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17th April 2015

Vote for policies, not personalities

Exercising our democratic rights is fundamental to getting the kind of government we deserve. It’s easy to get caught up in the leaders’ rhetoric or be overwhelmed by the amount of information available, but we can hold our politicians to account by voting on the 7th of May

With the election now just 20 days away it is impossible to ignore. Try as you might to be apathetic the torrent of newscasting, debating and online parodies will rage on right up until the votes are in on May 7th. Kris McDermott’s article, ‘The government won’t listen to apathy – use your vote‘ articulately covered apathy and its wastefulness far more succinctly than I could hope to.

Kris perfectly encapsulated the vital message. Apathy is a waste, engagement can change things. If you’re not represented, then it is your role to make sure you are. This epithet is plastered everywhere. We as a generation are being labelled as the generation who will wash their hands of politics. This isn’t scaring anyone. Those with power are rubbing their hands at the prospect of the status quo. A combination of your ballot paper and an informed mind are how we are going to scare anyone who we don’t feel represents us. However, to change things we need to be informed and all too often we simply aren’t.

We have been sucked more and more into a world of personality politics. Rather than assessing manifestos and the policy held inside we make our judgements based on whose public relations team have gone to greater lengths. Faced with endless spin tactics we judge a whole party by one members slip ups. BuzzFeed parody videos are watched by thousands while manifestos are read by thousands fewer.

Name any major party and their leaders leap out, their carefully manipulated public personas seeming to encapsulate the party’s beliefs. The silky smooth and ever-confident David Cameron embodying the hundred-year history of the Conservatives. The bumbling but ever flowering Ed Miliband personifying the Labour Party’s rocky resurgence. The ‘man of the people’ Nigel Farage standing up for his supporters, wielding a common sense pint and a half-smoked Rothman. Natalie Bennett, about whom we know far less, and in whose media profile and public recognition this is reflected.

Its a sad admission of truth that these faces come to hugely affect our judgement, far more so than we would like to admit and far more so than we should let them. It’s partly a side-effect of how the election is presented to us. Anybody who claims to have gained perfect clarity on where their support lies following the debates has been suckered by this.

The debates, where policy was hardly discussed and personalities were given the chance to breathe, offered little in the way of real politics. It is a façade of posturing and appearing slick in front of the cameras. The election is presented to us in such a way that what we are voting for isn’t really displayed. With this in mind its up to us to dig deeper. It is our responsibility to ensure we vote for policies and not for personalities.

Apathy is a complete waste of our democratic powers, but ignorantly wielding that power can be just as dangerous. Stating UKIP are an ‘evil party’ and saying they are ‘full of bloody racists’ will get a laugh, but unless you know why it is an unfounded statement. Likewise, saying Labour stand up for the workers might make the Socialist Society give you a round of applause, but if you can’t name a policy you can’t substantiate it. I may have said earlier that the presentation of the election serves to pull wool over our eyes, but the amount of information actually available to us is mountainous.

Parties publish their policies. Pick up a manifesto and read what you’ll actually be supporting. Spin doctors and PR firms can’t stop you doing that. They rely on our laziness to make their jobs relevant. There are online tests that help you decide, which—while you have to be careful with regards to the provider’s bias—give you a genuine view of who represents you.

In a political landscape where party leaders are rammed down our throats it is increasingly difficult to detach politics from personality. It’s going to be an incredibly close election so a vote for what truly represents you, be it a traditionally big party or a fringe party, will make a difference. Voting is vital; it’s our duty as citizens in a democracy, but that is only half the battle. Knowing what you’re voting for is where real empowerment lies.

The right to cross a box on a ballot paper is hugely powerful. It’s a power we all take for granted living somewhere where our democratic rights are safely protected. However, it’s also a huge responsibility and with that in mind being informed is equally as important as voting. We aren’t going to have our votes taken away anytime soon. Instead, those with power are trying to maintain the status quo and negate our power through a climate of misinformation.

Tony Benn once stated, “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions” for meeting someone in power. The last two of these are “To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” Politicians are accountable to us, and we get rid of them by making informed decisions about whether they represent us. From now until May, and in every election following that, politics of personality will attempt to distract from the real issues at hand. It’s up to us to sidestep its effects and make informed decisions about which box we tick.

To complete a test on which party best represents you, Vote For Policies offers reliable test and well rounded results. Voter registration closes on the 20th of April, and you can register to vote here.

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