By Sarah Kendal
The election: an empowering process of democracy or a mixture of white men and the occasional white woman making promises you don’t believe they’ll keep? Refusing to answer anything uncomfortable and using a lot of hand gestures and tag lines on the way. Vote for us, we care about you, whoever you may be, and you can trust us, we promise. Essentially.
Last time around I was a student and I voted for the Liberal Democrats because I believed them when they said they would get rid of tuition fees. This time I am paying taxes and earning very little in the private sector. I also am living with my partner who works in the city. My perspective, like your own, is shaped by different things and perhaps most of all by the people we interact with on a daily basis.
And I generally feel confused on who to vote for as I read one article that tells me how austerity is a Conservative lie, or another which claims that all markets will go down if Labour come in with their soft-hearted inefficiency, or a third paper stating that everyone will vote UKIP and it’s best to vote tactically to keep these racists out.
Deciding which information to base one’s vote on is a challenge as we have many priorities and it’s hard to award the job of running the country to someone you have never met. I have actually met both Ed and Dave and neither of them were particularly inspiring. A quick dismissive nod as I spoke to them, barely acknowledging me, as I was just a young female photographer who takes photos of human-trafficked people, helping charities lobby for the anti-slavery bill. The most inspiring people I met in The Houses of Parliament was an ex-Conservative MP and the cross-party Baroness peers, who give out an aura of competency. They know how things work and how to get things done. They have fought to break the glass ceiling of the establishment and they use their status to quietly and steadily push through the anti FGM bill and the anti-slavery bill. If we could vote for them, that would be great.
I live in one of the most marginal constituency in the country. Last time there were 43 votes between Conservatives and Labour, so there is everything to vote for. I am faced with the choice of Simon Marcus, a bald white male conservative, Tulip Siddiq an attractive Asian labour woman or Rebecca Johnson, a white female Green lesbian. Two ‘minority/marginalised voices’ versus the man, in real time.
However, I sort of like Simon, or at least his manifesto. He cares about education for the disadvantaged, protecting us from the evil HS2 and the Hampstead Heath dams. Even though his Conservative rhetoric of helping ‘hard-working people’ is jarring, he vaguely tries to connect to new immigrants, stating he is a second-generation immigrant himself. He even went to the same university as me, drew similar conclusions about the neo socialist crew there and we are from the same religion. I don’t disconnect from him as much as I thought I would. In fact he sounds alright.
And then it turns out I also relate to Rebecca Johnson, she loves the Hampstead Heath ponds and so do I! She thinks we should have affordable and sustainable housing, in a manifesto that looks almost identical to Simon’s, she also wants to protect us from HS2 and the dams.
Tulip Siddiq risks alienating the Hampstead Mansions, and doesn’t mention protecting Hampstead Heath or HS2 in her manifesto. Instead she focuses on the NHS and fair pay for young workers. But like the other two, she purports to care about affordable and sustainable housing! She really emphasises her passion for the environment and she has worked in a charity against Modern Slavery, so like the other two, I can relate.
So in one of London’s most economically-diverse boroughs, each MP wants equality, either through boxing academies or fair pay, environment is big, especially Hampstead Heath.
But what do I want? A better recycling system? Apparently the Greens screwed that up in Brighton. Lower rent? Well that’s not going to happen where I live whoever is in charge. Hampstead Heath protection is a nice touch but ultimately a job that pays properly would be nice as well as a better-run NHS.
Being low paid, my priorities are that of a left wing voter. Being a woman I want to vote for someone to represent me. Because although this Conservative MP sounds alright, this just isn’t good enough in a parliament with only 23% of female MPs. And even less BME MPs, 3.5%.
If we believe in democracy, we believe in representation, and we believe that our highly diverse society must be represented. So parliament isn’t full of white privileged males that make decisions rooted in an environment where people cannot see beyond their own gender or racial bias. Perhaps like Simon, they indulge in a bit of ‘charity’ to help the poor, but only the right kind of poor. So children, the disabled, cancer patients and the elderly is fine but not refugees, immigrants, heroin addicts, the mentally ill, the welfare community who rely on benefits. All deeply unpopular because they are complex challenges, they aren’t easily fixable problems and they aren’t middle class.
The real issue for me, when manifestos are easily inter-changeable from one party to another, is democracy in itself. There are too many men who haven’t had to break any ceilings to get to their seat, comfortably following political rules with a straight-forward smile and a steady hand shake. Similar to when I met Ed and Dave and they looked at me like a passing fly, compared to the beady eyed quizzical and intelligent gaze of a woman who has seen it all and fought to be there, I will vote for the woman and/or the BME candidate in this election. We need a variety of voices echoing down that gothic castle, to reflect us all, ones that don’t just bat the woman away and say ‘calm down dear’.