Monthly Archives: May 2015

Beyond the Ballot Box

Ballot-box-006 Today is the General Election. In my last general election themed blog I wanted to have a slightly different conversation to the majority of what you will hear and take part in today.
I have spoken about trying to decide how to vote, about why to vote and also about why I am voting Labour. Today though I want to share what I think is the most important conversation we all need to be having which is this… “What happens beyond the ballot box?” Our media is full of stories about our politicians, their policies, their supporters and their critics. We have a continuous commentary about who may be in power and what kind of government we may wake up to on May 8th. The choice we make today is so important but I don’t think it’s the final deciding factor that determines what Britain looks like for the next 5 years

Russell Brand said something interesting the other day. He said this:
“Politics isn’t just something we can just be involved with every five years, Democracy is for everyday, not just elections.”
Ed Miliband said in the same interview with Russell Brand that politicians can only do so much to change the world or our country. He said we need people to play their part, to put pressure on governments to make the changes needed. I agree with him. If we pin all hope on politicians we could be disappointed, no matter how great they or their party may be. Instead we must begin to see ourselves as participants in democracy, with our participation continuing long after we cast our vote at the ballot box. Our voices are important.

Politics should be a partnership between people and government, not a transaction.

Over the last few months I have seen some wonderful examples of this nationally but also across the Tees Valley. The Vote for the NHS movement galvanised thousands of people to go and march and sign petitions about saving the NHS from privatisation. It was started by a group of Mums from Darlington who were worried about their health service. The NHS has featured heavily in political parties manifestos, some say as a direct result of these campaigns.
The Trussel Trust and Citizens Advice have written articles and campaigned about food poverty. These two issues have also been featured in some parties manifestos.

Other examples of year round politics and democracy are things like, For People Not Profit in Saltburn who have a film night, every third Thursday in The Marine pub, raising awareness about issues of social justice, human rights & environmental issues. The People’s Assembly campaigning against the severe cuts to public services and public sector funding. Thrive in Stockton, working with people who have been left destitute by benefit sanctions, helping them have a voice and to know their rights. Middlesbrough against racism is often a presence at right wing protests. There have also been groups tackling much more local issues, like Save the Regent Cinema, who succeeded in winning investment from Redcar Borough council to renovate the beautiful old cinema on Redcar seafront and Save Teesside airport who have a strong social media presence keeping people informed about what is happening with our local airport.

All of these are people led movements and more than a few of them have resulted in their issues being adopted and tackled by our politicians. So in amongst the noise of today about who will run our councils, towns, cities and country I also want us to think about what role we can play beyond the ballot box and beyond today. Your voice and your engagement is as important as your vote. If you really want to help shape the country, the community and the place you live in then your X on the ballot paper should only be the beginning.

We all must hope that the party who win’s will listen to the voice of the people, but whatever happens we can’t go back to business as usual. Let’s make sure that our activism, political conversation and democratic engagement doesn’t stop once the media have got bored of the weeks of analysis of why SNP mopped up in Scotland and why after everything UKIP only won 2 seats. Let’s make sure it grows, develops, builds momentum, matures and intensifies and let’s make sure we all play our part in shaping the Britain of the future.

Vote With Hope

Don’t know who to vote for or even why vote… Here’s some of my thoughts, here is why I am voting. I hope this will make you think about what’s important to you.

Each of us are citizens, we are not just individuals, we are the community, we are the town we live in, we are our country. As a citizen, we have a responsibility for the place of which we are a part. It is our responsibility to choose who governs that place and who makes up the laws and rules for that place. When we vote we are making a choice on behalf not just of our families and friends but hopefully, on behalf of our communities and for the country.

When I vote tomorrow I am voting for the party that I think will make the best job of running the country and the politicians I think will make the best job of looking after my borough and the community that I live in.

As you reflect on what’s important to you, I strongly encourage you to watch this.

owen jones, thinking of not voting, power, people, democracy
https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/commentisfree/video/2015/may/05/no-normal-election-dont-let-your-voice-be-taken-away-owen-jones

Tomorrow I will be voting Labour, this isn’t a decision I made without thinking, it isn’t a political way of thinking I was born into. I spent years working to build a better and stronger society for those most vulnerable. I eventually realised that there was one clear political party that could represent my own values and beliefs the best. Labour. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1) I believe in Labour values – that we achieve more by the strength of our common endeavor than we do as individuals. This is the fundamental difference to conservatism. I believe the years of serving the individual / self, first needs to be reversed and has actually had a detrimental affect on society
2) Labour want to stand up to & tackle unethical & immoral practices of big business. I believe in business, we need prospering industry for prosperous nation BUT… I think it needs controls. Just like individuals need laws to create a safe, ethical & moral landscape for living (think seat belts, theft, violence etc). We have laws to protect ourselves from the worst of ourselves. It’s same with business. It needs laws that ensure it is safe, moral & ethical. To protect it from the worst of itself. Labour aren’t afraid to do this & they also believe it is right. Unlike liberal thinking which thinks there needs to be more freedom.
3) Labour have equality at their core. They believe we should all have equal opportunities. I inherently believe this too. I think it’s a British value that we need to protect. Our care and compassion for ALL is what makes us great!! It’s what makes Britain the envy of the world (I’ve met so many people from other countries who are blown away by our public services / NHS / transport systems / care for those with disabilities) So any party that tries to dismantle that or privatise that are attacking the core of what I believe makes Britain great. Labour get this & are committed to protecting these things.
4) Ed Miliband gets that we need party reform. He isn’t afraid to say that even his own party needs to change to be fit for purpose for the next 20 years (so people’s movements, organising, campaigning, workers unions are all valued and seen as important) this excites me, the potential is big & I want to be a part of helping labour fill that potential
5) I care about the most vulnerable in society. I care about the elderly, at-risk children, homeless, workless, those in social housing… I don’t trust any of the parties to care for the most vulnerable in the way I believe Labour will. They have already made promises about benefit sanctions and scrapping benefit sanctions. I hope this is only the beginning.

So there you go, here’s some reasons to vote, here’s some reasons why I am voting. Now it’s over to you. Vote with hope and never let your voice be taken away from you!

White Noise of Politics

jessie jacobs, politics
For the past few months I’ve been looking at how we get people more engaged in politics, from registering and encouraging people to vote, to mobilising individuals and communities to be more politically active.

One thing has become really obvious in the run up to this General Election. A lot of people genuinely don’t know who to vote for and a very common reason is that people just don’t understand how it all works and what each party stands for.

For the next three days I am going to write an article each day addressing this issue.
We live in an information age. With so much information out there, it may seem strange that so many people are unclear about what politics means and what our political parties are about.
It feels like we are talking about politics more than ever before, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are littered with political posts. The news doesn’t seem to talk about anything else at the moment and our newspapers are a catalogue of party political propaganda. So if there is so much noise, why aren’t people hearing?

Here’s my theory. White noise!

White noise is physics terminology to describe a noise containing many frequencies, a constant background noise that drowns out all other sounds. It can also be used to describe a meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub or chatter.

Has the continuous coverage of MP’s arguing; the sometimes seemingly meaningless conversations of our media broadcasters (reporting things like how many girlfriends a potential PM has had) and the never ending bombardment of stories about the seven major parties and what they have or haven’t promised, what is wrong with what they have promised and why what they have promised can’t be trusted; simply created a political white noise.

If we aren’t absolutely dedicated to the political cause, with weeks to spare researching the parties and getting our head round it all, how do we unpick all that has been said. How do we find truth from all the chatter? How do we hear what is really being said? And importantly how do we move forward and make that very important decision about who to vote for in two days time.

I am not sure sadly we can address this issue in a few days. For real democratic participation we need to re-think a whole host of things. We might need to re-think community, revive public gatherings, start going down the pub more, lobby for better political education in schools, encourage people to get active in political parties or unions, join or start campaigns, make it ok to talk politics at the dinner table or any table, ensure political voices are welcomed at community events, make our community activities more political. All of these things could ensure our communities are more politically aware and active. They could enable year round politics and not just election time politics

Unfortunately for this General Election we only have two days to make up our minds so If you are struggling to hear through the noise and are still unsure who to vote for, why not think about trying the following

1) Ask a friend for advice. We all have those friends who only ever post things about politics. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you have; they spend most of their time talking about it anyway. Don’t think you can’t ask the really basics either. I’ve been asked all sorts of questions and was very happy to answer them.
2) Choose wisely where you get your information from. The BBC are a much more reliable source of news and information than people like the Daily Mail or the Sun. (although some would say not completely unbiased) Many of our other papers and TV stations are owned by a small number of media owners who have their own agendas (usually to protect their billions and ensure they don’t come under scrutiny or restrictions) so I personally would take what they say with a large pinch of salt (or maybe a whole salt mine of the stuff)
3) Take one of those political compass tests, they’re not completely accurate but they do give you an idea of where you lean politically. These two are good http://election2015.votematch.org/ and https://verto.vote/#/ again take them with a pinch of salt, just because your politics align with a certain party, it still doesn’t mean they are the right party to vote for but at least you will know where you lean.
4) Lastly, to try and understand the main differences in the parties it’s good to understand their core principles, these can be described as left or right wing. Here’s a nice little overview of what that means http://idontgetpolitics.co.uk/right-left-wing Some parties policies may sound similar but there’s still some fundamental differences so understand these and it may just help you make your mind up.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This is so important!