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.

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