How to take part in democracy this election season6th May 2017
Right. The long haul of election season is upon us, and we have six weeks till the votes are cast. Whatever party you’re backing, or even if you’ve decided not to vote (a valid choice, but do! Do vote!), there is a lot you can do to take part.
Whether you believe in the legitimacy of Theresa May calling this election or not, the right to express your political views is a privilege, and one you should take advantage of. Voting is one way to express your political freedom. But there are also many other ways that you can and should get involved in democracy. From going to protests, taking part in economic boycotts, and joining grassroots groups to campaigning for a political party by canvassing, leafleting and working in phone banks, there are many, many ways you can participate in democracy.
If you haven’t decided who to vote for
The 2017 party manifestos haven’t come out yet, but one way to get a pretty clear idea of what the different parties are going to do if they get in, is to take a look at previous voting records. Where did the different candidates stand on the key issues of the past decades? What are May and Corbyn’s respective stances on: privatisation of the NHS, tax evasion, the Iraq War and other foreign interventions, the benefits system, education, tuition fees? The website www.theyworkforyou.com is a really helpful resource which breaks down how politicians such as Corbyn, May and Farron have voted in the past. Just look up the party leaders by name, or your local MP on the website, and www.theyworkforyou.com will give you a very clear breakdown of how they have voted while they’ve been in Westminster.
Remember to register to vote by the 22nd May. It takes about two minutes.
British, Irish, and Commonwealth citizens living in Britain are eligible to vote. Brits who have lived abroad for less than 15 years are also eligible to vote from overseas.
Remember to register to vote by the 22nd May. It takes about two minutes. Just google ‘register to vote’, and with your National Insurance Number (and your passport number if you live abroad), you’re good to go. If you won’t be able to vote in your area on polling day (8th June), or you can’t be bothered to get dressed on the day, then you can apply to vote by proxy (where someone you trust like your parents can vote on your behalf) or by post. To vote by postal or proxy vote, you must apply by the 23rd May and the 31st May respectively. You do not have to give a reason to apply for a postal vote, but you must have a valid reason to vote by proxy.
How to campaign for your political party
If you know who you’re voting for, campaigning for your political party can be a really fun and interesting way of getting involved in politics. There are a number of ways you can do this, and the best place to start is by going to your party’s website and volunteer.
But what might you be asked to be do if you volunteer for a political party?
Canvassing basically means directly speaking with voters, either by knocking on doors and speaking to voters about their local candidates and the issues that matter to them, or by making telephone calls to voters. It can sound a little scary to speak directly to people about policy, but actually it is a really fun and interesting experience. I had never done it before last week, but the team I was working with were helpful, encouraging, and let me shadow them for an hour, whilst knocking on doors, so I was working with people who had lots of experience. After an hour, I was ready to talk one-on-one to voters by myself, so it’s not as scary or as difficult as it might sound. Just go to your party’s website, and sign up to volunteer.
As with canvassing door to door, this involves a certain amount of walking. Generally leafleting involves being given party leaflets by your district’s party HQ, and dropping them into people’s houses in a designated area. The biggest plus of this kind of volunteering is that you can usually go leafleting in your own time, so it doesn’t have to get in the way of your essays and problem sheets!
Again, check out the volunteering pages on your party’s website, and email your party’s local division to ask for leaflets and posters.
If you’ve got a couple of hours a week to spare, working in a phone bank can be a really effective way of reaching out to voters and party members. In election season, political parties are looking to get as many people as they can to campaign on behalf of the party. So essentially, you go to the party’s local call centre or office, call up members and ask them if they would be interested in coming to canvassing days, leafleting, volunteering on polling days, or helping out at local campaign events. It’s not a hard job, and definitely makes a difference to the party’s campaign! There is strength in numbers!
In aftermath of Brexit and Trump, and in the run-up to this election, you can expect a lot of protests in the UK at the moment. Oxford’s huge protest on Cornmarket last term against Trump’s planned state visit showed that when people come out in full force, it can make a big statement. Sign as many e-petitions as you like, but the government find it far harder to ignore direct action and consistent protests. So get protesting!
Some excellent organisations who hold regular student protests are:
- The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and the subdivision The Student Assembly Against Austerity
- Stop the War Coalition
- Stand Up To Racism
- National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
And last but not least, get creative. Put posters in your windows. If you have an appropriate platform, use it. Write for your student or college paper. Go to political meetings, even with weird, mad factions. Join the Leninist Elvis Appreciation Society, or the Conservatives against Veterinary Medicine. Hey, you might meet some interesting people! You might have a good time! You might find yourself sitting next to someone inspiring and wonderful, or you might end up listening to the most tedious drivel you’ve ever heard! Who knows, but it’s worth finding out, isn’t it? The main thing is, political participation is about a lot more than voting once every five years – it’s about campaigning, finding groups you agree with, and organising local action.
Go here to register to vote by the 22nd May: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote