If somebody had asked me a year ago if I would be voting in the 2015 UK General Election, I may very well have contemplated replying, as my mother often does, with a very ambiguous, “I’m not sure, I just don’t feel it will really make a difference.” After the 2010 election, two years before I was due to start university, one of the main UK political parties promised to abolish tuition fees for education. The reality? The fees were tripled. I was one of the unlucky students who felt this impact immediately, and on graduating this July, I will leave university in just short of £50,000 worth of debt.
Today marks the first time I could legally place a vote in the UK General Election. Despite my reluctance and overall lack of interest this time last year due to my general uneasiness towards politicians, voting did turn out to be a totally huge deal for me. In this year’s election, it was hard to figure out who was going to emerge to challenge the UK’s two main parties, Labor and Conservative. For the first time they’ve been facing competition from smaller parties, meaning that the election was harder to predict than usual. Also, having social media sites like Facebook and Twitter around meant that it’s easy to hear everyone’s opinions on politics, and meant that engaging in the political process by voting wasn’t just a civic duty, it was a hot topic of conversation. On Thursday, Facebook even had this handy little feature, which allowed people to confirm to their friends that they were voting. Could this have been the final push for those who were perhaps sitting on the fence about checking out the vibe at the polling station?
A year ago I might not have heeded the call though. Comedian Russell Brand and others have pointed out how difficult it is to tell whether your vote is doing anything in the British system. Why even bother, it seemed to me, when the political system needs so much fixing? But now I feel differently. Isn’t the day of the General Election about having one of the most profound senses of free will? If people do not wish to vote, then I completely respect that. I myself feel very confused and misrepresented, so I can totally relate if others feel the same, especially the younger generation. The right to vote is still a choice like any other, and I sometimes think that is now very easily forgotten.
But here’s the thing: It’s still less than one hundred years ago since women were afforded the power to vote in the UK, and I believe it to be of great importance that women aim to try and not waste this relatively new voice. There is a kind of obligation for us take maximum advantage of having our say. When you remember the trials that suffragettes went through to get us a chance to make a mark in the political system, it seems kind of silly to say, “Well I don’t actually think I am going to vote because I don’t believe party politics are accurately representative or fair.” To refuse to put in your ballot is a form of self-silencing that the suffragettes would not have understood one bit.
For me personally, it wasn’t the manifestos and promises of each of the political parties that influenced my final decision to go out and cross that little box. It was because I wanted to make women like 1800s voters activist Emmeline Pankhurst proud. When Thursday came around and it was time to cast my first ever legal vote, I knew I would cast a vote, no matter how many doubts I had about the particular political leaders up for election. I went to the polling station because if women are to ever have a say in the things which really matter to us, from equal pay to laws against sexual assault, voting is a small but important step in having out voices heard. I voted not because I believe in one party or another. I voted because I believe in myself, and in all women, and I know we’re important enough to have our voices heard.