You voted. You took a look at manifestos beforehand. You even went to a hustings. Polished that civic duty badge and tucked it away for the next five years; my work here is done. Wrong. Months of campaigning and pulling an all-nighter to find out the government for the next term isn’t where political engagement stops.
Political engagement isn’t something that works once in a blue moon. But why bother continuing the engagement? How does politics affect you, really? What even is political engagement?
Think of something that’s angered you in the media, a personal story or a cause you’ve felt moved by. That rise of righteous indignation in your belly and feeling galvanised to action – even while you don’t know what to do; that’s the kindling of political engagement. I am full of political opinion – and opinion more generally – but this doesn’t necessarily translate into action. I have various ideas and ideals that I’m passionate about and opinions on what should and shouldn’t happen, and that, in the immortal words of Julie Andrews, is a very good place to start.
Social media is often that starting point. We might share a petition, or write a status about the state the country is in. We argue and unfriend someone whose opinions annoy us, until gradually the idea is lost in the plethora of photos and witticisms. We put the world to rights in 140 characters, little thinking that those around us share and bolster our opinion without acting either.
Have you ever said the government don’t listen to you? Well, have you heard of a green paper? It’s a consultation document, where the Government asks for public opinion on ideas for laws before it draws up a policy document, called a white paper. It’s online, it’s accessible – yet how many minutes do we while away liking photos when we could be engaging in dialogue?
Or there’s lobbying. It’s hard not to listen when someone’s sat directly in front of you, so go and sit directly in front of your MP! Call their office, Facebook or tweet them, and arrange a meeting. Visit Parliament to do it – because you can and it’s fun – and tackle these issues in the heart of democracy. If you’d rather stay closer to home, an advantage of our democratic system of First Past the Post is that it provides us with local representation; so attend your MP’s surgery and voice what you have to say. Follow it up and ask for a response – create a dialogue yourself. They are elected there to represent you, whether you crossed their name or not.
We each have a story – issues we’ve tackled that others know nothing about – despite the debilitating or destructive impact it had on our lives. Who will raise awareness if you do not? Start a petition to change the status quo and stir others to action. If it reaches 10,000 signatures the government is required to respond. Yes, 10,000 is a lot, but out of 64,500,000 is it really that many to collect? The impact could be as far reaching as a debate in the House of Commons.
As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about political engagement and writing is one way to raise awareness. If I could leave you with one thought it is this: political engagement doesn’t stop at the ballot box. In fact, the ballot box is barely the beginning. Lobby, campaign, petition, demonstrate; whatever you do, however you do it, whoever you are, engage.