On Thursday the polls will open for the UK general election. It is important to vote, but it more important to understand the limitations of the power of voting. We urge you to vote, not because of faith in the political system, or some mythic importance of so-called ‘democracy’; we urge you to vote because another Tory government will be a disaster in general and specifically for Black communities in Britain. You need to vote not because of what you believe in, but of what you are against.
Party politics is the most limited form of political mobilisation
If you listen to the noise around elections, you are being told it is your duty to vote. That not to vote is disrespectful to your ancestors who fought so hard for the right to mark an X on a piece of paper every few years. You are being told that your vote counts and is a way to have your voice heard, to make a difference. If you don’t vote, then apparently you have no right to complain about the state of the country, because ‘you didn’t do your part’. Frankly, that’s all nonsense.
At the time of these epic battles for political representation in the UK, our ancestors were fighting for freedom from the British Empire. In fact, that battle still goes on as the Caribbean and Africa remain economically colonised by the ‘democratic’ and ‘enlightened West. Democracy in Britain has never meant anything for our ancestors (or our Brothers and Sisters in the Diaspora), other than changing the face of oppression. Even in the UK, we have never enjoyed full rights as citizens (check any stat on any measures of equality); and our battle has been and remains equality, not so-called democracy.
The reality is that parliamentary ‘democracy’ is limited and controlled by the vested interests of the rich and the powerful. No matter who is elected on Thursday, the government will continue transferring billions of pounds of tax payer’s money into the hands of the rich; and will do nothing to challenge the big picture of the richest taking more and more, whilst the poorest take less and less. The government will do nothing to tackle the systematically racist foundation of Britain that continues to produce huge disparities for us in this country. Parliament is part of the problem, not part of the solution for us.
Even if you thought that by getting in a new government we could change things, the truth is that your vote is more than likely meaningless. Due to the way the system works anywhere up to 90% of the seats will remain with the party they are currently with. The election will be decided by the handful of marginal seats that will change hands on Thursday, only those seats where the party who currently controls it is at risk of changing. In Birmingham, however, there a number of seats with smaller majorities that it is important to get out and vote in: Edgbaston, Selly Oak, Hall Green, Erdington, Northfield, Yardley. Not to mention Solihull and Dudley North, which are on a knife edge. If you live in any of these seats, your vote could make a difference. However, the parties don’t bother campaigning in most of the country, because they know that those seats are secured and the pollsters only need to do polls in the marginals to predict the election. The truth is it is very unlikely that your vote counts. I have never, ever been approached by a campaigner trying to persuade me of my vote, because I have always lived in a safe seat. That is the reality for most of us, vote or don’t vote, it really makes no difference.
Worse still, even if you do vote in a marginal seat and help elect a new government, you have basically given them a 5 year term to break all their promises. We have a system that has no check and balances on the government; which allowed the Lib Dems to break the majority of the cast-iron guarantees last time, with nothing that anyone who voted for them could do. Labour let us down repeatedly over their 13 years in government, but once they’re in, there is nothing that you can do (with your vote) to hold them to their promises.
We need to understand that real political power comes from the bottom up, not the top down. As a community we need a strong organised grassroots movement that holds the government to account. So that when they plan to do things that will negatively affect us we can organise protests, boycotts and the like to exert pressure on them not to. It doesn’t matter what political party is in power, if you have enough power and influence to impact on their decisions. This is far more important than casting your ballot on Thursday. A vote with no organisation behind it is just a piece of paper.
Having said all that, though, Thursday’s election is extremely important. The devastation that the Coalition has brought to the UK has been grossly under focused on during the campaign. They have cut taxes for the riches, whilst cutting support for the poorest (e.g. bedroom tax, slashing benefits). Demonised those people on benefits, even though most are working. Set up the NHS for privatisation and broken it into pieces, which will have a devastating impact in the future. Brought in inhumane restrictions on migration from outside the EU. Continued to privatise the welfare state, handing billions to private companies. Created future chaos in schooling, with the academies and free schools programme. Cut back public services, getting rid of over a million public sector jobs. This has nothing to with balancing the budget, and everything to do with their vision for what Britain should be like. A country that works for the rich and penalises the poor. Every single change they have bought in has disproportionately effected Black communities.
If the Tories get back in again they will ‘finish the job’, with a further assault on the poor, and Black communities. They are planning more austerity that will mean the basic safety net will have disappeared. Do not believe those people telling you that all the parties are the same, that is makes no difference who is in government. Labour isn’t perfect, and is not the solution to any of our problems, but they will be nowhere near as bad as the damage that another Tory government will inflict. This matters, because it is our communities that will continue to be hit hardest.
Keep the Tories out
Due to the limitations of the party political system, there is no prospect of voting for a party that will actually deal with the issues in Black communities. Rather than voting for who you want, you have to vote against who you don’t want. There will be either a Tory or a Labour led government after the election. The Tories would be devastating for Black people if they get into power again; just look at the last 5 years. They must be stopped, and the vote is one way to do it.
If you live in a marginal seat, where the Tories can be kicked out or are challenging, then you must vote against them. You must do everything you can to ensure that the Tories do not get back into power. That will mostly involve voting Labour (though not always), but please do not mistake this for a pro-Labour position; it is an anti-Tory one.
It is also not a pro-voting position. We are definitely not urging you to vote for the sake of it, out of some misguided ‘duty’. We are definitely not urging you to vote for anyone as long as you exercise your duty. We are urging you to use your vote to keep the Tories out, so if you are planning to vote for the Tories or UKIP, we would prefer you not to vote. In fact we would beg that you reconsider and at best stay at home.
In the future we need to think about creating our own political party, where we can develop a different kind of politics that really represents our communities. But that time is not now. It is time now to work with the situation that we are in, and do everything in our power to keep out the Tories.
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