We hear a lot about our rights but these are given to us in return for fulfilling our responsibilities. One of these is engagement in the democratic process, and in particular voting. You should register to vote, that’s a no brainer. You should take an interest in what politics means for you locally, nationally, and internationally. On the day you to get to the polling station and cast your vote. Then you need to hold you representative accountable afterwards, even if he or she isn’t the person you voted for.

Obviously I’m writing this after some guy in charge of Boots said that a Labour government would be a disaster. And also apparently Facebook is going to save democracy by encouraging us all to register to vote. Now this is all well and good, we can all feel good about being registered. But can Facebook help with any other part of the process. It’s unlikely, they’d probably want to maintain their neutrality (unless of course a particular party had bought a bunch of ads) and they probably feel too bulletproof to overtly state their own preference for how you vote. Just because Big Brother is watching, doesn’t mean that he cares what you do either way.

No Facebook can’t help you. And the way to stick it to the man from Boots is to engage with the process - even if you agree with him. The news is filled with dark portents for the future of democracy. The alternatives really are much worse, even if our system is not perfect. It can be improved and it can be protected, provided you turn up to be counted. Even if you think everyone is crap (more true of this election than any I can remember in my lifetime), then spoil your ballot. A spoiled ballot registers your decision. Staying at home does not, unless everyone does it (like in the Jose Saramago novel “Seeing”), and political power is too siren a force for everyone to pull in the same direction. If you don’t vote, you are saying all of these things at the same time:

  1. Democracy it is not important and I don’t care if it doesn’t exist.
  2. I am not important and politicians can do whatever they like to me.
  3. The people who share my beliefs are not important and so I shan’t add my voice to theirs.
  4. Corporations are more important than people, let the politicions do their bidding.

This is not to say that you won’t get screwed for voting, or make a big mistake (like nearly everybody who voted for the liberal democrats at the last general election), but you have to turn up and be counted anyway. Voting is an act of solidarity with those who share your views and those who fanatically despise them. Not voting is merely an act of solidarity with the latter.

Around a general election, the coverage seems never-ending. Though this can seem like a trial, it’s actually all there to provide with ways to learn about the candidates and their policies. And you don’t have to trust the media - your vote counts no matter what, so there will always be someone in your community to engage with directly. Moreover, it is important to discuss your choices and beliefs with others: exposing yourself to a plurality of views is the best way to test your own.

It may seem like all politicians are the same or that you have no voice in your area because you support party C and only parties A and B ever win there, but that was only true last time around. This time you have to find your fellow supporters so that even if A or B win instead of your choice, you will have a bloc with whom you can hold your new representative responsible.

It’s hard work being a voter, but it’s a responsibility and a duty. You can’t just choose to opt out: if you don’t vote you can’t complain, and if you can’t complain how are you going to make anything better?