I have learned in the last few days that protesting and speaking out gets you heard, but we don’t all believe that we have the power to be listened to. Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, its performance at Manchester International Festival, and The Culture Show’s program about it last night, advocates peaceful protest, and so do I. But the social minorities of today face barriers which make engagement with politics difficult and they are, therefore, at risk of become even more marginalised.
A yuk parliamentary bill has been put forward by Siobhan McDonogh, a Labour MP, suggesting that those not registered to vote should face “reasonable sanctions”: they will be banned from receiving benefits. I call these unreasonable. Firstly, why should people be sanctioned when they have a democratic right not to vote if they so choose?
Secondly, if the majority of people who aren’t on the register are eligible for benefits, it seems straight-up inhumane to cut benefits just because they won’t play ball. Everybody should vote, and have their say in this democracy because they want to, not because they are forced to. People only want to speak if they feel that they have a chance of being heard. And the more people speak, the more they will be heard.
Maybe politicians need to find a new way to engage with those less visible minorities who often aren’t registered such as disabled people, young people, people on low incomes, people in ethnic minorities, and private sector tenants. Maybe, instead of expecting those in areas of deprivation to comply, politicians should give them a voice. Maybe low self-esteem tends to plague those at the bottom, who are in receipt of benefits, because they don’t feel like they’re being listened to by those at the top. If politicians and their friends in the media stopped targeting and minority-bashing these people for their own party political gain, perhaps they would feel more likely to vote anyway.
Some meaningful inter-class and inter-power engagement can only be a good thing, giving people room to form opinions and help to reduce Lord Ascroft’s “Meh” index; it might even go some way to preventing frustrated and angry riots like those of summer 2011. Don’t bribe people to make a choice, let them choose choice.