What did you do at the last election?
Did you stop off en route to work or maybe you went during your lunch-hour or even took an evening stroll to put your ‘x’ in the box?
Whatever time of the day you chose, you carried out your duty as a responsible British citizen and made your vote count towards the government of your choice, the party that was the closest in achieving your aims.
- Your vote
- Your choice
- Your government
What was that? You didn’t? You stayed at home and decided there was no real choice and what did it matter anyway because whatever you said or thought was ignored, so what was the point?
Well you weren’t alone: 34.9% of the UK failed to vote at the 2010 General Election; the third lowest since the introduction of Universal Suffrage in 1918 and one of the lowest in Europe (the worst turnout was in 2001 when just 59.4% of the population voted).
Have the British public become so apathetic as to ignore the value of voting; has the Welfare State turned our once courageous and bold spirit that saw the likes of Captain Scott and Winston Churchill, into slothful ‘what is the point’ idle-bones?
By supplementing financial shortfalls and rewarding dependency, has the government not only undermined the population’s resourcefulness but also created indifference making the choice of government a triviality?
After all, if your needs are fulfilled and you have no reason to fight for privileges, then why look for alternatives?
In 1780 there were just 214,000 men in England and Wales who were allowed to vote in government elections.
That was less than 3% of the population and was made up of the aristocracy who retained their power through inheritance and thought the working class man had no business being involved in or ability to understand the electoral process.
The 1832 Reform Act solved the problem of the Rotten Boroughs bringing to an end inherited positions in Parliament and the 1867 Reform Act expanded the electorate but it was not until the 1872 Ballot Act when votes could be cast in secret, that any significant changes took place.
Call to Action
The 19th century Chartists and Reformists called for equal voting rights to all men and at the same time there were a growing number of people who were demanding rights for women, albeit to include other issues e.g. the right to divorce, an education and working in male dominated professions.
The vote for men was achieved primarily through a process of legislation and an increased representation of the working classes; however the fight to allow women to vote was overshadowed by violence and intimidation.
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage used peaceful means of demonstration, urging Parliament to help but the private bill failed. So in 1903 the Women’s Social & Political Union formed taking a more aggressive stance; attacking the police, vandalism and heckling politicians. When the activists were jailed, many of them went on hunger strike leading to prison officers force-feeding them or releasing them until they were fit then re-arresting them.
On 4 June 1913 Emily Davison famously ran out in front of the King’s horse during the Derby and was killed. Some criticised her heavily failing to recognise the remarkable and ultimate sacrifice she made in support of a cause she truly believed in and on behalf of women she had never even met.
It was World War I that led to a change in the law; the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave all men over the age of 21 and 40% of women the vote, increasing the electorate from 7.7 million to 21.4 million.
The 1928 Act gave equal voting rights to everyone over the age of 21 and the 1969 Act reduced the voting age to 18 years old.
If it wasn’t for the selfless actions of the Chartists, the Suffragettes and today the men and women in the armed forces who continue to protect our freedom and democracy, we may still be faced with low turnout numbers, not because we can’t be bothered but because the law prevents us from voting.
Our freedom of speech, choice of life and career are not a given right but a fought for and defended right.
So the next time there is an election, either local or national, consider the alternative and be grateful to the unknowns who champion your cause.
Someone’s yesterday helped you today but it’s everyone’s tomorrow that YOU can help today
Thanks to Lewis Baston, Democratic Audit & Councillor Rachel Rogers for their help
Click here to see the UK Parliament library for our voting history.