Make Your Voice Heard – Use Your Right To Vote
Are you planning to vote in the General Election?
I can understand if your answer is ‘no’. Perhaps you have become disillusioned with politics and politicians. Maybe you don’t believe anybody speaks for you or brings about any meaningful change in society anyway. Perhaps you have a jaded view of politicians that they are all so pre-occupied with their own self-interests that voting either which way becomes arbitrary and all will be corrupted by the power they wield eventually. Or maybe you just have a broad spectrum apathy towards the whole stinking situation.
If that is your response, I can certainly relate. It was how I have felt, and, in many respects, still do feel. But for anyone that keeps a keen eye on the state of politics, socio-economic affairs, and global issues it is clear that this is a precarious and tempestuous time. When I first turned eighteen and gained the right to vote I was apathetic; everyone, every party, is much the same so why bother? But that was a decade ago, and by comparison a much stabler political playing field, both in a domestic and an international sense.
Now, however, things are very different. Perhaps the apathy and disillusionment I felt has turned to anger and frustration in many people and led to a rise in populist parties and a divide in opinion. We only need to look to the U.S. to see the ramifications of this. People are tired of traditional approaches to politics and politicians. This is showing in the voting stations and there is a swell of change rife throughout western democracies.
But this is an arts-based blog, you may say, why am I commenting on this issue?
Well, politics and art have always been intimate partners. Much art is a response to political figures, decisions, and regimes. See my two recent artist interviews, with Katherine Baker and Joyce Iwaszko, to see how societal issues have influenced and shaped their work. But, perhaps more importantly, the outcome of elections, the people who run the country, have a massive impact upon the state of arts, culture, and heritage. They hold the keys, the budgets, and the position to approve and reject programmes, education, and valuable arts projects nationally.
This article, then, is not a biased plea to vote for any particular party, although my dissatisfaction with the status quo may become abundantly clear. But written in the hopes that it can convince you that if you care about the arts and arts provision, then it is your responsibility to vote and have your voice heard. We can differ on opinion about which party that is, but ultimately, unless we use our democratic right to have a say then we cannot expect to comment on the outcome.
But it won’t make a difference!
Really? I wonder how many people say that? I was certainly one of them, although it was said as a statement in reference to the parties themselves. However, now that opinion has changed. More importantly, if you look at the statistics related to voter turn out, then the answer is very clear: your vote will make a difference!
In the 2015 General Election there was only a 66.4% turnout. Of the 46 million (approx.) people that could have voted, only 30 million (approx.) valid votes were counted (Stats from http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk). That means that around 16 million people did not have a say in the overall result, how the country is run, and the governmental policies that will affect their lives. In short, if every apathetic voter made their way to the polling station and put an ‘x’ in that box it could have a monumental impact upon the results.
What about the Arts?
It is a fact that in recent years arts funding has diminished. Art within schools is being sidelined at best, and at worst abolished, in favour of traditional academic subjects. These are all things that I find increasingly worrying. Having recently been involved in a community arts project with a group of teenagers who, by there own accounts, did not always get on well within school, I have seen first-hand the positive impact upon their confidence and outlook. Yet there was not the provisions to run a project like this within the school itself.
It is ironic that current members of this government seem concerned with the implications of ‘fake news’ and how to give children and young people the tools to be able to navigate these issues in the modern world. Yet, art is being cut. Where is the correlation, you might ask? Well, art teaches a need for critical thinking. This is not just of your own work, but also other peoples. It asks you to identify and vocalise how and why a work is aesthetically pleasing, or what message aspects of the work present. The meaning and intent of the artist is often multi-layered and not immediately obvious, forcing a critical and evaluative engagement. Perhaps more importantly, however, there is no one correct answer. Art is wilfully open to interpretation.
It is precisely these kind of analytical skills that students these days appear to lack. There is always a proscribed answer that they are seeking to find. They are taught to trust and value the word of the teacher over all else, as this will ensure a passing grade. Yet this does not engender an attitude that translates to the wider world. It also positively hinders the ability to form an independent opinion on any number of issues.
I say this as someone who has taught at university level and have had difficulty coaxing out of students their own views. Yes, there is the element of shyness and possibly a lack of willingness to put their opinions out there to be judged, but on numerous occasions I have had the question ‘but which answer will get me the most marks?’ At this I despair. When our young people are spoon fed consistently throughout their education how can they be expected to take a critical eye out into the wider world? Why would they not take every news article they read at face value?
If this is a situation you have also noticed, then you need to take a stand and make your opinion heard. Yes, there is probably a bigger issue within the education system besides the removal of arts classes (we can talk about the omnipresence of standardised tests, if you’d like?), but it is a symptom of something larger.
The important point to note is that people are being tacitly disenfranchised by this lack of provision. Being led to believe their opinion has no value, and will not have an impact. That there is always a ‘right’ answer to be found (if only life were that simple!). But as we have seen from the voting numbers, if even half of the people who thought that made the decision to go out and vote on June 8th then a tangible impact would be had.
If you are not concerned about the education system, then perhaps you have an interest in other areas of arts and culture. Museums, galleries, and heritage sites – many of these are government funded, or at the very least subsidised. As I have witnessed in my own local area, the local councils have control over the arts provision within their area. It is dependent upon who you elect as to how these programmes are delivered on the local level. By contrast in my home town of Stafford we have recently seen the closure of our only art gallery, a central landmark of the market town, yet in Stoke-on-Trent, as I have written about extensively, the council are actively supporting arts and heritage projects.
Yes, the composition of your local council is a major factor in this, and unfortunately the local elections for these decisions has already gone by this year. But that doesn’t mean your vote in the General Election cannot have an impact. A good MP will often work with local councils and can help to support any independent proposals that are put forwards by outside parties.
Which way to vote?
This is also an issue many of you may have. Who do you vote for? As I said earlier, I will not try and influence that – I do not care how you vote, just make sure you do! Although I must admit, I am still undecided on which way to vote myself. I am in a position in my constituency where we have a fairly good MP on a local level, however, he represents a party I cannot back because of their wider policies. All the other candidates we have are unknowns, and I don’t know how they will work within my local community. So I have to decide between local and national priorities. The point is, your choice needs to be informed.
I know, this can be a minefield – I can hear the cries of ‘fake news’ and ‘biased media’. In the Information Age trying to wade through the media spin can be exhausting. But if you want to make your vote count it is worth some effort. At the very least, there are a number of online tools you can use that will help you to identify the party that best aligns with your political views (like this one). Other than that, go directly to the manifestos of the parties themselves (I’ve put links to all the major party manifestos at the end of this article), or check out an independently run fact checking website, such as fullfact.org.
Whatever you decide, ensure that your opinion is heard; even if that includes going into the polling station and writing ‘none of these tosspots!’ on your paper. A spoiled vote is still a voice, and if every person who feels so apathetic and disillusioned with the system that they don’t vote did this then it would send a strong message to those seeking power.
The short version is this: if you are dissatisfied with how things are, you need to vote. If you are concerned about arts provision and education, you need to vote. If you want more funding and support for the arts, you need to vote. If you value the way in which art can benefit and transform the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society, you need to vote. And this is not to mention all of the other socio-economic reasons that are vital to you, your family, and your community.
Do not let these issues be decided by other people. If you are disillusioned enough to not trust the people in charge, why do you then put your trust in other people to decide who gets there in the first place? Make your voice heard, make a change. Oh, and did I mention: Go out and VOTE!!
You need to be registered to vote by May 22nd – register here.
Find out information about who is running in your area here
Links to manifestos of the main parties:
SNP website – at the time of publishing, no manifesto on their site.