Will it be May in June? The dangers of being a ‘jobs-worth’ in the polling booth
I had just passed my 18th birthday when my family left these shores for South Africa in 1975 so I never had the opportunity to vote in a General Election in the country of my birth until after we returned to Suffolk in 2000.
I did however, once the vote had been given to all South African residents, vote twice in General Elections in South Africa. The days of the first election were tense yet full of expectation. I had spent six months beforehand training Peace Monitors for the election and during the vote itself led a team of four monitors through the centre of Johannesburg. Things went incredibly well and, despite a bomb scare in a block of flats which involved ‘rescuing’ a child who had been locked in whilst her parents went out to vote, by the time the extra third day of voting had dawned the team and I could be found sitting in the sun outside the Milky Lane Ice Cream Parlour in Hillbrow rejoicing in the birth of the Rainbow Nation.
Because I was part of the Peace Monitoring team I was allowed to vote around dawn before the Polling Stations opened. Lesley-Anne and Nomkhitiko Maseko, who used to work in our home, queued I the sun all of the first afternoon of the first day of voting and then had to go back the next morning as the queue was too long for everyone to vote. By all accounts their queue was overflowing with laughter, goodwill, and joy, even if they didn’t have ice cream and waffles as my team and I did.
It has always saddened me, on returning home, to find that voting in elections – be they Church, Local, or General – is not seen as a duty for all citizens. This is especially so for members of the Church of England, whose bishops still have an important place and voice in the House of Lords. It seems that we have become a ‘single issue nation’. When exercised by one or the other policy of the government of the day, Hunting with Dogs, Equal Marriage, NHS funding, Badger Culls, we protest but then do not turn that concern into ballots. Issues come and go but a nation cannot be built on Saturday afternoon marches in London no matter how earnest they are. Nation building happens in Portcullis House and on the red and green benches of parliament by peers and elected MP’s and is built with the votes we place in the ballot box.
Epitomised in the old saying of self-service ‘Blow you, I’m alright Jack!’ we seem to have become a nation of jobs-worth voters. We seem to only vote when something affects us personally until then we tell our soul to ‘take care for itself’ whilst we build ever bigger barns (Luke 12.18). We need voters who are convinced of the necessity of exercising their franchise for the betterment of the whole nation not only of our own needs. To be honest, I do not mind which way people vote (though the policies of some parties do stick in the craw somewhat) but I do mind if, people having a vote which has been won at much cost, choose to not vote.
None save myself will ever know which way I vote in a local or general election, but as someone who has seen the damage caused to a nation where the franchise is denied (and to not vote is to put oneself in the same position) I would never not vote. We worship a God whose Son who, at the will of puppet masters, was condemned to death on the basis of a ‘popular’ vote. It is our Christian duty to see that everyone has a voice and every voice is heard. Our Queen and her ministers are prayed for everyday in churches and cathedrals every day. For 460 years the House of Commons has prayers in the chamber led by the Speaker’s chaplain and a bishop leads prayers each day in the House of Lords. In our own parish two of our church buildings will be used as Polling Stations. This is our parliament. Why would we not vote?
(This article was first published in the May 2017 edition of the parish magazine of the Parish of Felixstowe)
© Andrew Dotchin 2017