LONDON, England – There is a gap, for many, in becoming politically aware and exercising your legal right to vote. If you become interested in politics at say 15, you cannot legally vote until you’re 18, and even then opportunity may not present itself until a couple of years later. At the age of 19, I have just taken part in the recent mayoral campaigns by becoming one of the voting public.
The mayoral campaigns in London are important to people living here and not really to many others. Even the rest of the country is uninterested. However, for people who do live here, the choice was between a Labour incumbent of eight years and a new candidate for the Conservatives.
How I eventually voted is not really relevant. What I thought relevant was the process of voting. Not the nuts and bolts of it – I had a postal vote mainly because my parents do, and thus did not actually visit a polling booth on Election Day. No, what I have been wondering about is the process of pledging your support behind one candidate.
A quick note on the elections; everybody who lives in London had two votes for the mayor. You vote for your first preference in the first column, and your second preference in the second column. These were all tallied up, and the lowest percentages of the first preference vote were re-allocated on basis of second preference. If Candidate A got 35 percent, Candidate B 30 percent and Candidate C 10 percent, no candidate got enough overall votes, so all of Candidate C’s ballot papers were re-allocated.
The gap of which I was speaking of before is fantastic for precocious teenagers who are interested in debating. You can (honestly) claim that you did not vote for whoever is in charge now, which allows you to rip them to shreds without the slightest problem. You say you would have voted for someone else, who would have done it all differently. And up until you are legally able to vote, this standpoint works beautifully.
Then it eventually comes; the day you are allowed to vote. And you are excited, as you are going to make a real difference. I know I was. I had been debating frantically with friends in the lead up to the elections. I had even campaigned for whom I believed in, handing out flyers and attempting to make an impact. Then I voted, and as I posted my vote into the post box I was happy, as I was doing what my foremothers had fought for, and was exercising my legal right to vote for who I believed in. Truly, I don’t think I can oversell it as a groundbreaking day in my life.
Then there was the hangover. It was almost as if all the political activity had been too much. I had been gorging on debates, and leafleting, and endless scrutiny of television debates between the three main candidates. This binging had left me with the political hangover, the consequences of my actions. Like a headache, the low-level worry suddenly settled upon me; if the man I had chosen were to be elected, I was now directly responsible. My vote, my campaigning, my debating with as many people as I could, and to top it off the vote I had too happily posted. I had made some difference.
Taking an ideological stand is very different to pledging your support to a candidate. One is in a vacuum; it doesn’t matter if the policies would work in a real life situation, because they won’t be tested. It is just a dream. The other is making a decision with long reaching consequences. The choice between two would mean a man holding office for four years, representing London both here and abroad, being in charge of our transport, crime, an £11 billion budget and our Olympics in 2012. Waiting for a bus in the rain and moaning that the other person would have done better is easy; having the same situation but realising that, under your candidate, it is just the same, is another.
Voting is making yourself vulnerable. You may have made a mistake. You may have misunderstood what it was that your candidate was campaigning for. You are responsible for his actions now, good or bad. It is also believing that situations can change with a different politician. It is putting your trust in someone and seeing whether they can deliver, rather than just keeping your debates and policies hypothetical. It is testing out your politics for once, and seeing how they happen – or don’t – in the real world.
Therefore, as I admitted to some, there is a very small part of me that wanted the one that I hadn’t voted for to win. How much easier to claim my candidate would have been better, if everyone else had just opened their eyes to the possibility of him, he would have done limitless good, etc.
Now the real test comes, and with him now in charge of the office, I am going to have to actually trust him to pull through, to act on the mantras of his campaign, to live up to all he was going to have to be. Then, in a few months time, be on the back foot until the next election with my friends shouting down my decision, and me possibly admitting that I was wrong.
But this is what it’s all boiled down to. Yes, I am now in a vulnerable situation. Yes, I could be wrong. But simply arguing, ‘my way is better,’ without trying to make it come about, is merely student politics, and fun though that is, it isn’t the real world.
If you didn’t go to the ballot box when you could, you aren’t allowed to complain about the government that is in power.
By casting the vote I had taken the plunge, and it’s an essential part of growing up. If you will allow me to borrow a quote from one great man, Gandhi said, “Be the change you seek in the world.”
I know he wasn’t talking about a London mayor, but if you want the world, in whatever small way, to be changed, do it yourself.
Go and cast your vote.
Louisa McIndoe is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.