So I’m a voting virgin. Come May 7th 2015, my political innocence will be officially lost. They taught me in lessons at school what to expect. They told me my vote is sacred. I shouldn’t surrender it to just anyone. They told me that you should first build a relationship, one founded on trust and mutual respect. Though like most children, I imagine, I had no real interest in the dense world of politics; to me it lacked both comprehension and relevancy. Like most students, I imagine, the raising of tuition fees was a call-to-arms. It provided a stark example of how their decisions really can affect us, or at least our bank accounts.
As a historian, I figured I would be well equipped to engage myself in politics. After all, we are the cynics of the academic world, taught to trust nothing and no one. What better mind-set could you have for braving the political jungle? Though it seems it is not just the able historian who adopts this scepticism; as a nation we seem acutely disillusioned with both our democratic system and the pawns within it. Indeed, at least half of the political discussions I’ve had in the last month have focused on the redundancy and injustice of the system itself. Needless to say, these conversations aren’t exactly inspiring to a first-time voter. We’re becoming a generation tired with the process of political participation before we’re even inaugurated into it. The rolling of eyes, the shrugging of shoulders; all common reactions to the upcoming election. We’ve all had that thought: what’s the point?
Yet in a time of marked political apathy, the decision of who to vote for seems more vexed and fraught than ever before. So, like any self-respecting, stereotypical Cambridge student, I did my research. I took to the internet and found sources in the most unlikely of places. Suddenly, social media is politicised. Every time I looked on Facebook, my news feed was a barrage of explicitly political posts, bashing the latest policy or politician. As I scrolled down this endless avalanche, I wondered where I stood. Sure enough, I would have to declare my allegiance one way or the other. What did I think? What mattered to me? Frankly, I still didn’t have a clue. And while I deliberated, I primed myself for the inevitable onslaught of propaganda. The endless parade of pamphlets, protruding from your pigeon hole, each day a new party, each day bursting a new colour; first green, then blue, now red. In my cluelessness, I actually kept them all.
But ironically these sorts of conversation show how much, as a nation, we care about these issues and value them. What does it say about how much we know about our system to be able to trash it as mercilessly as we do? Even if I’m just reimbursing a corrupt system, even if I’m propping up a government that will most likely screw me over in the next five years…I still have a voice. It’s not loud, maybe even not in the same language as my friends, but it’s mine. It’s my right. And whatever our quibbles about the intricacies of our system, my little pencil mark on a sheet of paper helps to form the fabric of our very constitution.
I approach the election not necessarily more knowledgeable about the “best” democratic system or party. But I approach it with something that maybe we should have a bit more of these days: optimism. I can’t deny I’m not one of those people who roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders, but on reflection maybe it’s better to begin my political career a little more positively. My opinions are bound to change over the years, my priorities will shift, for all I know my political allegiance could swing like a pendulum. But actually I eagerly anticipate the day I can make an informed political decision. And, for the good of this country, I hope that day will be before May 7th!