Belfast Telegraph

Why we should be voting for an equal society and not just ourselves

By Jane Graham

There must have been a time, surely, in this great Christian country of ours when people didn't vote for themselves. I think it must have been nice. I know what you're thinking, but, no, I'm not referring to level-headed men saving their baffled feather-brained wives from unnecessary head-scratching by instructing them how to vote. Though, I've met a few chaps lately who feel this great act of kindness is still warranted in their own homes.

I'm talking about the notion of voting according to your perception of the greater good, an idea which has almost no traction in the debates which have swamped this election, from BBC One's Question Time all the way down to local hustings.

When journalists meet "ordinary members of the public" (a preposterous phrase, suggesting swathes of homogenous, 9-5-working automatons with 2.3 kids), they tilt their heads sympathetically and ask with tender feeling about their personal circumstances.

"Sarah, as a working mother with small children, which party do you think best fits your priorities?"

Or: "You launched a small business last year, Tony, what do you need the next government to do for you?"

The response is then heralded as a significant insight into a crucial demographic. If you want to woo working mums, or young entrepreneurs, better listen to Sarah and Tony.

The assumption behind this now-dominant approach to public canvassing is that every voter is motivated by what's in it for them. Older people will focus on the NHS. Young parents will insist on school improvements. Business people are fixated on income tax and Vat. Unemployed teenagers want MPs to re-consider cannabis laws and the exorbitant price of Grand Theft Auto.

Of course, we are all, to some degree, concerned with making our own lives better. But the - yet again - generous response from people in the UK to the Nepal earthquake shows that myopic selfishness is not our only spur.

The habitual insistence by the media that ordinary voters' views are only of relevance within the domain of their own lifestyle certainly makes it easier for them to claim some newsworthy legitimacy for their town centre vox-pops.

But it also makes the idea of voting for what might be morally right, regardless of how it impacts on you personally, seem either naive and embarrassingly, bleeding-heartedly out of time, or loftily delusional about your own influence on society as a whole.

You have no validity outside of your demographic box, it tells us; what kind of hoodwinked mug still thinks about the greater good?

Somewhere along the way, this distinctly Thatcheresque system of beliefs has become the norm. It struck me pointedly when I eavesdropped on a woman telling a local TV interviewer in Glasgow that she was worried about how cuts had affected full-time carers.

The interviewer asked if she received support from social services. "Oh, I'm not a carer myself," she said, provoking a look of bafflement from her interrogator, who quickly moved on. She was clearly, his irritated frown implied, some kind of unhinged fraud.

This is a dangerous way to proceed, installing a thought-process in our kids which can only work against forming a better society for them to grow up in.

Not only does it engender an irresponsible, short-term world view, it also implies that compassion is old-school nonsense, that too much thinking about others leaves you without political power, or personal authority.

But a more equal society leads to less crime, better education, less raging resentment and more tolerance. Surely even the most selfish of us would prefer that kind of future for our kids?

Russell’s Brand of politics worries PM

BBC political correspondent John Pienaar said it was “absurd” for Ed Miliband to talk to Russell Brand. David Cameron said, “Brand is a joke and Miliband hanging out with Brand is a joke.”

I assume both feel threatened by Brand, whose power and charisma vastly outdoes theirs. Brand is a major player in the political world of thousands of young voters.

No pushover, he thinks fast and uses his freedom from party lines and Establishment personas to ask original questions and unnerve opponents. The PM, who put in a plea for his pal Jeremy Clarkson a few weeks ago, thinks he’s irrelevant. What an out-of-touch, green-with-envy buffoon Cameron is.

Mrs Brown, the mother of equality

I’ve not always been Brendan O’Carroll’s biggest fan, but it made me smile to see Mrs Brown, that great bastion of family life, call on Irish voters to support same-sex marriage in the upcoming referendum.

“Changing the law isn’t easy,” Mrs Brown says on her Facebook video. “Changing attitudes is even harder. But we can do it.”

There was something oddly moving about seeing this character — the heart of a family who, in spite of their unconventional ways and potty mouths, run on love — stick her neck out for gay couples who also run on love.

Some fans will bristle. I say bravo.

Belfast Telegraph


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