Thursday, 23 June 2016

Voting in the Referendum


Well, here I am outside my local Polling Station at 6.46am this morning, waiting for the place to open for voting from 7.00am. I was second in the queue. In front of me was a young man who was going to vote by proxy for his parents, who were still on holiday. Then he was going to drive to Burgess Hill and vote for himself before going to work. A young couple soon joined us. By the time the signal to come inside was given, there was a queue of fourteen with more cars driving in. I should think that nearly everyone was on their way to work, and this 'rush' might not be typical one or two hours later. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start, and showed that many young voters were taking an interest, not just old biddies like me. I also like to think that the staff on duty at the Polling Station prefer it if the voting is brisk. It must be very dispiriting - not to say boring - if only a few people turn up.

As you can see, I was very keen to get there early, and be among the first to cast my vote in this Referendum, which is intended to reveal the will of the British public on whether we should stay in the European Union or not. If I wasn't quite the first in the queue, I was certainly the first to announce myself at the table for my ward, 'manned' by a lady with the Full Voters List (on which I was 'Melford, Lucy'), another lady who also had a list (I suppose they were meant to be a check on each other, so that there could be no possibility of error where my identity was concerned), and a young man who presented me with a voting slip and directed me to the cluster of booths. It all went smoothly. At the booth, I took up the pencil and made a firm cross in the place for 'Leave the EU'. Then, with the young man watching that I did it properly, I popped the folded piece of paper into the big black tin box and trotted off.

My goodness, there were suddenly an awful lot of people coming in! And a sea of cars outside the Village Hall. I was tempted to take a shot, to capture the atmosphere, but thought better of it. It would have been perfectly legal, but the act might have been misinterpreted. I simply walked away up the road and back to my home.

One thing was oddly missing: there was no sign at all of any political campaigners. I hadn't expected Boris Johnson to be there, nor any of the other big Leave beasts and beasties, but I had expected some kind of local party or cross-party reception. But no. So in this respect it wasn't like a General Election.

Back home, I made myself a hearty breakfast and got on with my day. My holiday departure was next morning, and more stuff had to be loaded into the caravan. I needed a proper night's sleep, so I couldn't sit up most of the coming night watching TV as the results came in. That was a pity. It had always been a family sport, particularly something Dad and I would once have done together. I'd last sat up overnight in 2015, at the General Election, and had been rewarded by the unfolding surprise result. This time it was even more of a Grand National event, the outcome anybody's guess, although it would probably be a close thing. I noticed that the media - the BBC anyway - were now careful to explain that the result would only be 'advisory' for the sitting government, implying that they could choose to ignore it. I'd like to see them try!

Well, I would stay up till a bit past midnight, and probably until 1.00am, by which time a trend might have become clear. And if I felt a little yawny next morning, then there would most certainly be endless analyses on the car radio about the result and what it meant. That would keep me alert!

I do hope the entire electorate - 46 million people - makes an effort and votes. The result will then be completely representative of what people want, and nobody can argue that a sizeable part of the voting public couldn't be bothered, or didn't make it to the Polling Station, or (inexplicably) didn't want to take part in the British Democratic Process.

I have never been able to understand why some people shirk voting, or sneer at the Process, or think their opinion doesn't matter, or consider it all over their head. The right to vote is so precious, and is not to be wasted. Everyone's vote counts the same. And sometimes a single vote really can make a difference. And it's the only significant way that the ordinary person can (at least once every five years) radically influence the way the country is governed. Not everyone has the talent or driving ambition, or both, to be an MP. But any adult can vote. It's a voice, a warning bell, possibly even a damning censure, to those in authority.

Some persons feign a lack of interest in national questions. That's an empty pose, that does them no credit whatever. Others say they'd vote if the process were 'more perfect' or the protagonists or candidates were 'honest' or 'worthy' - but it's a most imperfect world, and politicians are very odd people. You cannot vote for a saint, because no saints will ever stand, either for personal election or in defence of some political principle.

Nor are referendum questions ever quite the questions one might actually wish to settle. I am sure there are people who won't vote today because it was a straight 'stay in/ get out' choice without any nuances, such as whether special terms or reforms might yet be negotiated. David Cameron tried that a while back, and got short shrift from the EU bosses. It seems abundantly clear that there is no further time or scope for special UK-only deals. Only comprehensive pan-European changes that all countries must agree to. For myself, the present simplistic 'in or out' question was acceptable, and I passionately wanted to express my personal opinion by voting.

I set aside the economic arguments. I was voting on a gut feeling about what felt right. I might even say - if pushed to formulate a more elevated version of this - that I voted for the Soul of Britain.

1 comment:

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Lucy Melford