Some thoughts on how you can take part in this year’s elections – even if you are not a supporter/member of a political party, do not have the vote or don’t rate the candidates standing in your area
The team at Democracy Club who I met in 2014 said they wanted to help make the 2015 general election less crap than it risks becoming. Although they have their own personal political opinions and biases – don’t we all? – one of their main aims is to help as many people as possible cast an informed vote. At a very basic level, this means ensuring the electorate know:
- That there is an election on
- What the election is about – ie for which institutions with what powers
- How to register
- Who is standing
- Where, when and how to vote
An example of this in Cambridge is here, by Chris Rand for the Queen Edith’s ward by-election.
Action: Could you create a similar poster for your local area to share online or perhaps to print out and display in a shop window, coffee shop, library or community centre?
Why this might help: At a very basic level they help remind people when voting day is. You might be interested, informed and passionate about politics, but are others?
Let the candidates know you exist – and are interested
- You can find out who is standing for Parliament in the 2015 general election at http://yournextmp.com/
- You can find out from your council (see https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council if you don’t know which council is responsible for elections in your area – it’ll be the district or borough council if you are in an area with county/district/parish councils) if there are local elections.
What I did in 2010 was to ask all candidates the same set of questions on the issues that were important to me. That way I got to frame the conversation rather than allowing the politicians to do it for me. If you have social media pages – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, tumblr or others, feel free to share the responses. Others may want to quote the responses in their follow-up questions.
Action: Could you find out who is standing in your area and share this information with your family, friends & contacts?
Why this might help: You may just catch someone at the right time who can then fire off an email about an issue on their mind. It could be a big picture international issue or it could be something very local or personal where a political advocate could help bring in proper support from a public service.
If you have a smartphone, learn how to use it to record audio and video
Websites such as http://iphonereporting.com/ have links on how to use them to record what politicians are saying. Follow the candidates on social media to find out when and where they are campaigning, and ask them questions face-to-face. You can upload the footage you capture onto Youtube or Vimeo for video, and Audioboom or Soundcloud if you are recording audio. Here is an example of where I recorded Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert at a recent event in Cambridge.
Given the huge range of issues you could ask questions about, you may want to focus either on your local area, and/or you may want to pick one or two important issues that you can research in depth so it’s harder for politicians to catch you out or bluff their way through your questions!
Action: Do you know how to use the video and audio functions of your phone? If not, how about learning how to use them for this specific purpose: local democracy
Why this might help: You are creating an evidence base that other people can then follow up in their own time. It also helps the candidates because people get to hear them in their own voices and as human beings. This sort of footage is more likely to be informal, therefore the candidates are shown as they are rather than as the polished products of central office. You can also tie down candidates to very clear commitments once it is recorded and shared.
Organise a debate or a hustings?
For those of you who are members of community groups, you can organise community gatherings to allow people to meet the candidates. It can be along the lines of a formal hustings – see the videos here for an example. Alternatively, you might want to set aside a regular gathering at a community centre for candidates and politicians to drop in and have informal conversations with people in your community.
Think about audiences that might be excluded by the political process – in particular those not allowed to vote whether by age or status. They are still part of your community, so how can you organise an event for those that might otherwise be and feel excluded?
Action: Ask your community group if there is interest in organising something that allows your community to meet and question the candidates
Why this might help: You never know, but there might be others in your community feeling similar. You might also have ideas on how to organise something more exciting than traditional hustings.
If you have children or friends who are under-18, invite them to suggest questions for the candidates.
If you are a very busy person with little time to research and find out about who is standing for what, why not mobilise the next generation? Drop an email to the candidates to say that you are going to vote based on the recommendation of your children/young friends, and that you expect the candidates to answer their questions factually and honestly. See what happens.
Action: If you can, try it – and suggest it to family friends. What would it look like if a group of parents got together and put their power of the vote into the hands of their children?
Why this might help: If more and more adults got together and told candidates their vote was going to be the direct result of recommendations from under 18s, would the issues young people and children face be taken more seriously?
Whatever you do, follow it up! Let the candidates know whether you voted for them once the election is over, letting them know why you did or did not vote for them. The feedback for all might get some of them to change their policies, behaviours and actions over time. Keep tabs on them once the election is over. It might be that what happens in the 2015 election might inform future electorates in future elections.