go to the home page
see what Ruth is up to links to all Ruth's non-fiction publications links to all Ruth's crime fictions titles links to most of Ruth's journalist over the last four years
21 November 2003

ELECTION 2003: Whatever you do... vote

You may be fed up with the posters, the posturing and the verbal punch-ups... but argues Ruth Dudley Edwards, that's no reason to stay home on November 26

Elections were a serious matter in my home when I was growing up in Dublin. My historian father pored over all the manifestos trying to make an objective decision about who was good for Ireland, my apolitical mother would take pity on whichever candidate seemed most dejected about his chances and my brother would be out canvassing for the nearest approximation to a socialist.

Even my grandmother - a die-hard republican who denounced de Valera as a traitor - would stomp off in her 80s to spoil her ballot paper. She had been a noisy suffragette: indeed my father's first memory was of sitting in a pushchair with a banner saying, 'Votes for Women'.

I was taught and still believe that it's an insult to our forebears not to use the vote they struggled to win. Living in the United Kingdom, I've put the 'X' on occasion beside Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Socialist Worker and Independent, but I've always voted. 

I've been known to drive for hours to cast my vote in a safe seat; recently, when my borough was asked if we wanted a mayor, I was one of the 9% who turned out. 

When I married a man of the Flower Power generation, who at that time thought voting was for the birds, I prevailed on him to accompany me to the polling station and write, 'A plague on all your houses' on his ballot paper rather than stay at home with his feet up. 

I may disapprove, but I can understand, why people can't be bothered voting when they genuinely think it will make no difference: if it's raining it's tempting to stay at home rather than increase or reduce someone's thumping majority by one. But where your vote counts, I think staying at home is shameful. 

According to this newspaper's poll, only 53% of Northern Irish electors are certain to vote. What excuse will the defaulters be offering? 

In Britain it would be along the lines of, 'What's the point? It won't make any difference. Besides, they're all the same. And politics is boring.' 

None of those excuses cut the mustard in this election. 

With proportional representation, every vote counts. 'They' are most certainly not all the same. You do not have to be a political sophisticate to spot the differences between any nationalist and any unionist nor to see the chasms not just between the party leaders but in many cases between members of the same party. 

And most decidedly, this is not a boring election. Indeed the politicians seem to be going to tremendous lengths to provide arresting cabaret. 

I would have paid good money to be present at the verbal punch-up outside UUP headquarters between David Trimble and assorted members of the DUP or at what Mark Durkan called the 'punishment bleating' inflicted on him by Robert McCartney. 

What about the theatre of Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday tribunal? 

And the awe-inspiring career of the candidate who, within only a few years, has been a member of the UK Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, then an Independent Unionist, then a member of the DUP and is now running as an independent again? 

Over in boring old Britain or down south we think it extraordinary if anyone changes parties once. 

Is there truly a grown-up in Northern Ireland other than the mentally defective who is indifferent as to whether Paisley or Trimble and Durkan or Adams are chosen as the leaders of unionism and nationalism at home and their public faces abroad? 

In this newspaper's poll, 87% knew whether they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom or become part of a united Ireland. So what possible excuse can they give for not expressing their opinion through the ballot-box? 

If you don't vote, you have failed in one of the most basic and simple duties of a citizen and the least you can do is shut up henceforward about politics or politicians. 

Think about it. You will have no moral entitlement to complain about whether the Agreement stays, collapses, is revised or renegotiated, to whinge about being ruled from Belfast or London, to expostulate about the role, or lack of it, of Dublin, to protest about ex-terrorists or political dinosaurs in government, to moan about grammar schools staying or going, to groan about failures in the public services. 

Indeed, if I weren't a libertarian I'd launch a campaign to making voting compulsory, as it is in dozens of countries, and as an interim message propose that those of you who failed to do your duty could never go out in public without wearing a label saying, 'Didn't vote; can't complain'.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards