact that everything is changing very quickly. I am finishing it now as I prepare to move back in with my mother for a short while before I begin my own (altogether shorter) overseas adventure.

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The UK General Election results show that the Conservatives slash and burn policies can not only maintain interest from the public, but even gather them more support. Or theoretically “more support” since the link between seats and votes is quite tenuous in our first-past-the-post system here. Still the Tories are doing well, and more concerning are the millions who voted for UKIP – a number which would surely be greater under a more representative voting system which did not encourage tactical votes. I have never had the opportunity to live under unrestrained Toryism and now I have triggered a sort of inherited fear. It is like a klaxon has been going off in my head since May 7th: BE WARNED, BAD TIDINGS AHEAD!

It’s a bit absurd since I personally won’t be too badly harmed; in a lot of ways the state was always made for people like me. Yes, I do have aspects and circumstances that can be held against me – my name for starters is not ideal – but overall I have access to a lot of privilege that will allow me to avoid some of the most devastating things that will be happening to our communities over the next five years.

Still we as humans get scared when we don’t have that certain security. It’s why, because I was fortunate enough to be able to, I marched on June 20th to #EndAusterityNow. Obviously it will take more than a march to change government policy, especially a majority government, but it was a way for me to plant my feet down and mark out publicly what I value. Part of the reason I have not joined a political party is that none so far close enough reflects what I treasure to speak for me, so I need to take that responsibility to speak myself.

It is now that we have to accept that a lot of personal decisions feed into the bigger political problem. Without active dissent a majority government is a lot more secure in pushing through proposals that damage us. And in a majority conservative government there is a danger that the entire political conversation will drag to the right, and with it more extreme positions seem less dramatic. If I don’t speak out about bigotry I see, aggressively in my day-to-day life, I let people get away with thinking that I don’t really care. So the personal is political.

Too often actions we want to take get watered down by fears of judgement. Start with the simple notion of shaving off body hair as a woman. Expand that into letting slightly offensive jokes slide because you know that the person isn’t bad.  Feel resentful when someone gets angry with you about something you’ve done that has hurt them. I am not immune to this – I bite my tongue on certain things to keep the peace. Months ago I would have said this allowed me to change things in a more subtle way, and though it has had some impact in some areas I’m starting to come to the view that subtly is a poor weapon against the things that I hate and fear. I need to see this dissociation for what it is – inherently harmful to others. Taking as much action as possible, more than I think I can get away with means that even when things are awful I can be happy with my conduct. This is not just about austerity, but about the whole way society conducts itself.

I am not suddenly going to stop being scared, both of possible retributions for speaking out over different things, and of the future that the country seems to be heading for, but I do have the option to decide which scares me more. Sometimes it will be the first, sometimes the latter. Sometimes I will be resistant to doing certain things because of criticism from those to the right of me, and sometimes it will be those from the left I am concerned with. In general though I am trying to move on from letting other people decide how loud I shout about a system that takes the most vulnerable and hurts them more.

We shape the world in the image of our actions. I want my world to care about those who don’t have all of the extra assurances that I do.

The Secret Ballot is Not a Thing: Talking About Voting

In this UK general election I am voting Labour.

I am not voting Labour because I am a member of the Labour party. I do not want to join any party at the moment. I am not voting Labour because I think they have great policies, since I haven’t read all their manifesto, and there are some I am against or undecided on. I am not voting Labour because I think they will be a great change. If anything I doubt things will shift that much – the difference between the Conservatives and Labour is between 5 years of a lot of austerity measures vs. slightly less austerity measures.

For all my jokes about Ed Miliband and being a groupie I am not actually a paid-up member of the #Milifandom, as he is foremost a politician and though I view him as more sincere and idealistic than a lot of politicians (which poses its own problems), he still just wants votes at the end of the day. No politician is a saviour figure, unless we finally get a politician willing to create a long-term cross party plan on essential services (NHS, Education) that cannot be altered or messed up with each election.

I am not even voting because of the local candidate, though I think she will be a very, very good MP. I recently went door-to-door to convince people to cross the box next to Dr. Rupa Huq’s name and I am glad I did so.

The true reason I am voting Labour is because I am a lefty in a Tory-Labour marginal and that is what I see as the best option.

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I dislike the conversation around secret ballots. When conversation veers onto voting and people say they don’t want to reveal their choices I understand it on some level but ultimately I think it harms public debate. Secret ballots are to protect you from the grip of the government, and other possible avenues of intimidation. However if you feel you live in a situation – as we do here – where that is less likely to happen you are entirely free to discuss your voting choice. Secret ballots aren’t even entirely enshrined in our system – both postal and proxy votes don’t really uphold the principle. And whilst polls may give an indication of intention, polls don’t have the same impact or nuance of talking with someone one-on-one.

Without discussing who we are voting for, and more importantly why we have selected them (or even the reasons we are not voting) with as broad a range of people as possible, we perpetuate the idea of loyal solid party voters. Discussion doesn’t need to be proselytising, indeed people may discover they have identical views but the results differ due to tactics that our political system forces. When people are backed into a system they can react in wildly different ways and just looking at the raw data can create the illusion that there is no strong common ground on particular issues since the votes are split between groups with radically different perspectives. As Wail Qasim wrote recently for Vice there is only a limited pool of parties which non-white people may feel represent their interests. The same is true for many other disadvantaged groups in society. This perspective leads to neglect as the main parties that rely on their support feel like they don’t have to offer anything to compel that support – they assume they will always get the votes regardless of how awful they treat people because they are better than the alternative. And so all the turf of political conversation becomes even more narrowly geared for those already in positions of great privilege.

With my Dad and his siblings composed of four mixed-race black kids growing up in the Midlands during the 80s there is a fundamental notion in the family that you absolutely NEVER vote Tory. As a result the choice becomes often tactical – voting for a smaller party may in a roundabout way introduce a Tory to power so instead the focus becomes on blocking them. This is why I will vote the way I do in my first general election.

My ideal is ultimately to reform the voting system so that people can have more faith in the system. On a smaller level I want parties to actively engage people rather than rely on tactical voting, and move beneficial policies to a wider range of people instead of middle-class swing voters. Part of that is opening up the conversation and honestly talking about how we are forced to vote tactically if we choose to participate in the current system.

I am voting Labour but I want to one day feel like it is more of a choice.