[This is an edited re-post from April 2015]
Hopefully you have heard by now that there is an early general election on the 8th June 2017, to decide which political party will form the Cabinet, who will be Prime Minister and who will represent different areas of the country in Parliament (as well as an election on 4th May to decide who will be on the County Council). Participating in government and free elections is a fundamental human right, so here’s a guide to our resources and some handy links to help you understand it!
There are three simple steps to voting:
1) Register to vote. If you aren’t registered to vote, you can still register right up until the 22nd May. You can do it online through this link, as well as finding out more about the election: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. If you can’t make it to a polling station or will be elsewhere at the time, remember to register to vote by post!
2) Have your polling card handy when you go to the polling station, or send in your vote in plenty of time by post if you are using the postal vote system. You can still vote without your polling card as long as you’re on the electoral register for that area, but it makes it quicker and simpler.
3) Vote! Make sure you know where your polling station is and get there a decent amount of time before the polls close.
A lot of people think that their vote won’t make a difference, but every vote counts. According to the website for the movement Vote or Vote None, more than a third of registered voters in the UK haven’t voted in the last two general elections, and more than half of registered voters aged 18-24 didn’t vote in the 2010 election. Imagine what would happen if those people voted – it could have a huge impact on who governs the country!
If you don’t want to vote for any of the political parties, you can register a protest vote, for instance by writing ‘none of the above’ on your ballot paper (which makes it clear you aren’t just filling it in wrong). While voting is much more likely to make a difference, polling stations do register the number of ballot papers with no clear candidate, and it is far better than not voting at all, as it shows you care about the political process but don’t agree with the choices on offer.
Proud as you might be of voting, don’t selfie inside the polling station! The government advises people not to take selfies or photos in the polling booths as it could threaten the secrecy of the vote and could put people who are taking photos in violation of the law by accident. So take your selfies outside the polling station!
Learning More About Politics
We have some great resources in the Information Store about politics.
What Happens At An Election? (BOOK ZONE 324.60941) is a helpful introduction to what’s going on right now in the country. Elections are complicated, and it’s important to know when, where and why everything is happening.
Vote For Who? (BOOK ZONE 324.6) is full of frequently asked questions about election and voting, including helping you decide who to vote for based on what their policies mean to you. It helps with the jargon and is a refreshingly down-to-earth look at politics.
Politics UK (NORFOLK HOUSE 320.941) is a great way of learning more about the politics of the UK. It’s divided into sections and has questions to think about as you go through. Since this book is used for lots of politics courses, it’s an accessible introduction to the subject.
There are also plenty of really useful websites out there explaining the process of voting and the reasons to vote.
The League of Young Voters is an organisation dedicated to making the complicated political system clearer and more accessible for young voters, or voters who haven’t done it before. It has links to useful websites and tools, and guides to the voting process, as well as explaining the difference between local elections and EU elections.
Like the League of Young Voters, Voting Counts campaign to encourage people to vote, but doesn’t just focus on young people’s issues.
While the author of this blog admits to being biased towards left-wing, she also strives to be neutral when explaining why you should care about the big issues being talked about in this election, all designed for people who don’t think they “get” politics.
Ideas like “right-wing” and “left-wing” can seem complicated, so here’s a handy graphic to show what policies and attitudes are often true of people on the right or left of the political spectrum. The graphic was made for American politics, so not all of it is true of UK politics – for instance, the American right is much more associated with religious attitudes than the UK right. However, it’s a fascinating and helpful guide to the political spectrum.
Political Compass plots UK parties both along the right and left spectrum and the ideals of authoritarianism and libertarianism. To learn more about all of these terms, Political Compass has helpful definitions and explanations, and lots of suggestions for further reading. It has not yet been updated for the 2017 election, but you can still take the quiz to discover where on the axis your political opinions place you.
When you vote in a General Election, you’re voting for more than just the Prime Minister. You’re also voting for your local representative in Parliament, your MP, and while their party can pressure them into voting in a particular way on issues, laws and policy changes, it is up to that MP how they vote. They Work For You breaks down how individual MPs have voted across their career in Parliament on particular issues, so you can see if they’re likely to represent your views.
British politics has traditionally been a race between the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. However, in the lead up to the 2015 election, we saw a surge in popularity for two smaller parties: UKIP and the Green Party. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has become a force to be reckoned with in Scotland.
Confused about what all these parties mean? Well, Vote For Policies presents the policies of the major parties without the party names, meaning you can see which party best represents your views. The current website only supports the 2015 election because the parties are still bringing out their manifestos for the 2017 election, but keep watching for updates!
If you don’t want to vote for a candidate or party, you can demonstrate your protest by writing ‘none’ or ‘none of the above’. When it comes to spoiling their ballots, some people get creative – just remember that it is up to the polling station as to whether they count a vote and a rude drawing presumably intended as a protest was counted as a vote in 2015! Vote or Vote None is a campaign to encourage the UK’s ‘Unheard Third’ to vote, even if it is for no candidate, but they also say you should be clear about voting for ‘none’ because the electoral commission can interpret spoiled ballots that aren’t clear as ‘mistakes’ rather than as a protest.
Thompson, T. (2008) VOTE. Available at: www.flickr.com/photos/theresasthompson/ (Accessed: 24th April 2017)