Why voting matters

Polling station
Rye Community Centre polling station

I was interested to read Heidi Foster’s article Politicians not role models and in particular the comments by GH, criticising tribal politics and making a plea to start thinking outside the box.

I perhaps need to start by saying that I am standing as the Green Party candidate in the forthcoming county council elections. This almost comes as a surprise to me as, until a few years ago, I was fairly uninterested in party politics. Until now, I have been content to leave the politics to others, believing that most of them do actually have our best interests at heart, whilst attempting to engage with environmental and societal issues in other ways. But time is running out fast.

My starting point is that I think we are living in a time that is exceptional and unprecedented compared to any previous time in history. I read just this week that human activity has caused our planet to tilt on its axis due to rapid melting of ice, it is also causing more volcano eruptions and earthquakes – it is quite incredible.

During my lifetime, there has been a catastrophic decline of biodiversity, with a more than 68% decline in wild animal population sizes since 1970. In a recent review of the state of Britain’s native woods and trees, the Woodland Trust has found only 7% are in a good condition. While woodland cover is slowly increasing, the wildlife within it is decreasing. If threats to woodland aren’t tackled, the UK’s ability to tackle climate and nature crises will be ‘severely damaged’.

Effects much worse than Covid-19

Over the last hundred years, the average temperature on Earth has warmed by 1°C, but this warming is due to increase significantly over the next hundred years. The effects of this will be many orders of magnitude worse than those of the current Covid-19 pandemic. It will have a profound and lasting effect on our society and economy. Also during my lifetime, pretty much all plastic ever made has been produced, about 10 billion tonnes, with about 80% of this thrown away as litter. This figure is due to quadruple over the next fifty years.

I have two children in their early twenties, with their lives ahead of them. Whatever has happened until now in the world, that is not of their doing. But for me, this is happening on my watch, in my time. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel impotent to act, to blame others. Yet surely we must collectively be aware that this is our doing, us more so than those in other less affluent countries. We led the industrial revolution and should therefore shoulder the biggest responsibility, surely?

And so, what to do? I have tried so many things. I try to act through my work. I write letters to MPs and to multinationals. I sign petitions. I support organisations that take action. I join organisations locally, sometimes I even help set them up and run them. I have given talks, including in schools. I have been on protest marches. I even had myself arrested two years ago when taking direct action.

I try and change my own behaviour. I have solar panels on my roof. I no longer eat meat. I try and use public transport when I can, although that has been difficult in the last year. I hope not to need to fly again. Maybe, sometimes, some of this works, but the evidence is scant. I don’t believe that individual action is ever sufficient, above all it requires collective action, by governments, institutions, businesses.

Time to think outside the box

Note, despite appearances, this is not me virtue signalling. I’m just curious to know what it takes to make a difference. I’m genuinely intrigued by the concept of thinking outside the box, and would like to hear from anyone who has any good ideas in this respect.

I firmly believe in science. The current pandemic was thoroughly knowable; the risk of a pandemic has consistently been ranked as the most impactful and likely event in the national risk register. And yet, it seems to have caught this country by surprise, one of the reasons why the mortality rate per capita here is even now higher than in any other similarly or larger sized country, other than Italy. It is evidence of a lack of resilience and forethought.

The really scary thing about climate change, unlike say the threat of a nuclear war half a century ago, is that it does not require a button to be pushed. It is actually quite the opposite, with the button being pushed all the time. It now needs a huge concerted effort just to avert the worst scenarios. This is not doom-mongering, it is just stating what science tells us. A blind reliance on future technologies to sort this out is a very dangerous idea and just leads to complacency.

My experience with Rye Mutual Aid gave me great faith in the ability of people to come together when needed. The local authorities failed to act at a time of crisis at the beginning of 2020, because public services including the NHS have been so badly run down by intentional neglect. There is no resilience or ability to adapt; everything is already pared to the bone.

We need to act locally

I think the big picture is important; the pandemic has proved that everything is interconnected. But I also believe the answer is to act locally. It is absolutely possible to achieve improvements that we need to the way we live, in a long term and sustainable way.

Maybe the single most important piece of legislation in my lifetime was the banning of smoking in public places. Even though many people resisted it then and possibly now still feel aggrieved, collectively it has been transformative for the better. I think that a lot of what needs to happen in the future needs to be seen in the same way. Doing away with fossil fuelled vehicles for instance might seem like a big loss when it happens, but in fact the improvements to air quality, noise pollution and safety will absolutely be worthwhile.

I do think that our political system is broken, not least because of the First Past the Post system of voting, which rewards the winners, disenfranchises so many and encourages a divisive society. What is the point in voting, if my vote doesn’t count? That needs to change.

We need a proportional voting system, which encourages collaboration and consensus. We should give 16 year olds the vote and teach civic responsibility in secondary schools, to allow young people to participate in democracy, rather than giving them the impression it has nothing to do with them.

Short-termism is blocking real change

Electoral reform is essential. Under the existing system governments are always constrained by the electoral cycle and the overriding need for their party to get re-elected. Hence short-termism and reluctance to do the big things that will be unpopular with sections of the electorate or with interest groups but will actually make a difference. Can people be made to see that the same is true of the climate emergency? And even if many world leaders drag their feet?

Having tried so many other things in the past, and notwithstanding my doubts about our broken democracy, I’ve now decided to stand for election, just to see if that might work. Green action needs to take place everywhere: in pressure groups, in communities, in businesses, on the streets, in petitions and demonstrations. But also in the places where the decisions get made which affect us all for years afterwards: national, regional, and local government.  All of those debates and decisions need good strong persuasive green voices.

I will say that compared to so many other countries in the world, we are lucky to have a say in how our country is run, even though it is far from a perfect system. Locally, we are lucky to have Rye News and a dedicated team of volunteers, to give a platform for free speech – it is not something to ever be taken for granted. So I do urge you to vote on Thursday next week. Give it a go. I believe that together we can make a difference.

Image Credits: Rye News library .

6 COMMENTS

  1. Dominic writes an interesting and thought provoking article, in places it seems a little alarmist though. Further detail and evidence would be needed to back up some points, not possible of course in a brief newspaper article, and some consideration given to opposing arguments. Quoting statistics and scientific findings always needs context to be fully relevant and useful, for example Dominic states that the Woodland Trust reports only 7% of woodland is in good condition – what are the parameters to determine “good”?; what condition were they 10,20,50,100 years ago?; have they surveyed wild woodland, managed woodland and forests?; are they compared ?
    I wish Dominic good luck in the forthcoming elections and hope he will continue to make us all think

  2. Thank you Dominic for your heartfelt and important contribution. This may be unusual coming from another candidate in the same election but much of what you have said is common ground between us. I’m not sure about the banning of smoking being the most important piece of legislation but it has certainly improved a lot of people’s lives. The move to electrification of transport, for example, will make a significant improvement if it can be implemented quickly enough.

    Readers interested in environmental matters can assess the Labour Party Green Industrial Revolution manifesto here: https://labour.org.uk/manifesto-2019/a-green-industrial-revolution/ and Friends of the Earth comparison of the various manifestos here: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/system-change/election-manifestos-labour-tops-friends-earths-climate-and-nature-league-table.

    In any event, I wholeheartedly support the message that voting matters and we can make a difference if we work together.

  3. I think many people are tired and disillusioned with politics and how the country has become divided due to Brexit.
    I shall vote as I always do and people who can’t be bothered or say there’s no point should think themselves lucky they don’t live in Australia as it’s compulsory. So it should be!

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful article, Dominic. I’m flattered to have spurred you to write it! I didn’t find it “alarmist”. Indeed, given the circumstances most objective people recognise the planet is in, I wouldn’t blame you if you had adopted that rhetorical tone. I certainly don’t think I’d quibble over the broad analysis. The world is at a turning point, and if people are disinclined to accept that from a correspondent on Rye News, take it from David Attenborough. Or any reputable scientist.
    What struck me as particularly significant when you spoke of your motivation to try to promote change, was your reference to your children. I couldn’t agree more. Global issues like climate change, nuclear proliferation and the safeguarding of human and civil rights are the facts that will shape out kids’ lives for better or worse. I agree with that whole-heartedly as an incentive to think ‘outside of the box’. And in answering your question about what that means, for me it means re-thinking my own default perspectives. I was always a self-identifying ‘small C’ conservative. But does that party represent the world I want my kids to inherit? Without intending to be partisan, no, probably not. Its DNA is about shoring up the status quo, pandering to those who have position and privilege and paying mere lip service to those who don’t. And Labour? Well, for me, it’s equally anachronistic. Mired in old class polemics, and sometimes more obsessed with ‘the struggle’ than finding effective ways to win that struggle. And both parties are more focussed upon one another than they are about us. So, thinking outside the box means contemplating something new. Behaving differently and perhaps voting differently. Maybe even reassessing what ‘tribe’ we belong to to help promote change. Don’t let the political parties complacently count your vote before you’ve cast it. Make them start working for it. It means withdrawing from the ancient tribal battle lines, which just polarise the electorate and militate against real political debate and objective analysis of how to progress. Since Tony Blair’s tenure, the phrase “it is right” seems to have supplanted any attempt to explain why it’s right or whom it really serves. I think we all need to zoom out from the forensic analysis of a daily political soap opera, as retailed by the 24hr news media, and start thinking long term about the place to which we want British politics to lead our children. So I commend your decision to do something, Dominic. It’s an example to us all. I was also struck by independent candidate Beverley Coupar’s flyer, which spoke of “Putting You And Your Family Before Local Politics.” That also sounds like a commendable idea…

  5. If the Labour Party candidates advocates as here, politicians working together, can he please explain why his party will not work together with others on breaking our grossly unfair voting system of first past the post?

    I write as the Lib Dem candidate for Northern Rother where the Green Party has decided the only way at present to get change is for like-minded parties to work together at elections and hence are standing aside to help me.
    Exactly the same has happened in Rye where the Lib Dems are not standing and are supporting Dominic Manning.

  6. Hi Stephen,

    I’m sure you’ll be pleased to learn that both the local Constituency Labour Party and the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, support electoral reform. You can read about it here: https://www.labourforanewdemocracy.org.uk/clps and here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/keir-starmer-weve-got-to-address-the-fact-that-millions-of-people-vote-in-safe-seats-and-they-feel-their-voice-doesnt-count/

    As you rightly say, many consider the existing system to be grossly unfair and unnecessarily divisive. However, you will recall there was a referendum on this topic and the clear (68%) “will of the people” was against reform. So we have the system that people voted for. It is first past the post and we have to make the best of it we can (for now).

    It is therefore unfortunate that there are two parties in this county election with similar policies on green matters and who will divide the vote of those of us who care about the environment.

    I could also point out that at the last county council elections here, Labour won more than three times as many votes as the Green candidate. Therefore, if your real objective is to reform the system, you would support the Labour candidate rather than compete with us.

    Best wishes,

    Ash

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