It’s been 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act, when all men over 21 and women over the age of 30 were given the vote. Women gained the right to vote at 21 in 1928.
Universal suffrage, the right to have a say in how a government rules its people, is fundamental to the establishment of a fair and just society. It’s such a threat to authoritarian regimes that they do their utmost to suppress it, and their citizens are prepared to risk death and lose everything to exercise their right to have their voice heard.
So why is it that a significant number of us can’t be bothered to turn out to vote? I’m familiar with the arguments that ‘nothing changes’ or ‘they make promises then break them once in power’ or ‘they’re only in it for what they can get’ – amongst others. And if this is true, then who’s to blame?
True, some people enter politics for personal gain, but they are in the minority. Most people who put themselves forward for election genuinely believe they can improve the lot of people in this country and it’s our right to disagree with them if we choose. Yet they are vilified if they do, and internet trolls of all political persuasions regard them as fair game.
In the internet age, when so much opinion is presented as fact and truths can be smothered in a deluge of lies, it is little wonder people are attracted by simplistic slogans which seem to encapsulate their fears and aspirations – and politicians of all shades use these to play on our emotions. The result seems to be a growing cynicism with the political system and the advancement of extremist views. And the gradual erosion of the freedoms that previous generations fought so hard for.
Our forebearers knew what life was like for the common people when these freedoms did not exist and which we take for granted. Not voting is construed as apathy at best but is often taken to mean ‘happy with the status quo’. So ‘use it or lose it’, even if it means spoiling your ballot paper as your way of saying ‘none of the above’. We owe it to those who fought for universal suffrage here and to those who still fight for it all over the World.