The General Election 2017: Time to Have Your Say
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The General Election 2017: Time to Have Your Say

You can’t escape politics. It’s everywhere and influences everything you do, so take the opportunity and have a say in who exercises political power by voting on June 8.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to hold a general election three years earlier than required by statute came a surprise to the whole country. It has triggered an intense month of campaigning from the main political parties, whose candidates have engaged in the usual photo opportunities, bad tempered exchanges with political adversaries, and pledges to make us all more prosperous and therefore happier in our lives.

Sounds like a cynical view, but beyond the party political window dressing there are serious issues to be dealt with domestically and on the international stage. You may feel your vote is insignificant in the wider political scheme of things, but that’s far from the truth. Each and every vote cast in this election counts – it’s a vital way of expressing your opinion, and your opinion being recognised.

So, what’s the election all about? And why is it important for students to vote?

Why an election now?

The Prime Minister’s stated reason for calling the general election was that she wanted to establish a stronger mandate for her government ahead of the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the country’s soon-to-be former European Union partners. This gamble that her Conservative Party can translate its current large lead in the opinion polls into government seats, if successful, means the  PM could set her own agenda instead of the one inherited from former PM David Cameron, who quit following the Brexit vote a year ago.

Currently, the Conservatives have 330 seats in Parliament, Labour has 229, the SNP (Scottish National Party) has 54, the Liberal Democrats have nine, there are five MPs sitting as independents, Plaid Cymru has three, the Green Party has one, and there are 17 MPs representing political parties in Northern Ireland.

If the PM’s election gamble pays off she will strengthen her hand not only at the European negotiating table but also in the House of Commons, however the other parties are campaigning hard to try and prevent that happening

Your voice matters

Politics and politicians are like estate agents in as much as they make ideal targets for jokes. Comedian Billy Connolly once said of politicians and elections: “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.” Meanwhile, mocking his political peers, Winston Churchill summed up the ingredients for political success, saying: “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

However, placing an ‘X’ on a voting card has a far greater impact than merely furthering (or impeding) a candidate’s political career, or providing a comedian or politician with a clever one-liner. It sends a message to those whose seek political power that you either agree or disagree with their stance on issues that are important to you. Tuition fees and student loans, the education system, the employment opportunities available to graduates, and the rising cost of housing are issues which almost certainly will have already affected or will affect you in the months and years to come.

The information mountain

Today, in a world where 24-hour news carries the minutiae of the political arena, social media provides comment from every political viewpoint, and the internet provides a powerfully persuasive tool, there is a suffocating weight of information. However, you don’t have to immerse yourself in the political quagmire to gather enough information to vote, though it’s true that the more informed you are, the better the choices you make.

All the main political parties publish their manifestos online, which gives a general overview of their stance on the major issues, and what they would do should they be in a position to influence political decision-making post-election. News agendas on TV and online are also currently bulging with general election reports and opinion, which offers an instant cache of information from which to draw conclusions.

Blogs are also a potentially good way of eliciting opinion and facts behind the political posturing, though who is behind them is usually as telling as what they write. That said, some media outlets have political affiliations and it’s always a good idea to read and watch different sources of information, especially watching the full speeches online, rather than the heavily edited snippets on the news. It’s always a good idea to look at a Factchecking website such as https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck.

The cost of not voting

If you are 18 or over on June 8 you can vote in the general election as long as you have registered to vote, and, under the democratic process, your vote counts as equally as the Prime Minister’s.

However, if you decide not to vote, as 33.9% of the eligible voting public did in the last general election in 2015, then you will have missed an opportunity to have your say on the country’s future, especially as only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2015’s general election, compared to 78% of over 65s.

The inescapable influence of politics has been felt for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, statesman and orator Pericles said: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” That fateful warning rings as true today as it did in 430BC.

On June 8 have your say. Vote, and be part of the decision-making machine which controls all our lives.

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