As the #NoVoteNoVoice bus pulled up outside the Wirral factory this week, workers left the tea-making production line to climb on board and ensure they’ll have their say in May’s General Election.
They need to. We all do. There is a wave of apathy verging on resentment towards the political classes right now. Scandals such as MPs’ expenses and party grandees like Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind filmed while allegedly selling parliamentary access to the highest bidder have made the public cynical towards the entire electoral system.
It doesn’t help when we have a Prime Minister running scared of a TV debate, parties that seem interested only in pandering to the whims of voters in marginal seats, and Russell Brand telling us there’s no point taking part in the democratic process.
But there is. I covered last year’s Scottish referendum and it was electrifying to see a nation engaged in politics. It will never be the same there again. It could be like that right across Britain if everyone ensured their voice was heard.
Voices like Typhoo data manager Linda Easdown, who explained on our bus why she believes it’s vital that she uses her vote: “Women chained themselves to railings many years ago so that I could have this right. It’s a right I feel I have to use.
“People say to me, ‘Why bother because the parties are all the same’ but they’re not. Look at their policies and vote for the party with the policies closest to your heart.”
Let your voice be heard
Linda lists the NHS, immigration and pay as the issues closest to hers, and tells the apathetic: “Your opinion matters. Let your voice be heard.”
Changes to the way we register to vote mean around a million people have fallen off the electoral roll and many don’t even know.
The Mirror-backed #NoVoteNoVoice campaign aims to get as many of the 7.5m unregistered voters registered by April 20, the cut-off date for the General Election on May 7. It’s the biggest-ever coalition to tackle the voting crisis. Groups involved include Hope not Hate, Unite, Operation Disabled Vote, Bite the Ballot, Operation Black Vote, Unison, NUS, NUT and Votebooster.
It isn’t a recruitment drive for any one party but a democracy drive. It’s about getting voices heard that may not be listened to, and thus making the election result more representative of the people.
Our bus is on a 1,000-mile national tour from London to Newcastle (where it finishes on Sunday), visiting schools, town centres, housing estates, universities, mosques, churches and factories like Typhoo in Moreton, where Gina Hughes and Shirley Allen signed up.
“It’s important that more women use their vote because we need to be heard. We can make a difference,” said factory operator Shirley.
Team leader Gina added: “I understand why a lot of people are apathetic because they think that voting is pointless, but if you don’t vote you can’t change anything.”
You can chart the growth of that apathy in statistics. In 1950 83.9 per cent of registered voters voted. By 2001 that had fallen to 59.4 per cent. Then in 2010 it was up slightly to 65.1 per cent, but with twice as many over-65s voting than under-30s.
At that 2010 election 30 million people voted – which shows how huge a difference the 7.5m unregistered people could make.
Tom O’Reilly, process operator in the Typhoo blending plant, has voted in every election since the early 1970s because, he says: “Even back then I knew the only way to change things in a democratic society was to vote.
“You hear people say today’s politicians all come from the same elite background. And I suppose that’s how it looks. You hear people ask how millionaires can represent the working class?
“But the only way we’ll get people from the shop floor of factories like ours into the Commons is if more working-class voices take part in the system. Starting with using your vote. And anyone who doesn’t vote has no right to have an opinion on anything.
“Because everything, whether it be zero-hours contracts, high unemployment, food banks, tuition fees, energy prices, is all about politics,” said the Unite convenor at the site that employs 293, producing more than 120 million cups of tea a week.
Since the bus set off, hundreds have registered to vote and thousands more have taken leaflets which show them how to do it online. All will now get their voices heard.
As will a homeless man in Chester who saw the team getting on to the bus this week, walked up to them, and asked how he could vote. They were delighted to hand him a form and show him how to register. He’s vowed to use his sister’s address, and says he will vote in May.
If you are unsure whether you’ve got the vote there are now just 39 days left to do something about it. You can check if you are registered at vote.mirror.co.uk and if you’re not, you’ll be able to do it in a few minutes. All you need to know is your National Insurance number.
If you can’t get online, contact your local council.
Make sure to get your voice heard. Too many of your ancestors fought and died to give you the opportunity to vote for you to waste it.
This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, March 12