Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why I've been disenfranchised

Well, for the first time in my life, I'm proud to say that I've actually been disenfranchised in the truest sense of the word. I took myself down to Jackson's Lane community centre like a good boy this morning to register my vote, but was horrified to discover that no record of my living at my address existed. This is despite the fact that I have voted in every election since 1997, local, European, mayor, general, referendum or otherwise.

A lengthy discussion with a silly woman at the polling booth established that, at some point, a letter would have been put through my door explaining that no known people lived at our address and therefore that the people who used to live there (ie us) were thought to no longer exist or have moved on.

Now, I'm quite sure that I exist. I feel very much alive: I have a strong presence on the net, I write a daily blog, and 823 people on Twitter appear to be convinced I'm not some kind of computer-generated avatar. I'm also convinced that I still live in Haringey. I pay council tax to its council and recently got married in said borough in front of my local MP and 1 million TV viewers!

In the good old days, I'm pretty sure that someone remained registered at an address until they pointed out that their address had changed, and therefore that they needed to be registered elsewhere. After all, it's surely important that a person has the right to vote at least somewhere? Every time I've received a letter of this nature from the council before, our full names have been written on the form and we've been instructed to ignore the wording if the information is correct. At what stage did someone think "he appears to have voted in every election since he's lived in our borough; but let's take him off the register?!"

Frankly, if it's this easy to disappear out of the system in Haringey, I am beginning to understand why the borough's record with social care is so woefully and famously inadequate.

So much debate has recently gone into discovering why there's always such a low turn-out at British elections. How can we raise the number of people wishing to take up their constitutional right to vote? How can we make it easier for young people? Should we be able to vote in supermarkets? Or clubs?  Or online? What no one is considering is just how easy it is to lose your right to vote, and quite how many people like me are similarly disenfranchised, simply because they never received the prerequisite letter through the post, or weren't at home when the electoral people paid them a visit.

Being sent away from the poling station with my tale between my legs was both mortifying and incredibly annoying. As a law-abiding British citizen, it is my absolute right to vote.

Mind you, I suppose, on the bright side, not actually being allowed to vote takes away the need to make another pointless decision. Now that there is nothing to distinguish one major party from another on a national platform, voting in local elections is basically an exercise in choosing which person's name you like the best! It's pretty much that arbitrary. I've never met her, or seen her canvassing, but there is a Lib Dem councillor who lives on my street. I was drawn to her, simply because she might have more of an idea of how it feels to live in my neck of the woods than some of the other councillors who seemed to live in Finsbury Park. Besides, it's always nice to give our wonderful constituency MP, Lynne Featherstone, a bevy of councillors to keep her feeling like she can do her work. But other than that, I was drawing a blank. I had no idea which box I was going to tick. A poling station is not allowed to display party-partial literature, so you can't find out what any of the politicians actually stand for. Voting in a local election has merely become a random box-ticking exercise with a rather dangerous consequence: ethnic minorities and those with surnames further down the alphabet do less well than those with WASPY surnames beginning with A or B, regardless of ability or outlook. You might as well ask people to choose their favourite colour or pick names from a giant tom-bola.

We have become so genuinely apathetic about politics, and our politicians have become so astonishingly complacent, that part of me hopes UKIP wipes the board today, so we all get to experience how genuinely dangerous this combination of apathy and complacency is.

If the people at Haringey council are so deeply inadequate or lazy or underpaid or overworked to the extent that they can "lose" one of their residents, let's see how they cope when UKIP withdraws funding from all but the most essential council offices, and lowers the quota of ethnic minorities that Haringey is allowed to employ.

What saddens me, I guess, more than anything is that 2 months ago, when people like me were finally given to right to get married - the right to enjoy freedom - I felt validated for the first time. I felt like a proper citizen. And yet, all of a sudden, I've had my right to vote removed...

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