One of the drawbacks of having had a gap in my blogs is that I now find myself with a long list of things I have wanted to blog about – and this blog is one of them – maybe not too topical but just too interesting to ignore.
Cast your mind back to 2012 and the elections for the police and crime commissioners. This was an initiative by the government to inject more democratic accountability into the strategic direction of local police services.
What really got me going was the refusal by the government to allow a free delivery from the Royal Mail from each candidate to each address in the constituency. This was to be the first time that such posts had been elected, there was precious little media coverage, and all this made the refusal to grant a free delivery all the more hard to understand.
I remember as a Parliamentary candidate, on the two occasions that I stood, that the free delivery from the Royal Mail was so important to allow candidates to make contact with every household in the constituency. Especially if you were operating on a tight budget, as I always seemed to be, this was such an important element in ensuring that voters knew about all of the candidates.
But in this brand new election the government had refused to offer this to the candidates. How then were people going to make up their minds? Certainly in my local area, I received almost no information at all.
So I decided for the first time, since I was able to vote, that I was going to abstain – this was a hard decision – I have always voted and think it is so important to do so. So many people have suffered and fought for us all to have the right to vote. Not only was I going to abstain, I was still going to the polling station to spoil my paper to show my disdain for this process. And I started agitating my friends and family to do likewise.
Then on the eve of poll, I received an email from 38 Degrees. It was such a clever and well written email. Despite the late hour, it made me sit up and take notice.
They focused on one issue: the privatisation of back-office police services. It highlighted that this was an issue (and had been earlier voted for by 38 Degrees supporters as a topic for action) but didn’t lecture me or tell what to do other than invite me to look at what the three candidates had said on this issue. I clicked through on the three links, was intrigued by their different opinions, and as I cared about this issue, I suddenly found myself motivated to vote in this election.
Pretty impressive. Even now some 15 months on I am still impressed by this action. Despite my resolve to abstain, I was touched by this email, enthused by the need to vote and then I took action by voting. For me 38 Degrees were playing a vital part in re-energising democracy. They didn’t tell me how to vote but provided me with information that might encourage me to exercise my right to vote.
As we enter the run-up to the European Parliament elections in May and then the General Election the year after, I am hopeful that we will see similar imaginative actions to energise people into casting their vote.