My parents will not tell me who they vote for and they never have. Until recently, I have always been suspicious of this. Why not? Are they ashamed? Are they being lazy, refusing to enter into a dialogue about fundamental issues? But today, I get it.
For three reasons: first I dare not invite the level of criticism and judgment I have seen made of others via social media. Second, I do find it a struggle and sometimes feel ashamed of my own decision. Third, I was alarmed at the way a discussion with the girls on the school run went this morning…..
Let’s take each of these in turn.
Firstly, I will start by saying that I have always been in awe of people who feel so passionately about policy issues, campaigns, issues. I have always admired their eloquence, force of feeling and commitment, in declaring their position and promoting their opinions. I have envied the strength of emotion and the depth of their expression and often wished that I felt as inspired by something. However, as with the referendum, I have found that the way in which so many people feel that this election has entitled them to make judgments about those who have the temerity to disagree with their personal political opinions, alarming.
I have seen people who have declared their vote as blue, belittled as gullible, taken in by the press or worse, as selfish – motivated only by their personal advancement. I have seen people who have declared their vote as red, ridiculed for a lack of understanding about how economics work, caricatured as Guardian reading, vegetarians. I have seen people who have declared their vote as purple, as uneducated, racist, lower class. Why does it have to be so personal? Isn’t it possible that someone voting blue, is not just considering their own financial position but might be considering the economics of the country as a whole? Or might just not trust another leader? Isn’t it possible that someone voting red, is not a communist, but might just believe in a different way? Isn’t it possible that someone voting purple, might feel very strongly about the greater constitutional issues in discussion? Or isn’t it possible, that in casting a vote one way or another, a person is not a representation of the complete set of principles outlined by that party? Even if they are, does that give someone else the right to judge them? To declare that they are being irresponsible, selfish, careless, foolish? Isn’t it a wonderful part of democracy that we are entitled to different opinions and that we are entitled to make a choice?
Yes politics by its nature invites debate and yes emotions are high, but who declared that an opinion or a strongly held political view, entitles someone to belittle another, to bemoan as uneducated, foolish masses those who disagree with you? Surely strength of feeling and passion need not exclude respect, empathy and open mindedness?
In relation to my second reason for not wanting to declare my own vote: I no longer have a concrete affinity to one party or another. I once voted X but recently have voted Y. However, I would not consider myself to have an ongoing dedication to Y and it would not surprise me if I voted X again or indeed Z. Does this inconsistency, make me fickle? Are you allowed to be fickle when it comes to politics? Am I just lazy? I often feel ashamed of my ambivalence and lack of interest. In particular, since the children arrived, I have just not had the energy or the time to dedicate to the news and in particular, the finance pages. Blimey, it’s the best I can do to make sure I read anything and am damned if that’s going to be anything that doesn’t have a bit of romance, or more lately, tells me to journal, be grateful, find my truth, reveal my light! So as someone who used to confidently argue into the early hours, revelling in my ability to change opinion or have my sparring partner concede, I now shy away from declaring an opinion: feeling that unless I ‘really’ know about something, I ought not really express a view…..But the shame is greater than that: by abandoning X and voting Y, I do sometimes feel as though I have ‘opted out’, ‘given in’…..done exactly as my Dad predicted. The truth is, our own circumstances do influence my decision; I am no longer purely motivated by ideals and that truth is a canker, a shameful infection I don’t want to reveal. Though in writing that, I wonder is it really so shameful to have a change of opinion from that held in my youth? Of course, I think about the impact of policies on our household, I cannot help that. But life experience and my own reading has also changed my understanding of economics and the world stage as a whole. Is that so shameful? Perhaps only because I compare myself to those who remain so committed to the politics I have always known them to hold?
As for my third reason? As a woman, I do feel quite strongly, the responsibility of exercising my vote. I also want the girls to understand that and I want them to be fierce, to express their own opinions, to never be afraid, to make a difference. So, in the car on the way to school, I reminded them that today was polling day and that today Mummy and Daddy would be voting and explained why we were voting. The girls asked me who I was voting for and I told them and they wanted to know why. What followed, really bothered me and I am now backpedalling, trying to undo what is done…. I tried to explain it to Dan as follows: Who are the girls biggest influencers? Who do they trust most? Why it’s Mummy and Daddy of course! So instantly, my vote, is their vote. My reasons, are completely the right reasons and held by them too. It was instant indoctrination. Wow!
So, if from the ages of 3, 5 and 7, I pass on to the girls my own political opinions and persuasions, what will they grow up believing? How does this enable them to hold their own independent views? I felt so very uncomfortable hearing the girls parroting back to me my own justifications for voting, as absolute truths.
It also felt odd, hearing the girls discussing such grown up issues. Can we not teach them financial sense and social awareness in a more age appropriate, general sense? Yes there will come a time when it is appropriate to talk to them specifically about the NHS, about tax etc. But will I do a better job, if when that time arrives, they have learnt about the importance of kindness, caring for others, not discriminating for any reason and have learnt how to save, how to invest, so that they can take their own informed decisions and follow their own leanings?
I have thought it marvellous to see young children on protests, marches etc. I thought it was amazing and admired the parenting – ‘just think those kids are going to grow up to be the ones I was in awe of at Cambridge. Intelligent, educated, political, worldly’…but what if those kids were just imitations of their parents? Maybe Mum and Dad were not shying away, maybe they were giving me the freedom to find my own way?
Who knows, there are no rights and wrongs, but it has certainly got me thinking and for now, I am reluctant to reveal specifically my true colour.
But as I come to the end of this blog, I do have to celebrate, the power of the discourse around electoral day. My head has been buzzing with thoughts all day, about the policies themselves, but also around the issues I have written about. I have felt stimulated, interested, alive. It is genuinely exciting. And whilst I have struggled with the tone of some of the debate, I remain, impressed and inspired by those who feel so deeply and passionately.
Ps thanks to Pinterest for the image