General Elections are confusing, right? All those contradictory words being said all over the place, by those people you don’t really like? You feel like you should pay attention, because it’s probably important, but then that other person you don’t like says that it was all a lie, and what even is the point of listening in the first place?
I’m here to help.
I’ll tell you how to vote.
You like me. This’ll be a doddle.
Here’s what to do.
For a start, ignore the leaders. It doesn’t matter if you think that one is a frightening, flip-flopping, malfunctioning automaton fielded by the corporations, with a glitch that makes it spout the same transparently inaccurate catchphrases over and over again. Doesn’t matter if you think that another is a cardigan abusing badger-hugger who wants you to taste all the jam. Others may or may not be god-bothering homophobes, or tartan-clad insurrectionists. Doesn’t matter. Bug-eyed, frothing racists? Doesn’t mat…
Ah, no. That one probably matters. Don’t vote for the party of bug-eyed, frothing racists, okay? Thanks.
Anyway, the point is that we’re not (thank god) the USA – and not too long ago I would not have needed those parentheses. We’re not voting for a president who as an individual will define the nation for half-a decade. Remember who you voted for or against at the last General Election? It wasn’t Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, yet look where we are now.
Ah, such innocent days. Remember when our biggest concerns were how our leaders chose to interact with pork products? We didn’t know how good we had it. I was just saying to my daughter the other day:
“Once upon a time we worried about whether the prime minister had sex with a pig’s head, and whether his opponent looked sexy eating a bacon sandwich.”
Her eyes misted up a little. “Like in the fairy stories Daddy?”
“Yes dear. Just like that.”
I digress. You’re not voting for a leader. They’re pretty disposable. Even if you get who you want, their own party can replace them soon after without your say so. A lot of the campaigning on all sides has been about the leaders, but that’s slight of hand. Political parties believe that electorates are, collectively, pretty stupid animals with tiny attention spans who are too busy eating their own young and defecating in the streets to think about complicated things. That’s why they say the same short phrases over and over again (‘strong and stable’, ‘coalition of chaos’, ‘for the many not the few’, ‘defending Scotland’s interests’, ‘foreigners will destroy everything you have ever loved*’, etc). It’s why, too, they want you to concentrate on the leaders, and then convince you that every leader except theirs is probably Hitler, or Trump, or somebody equally despicable.
Don’t play that game. Ignore it, and ignore all the memes and articles banging on about how unfairly any given leader is being treated too, because that just plays into the largely false narrative that this is a thing that matters above all else.
We’re not America. Don’t play that game at all.
Vote for a manifesto, not a person. Sure, manifestos can be faulty. You might not get everything a manifesto promises – probably won’t, in fact, because they’re statements of intent rather than things that are ready to deliver to you on election day. For that reason it doesn’t even really matter how well ‘costed’ the manifesto is – you’re not going to get everything in it anyway.
But they are statements of intent, and in that regard they’re probably the most honest thing in an election (and politicians get really worried when you take the time to read them). They give you a direction of travel. They let you say to yourself, “If I vote for Party X, then this is the sort of thing they’re going to try to do”. That’s as close to a snapshot of the future as you’re going to get, amidst all the noise.
The BBC has a list of pretty decent manifesto summaries for the main parties here (the ‘key points’ under each party)**, and if there are smaller parties standing in your area look at their manifestos too (I’m a fan of the Women’s Equality Party, though they’re not standing in my area). Read them, even if the party leaders break into your house and prance naked around you and give weird ululating screams while they point at one another’s genitals. They might do that, if they think you’re going to start looking at the manifestos.
Ignore the noise.
Read them all, not just the one you’ve been told you’re going to like the best.
Try to ignore whose is whose, and just ask which one describes the sort of country you want the next government to create. Let yourself be surprised. If it’s one of the smaller parties, don’t be frightened to like them instead of the big two. Even if they don’t win, voting for their manifesto is a great way to push those ideas to the forefront – look at how UKIP turned their fringe vote into a whole bloody Brexit in less than a decade.
Every manifesto is a possible future, and we get to say which one we want to live in. For all that elections are exhausting things, that’s a pretty neat thing to get to do.
Then, next Thursday, even if it’s raining a bit, or windy or something, get off your backside, go to the polling station, put a tick next to the party whose manifesto you want to live in, and put the bit of paper in the metal box.
That’s how to make a future.
That’s how to vote.
*Honestly, do UKIP even have a message post-Brexit? What’s the point of them?
**Other media outlets are available.