I voted today and for the first time in many years, I felt odd about it. Unconnected from the process. Previously, walks to, and from, the polling station would have been filled with debate, and the odd argument, on the different candidates, their policies, and what it would mean. This evening it was just me and my thoughts, composing this post as I walked along. This is the first time in years I have not been actively engaged in the very policies that affect me.
I couldn’t pick my candidates out of a line up if you paid me.
I have no idea which party is best for my area.
So I was left voting for the party which has held my allegiance for years now. So I invariably voted for that party in the past as well, but then I at least felt that I was making an informed decision.
What is different about this year? It’s simple – this year I am not working for the local government. Between 2006 and 2008, my life was inextricably linked to the policies and the people that made them. My job was, to a certain extent, dependent on the whim of the councillors I voted for each year. They weren’t just faces on an election leaflet to me, or names on a ballot – they were people who I might talk to on the phone, or hold a meeting with. I wrote briefing papers to sway their opinion one way or the other. You couldn’t help but know the ins and outs of how the local government was made up, and it certainly made you appreciate being able to vote for new bosses each year!
Since moving to Oxford, I have moved in different circles. I have felt completely separated from local politics and I have missed the knowledge I used to have about what was happening in my community. I never thought I was privileged before, but I realise I was actually very lucky.
I could have kept myself up to date, read the leaflets, watched the news, but somehow I just couldn’t engage myself to do that. And if I, an educated, intelligent woman, couldn’t engage, are we really to be surprised when turnout is so low?
Either way, if you haven’t already, there is still time till the polls close this evening. Your vote really does matter. Feel your Council Tax is too high? (This, for the curious, is what has led me to have to depart from Palace Meadows). Want to grumble with me about the state of parking in the city, or how stupid the recycling system is? If you didn’t vote, I will refuse to talk to you about it.
Take it from me, your local councillors really DO have a lot of impact on how you live your daily lives. It’s up to you to make sure your opinion is listened to. As a nation we are incredibly fortunate to have regular and democratic elections. Make the most of it.