Don't get angry, get registered to vote

Not voting isn't clever or brave. It is, in effect, saying to everyone else 'you decide'


Young people are supposed to be angry. They tend to feel injustices more keenly than their elders and to be more impatient to put them right. But they do not have to be stupid.

Some people of all ages are so exercised about the unfairnesses of liberal capitalism that they decide that voting is part of the problem. Easy slogans such as "Don't vote, it only encourages them" or "If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it" seem clever and knowing. In the latter case, so much so that it was once adopted by a career politician, Ken Livingstone, as the title of a book.

Today, this kind of smart-alecry is personified by Russell Brand, the fiery revolutionary who urges people not to vote. But the attractions of rebellious abstention are being countered by the "Bite the Ballot" campaign. This "party-neutral" movement is trying to persuade young people to sign up on National Voter Registration day this Wednesday. It is working in schools and colleges to try to raise the proportion of young people aged between 18 and 24 who are registered to vote from the current level of 56 per cent.

As we report today, at one session with 18 unregistered teenagers at a London school last week, the campaign persuaded 16 of them to put their names on the electoral roll. The young people took part in debates about subjects such as capital punishment, and a budgeting game in which they had to decide how to spend public money. "It helped us to see that the government do go through hard decisions on a much larger scale," said Sharon, 16.

This pragmatism lacks the swearing-in-church thrill of Mr Brand's anti-everything posturing. How easy it is for Mr Brand to rail against "the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class, that has been going on for generations now". What fun to condemn voting as "tacit complicity with that system". But Sharon's understanding of the need to balance priorities has a better chance of helping to make the country a better and fairer place.

Fortunately for the Bite the Ballot campaign, Mr Brand's credibility has been undermined by the sheer incoherence of his programme, as well as by the inauthenticity of a rich and successful 38-year-old comedian posing as the voice of dispossessed, alienated youth.

Indeed, it was notable that, when an actual alienated youth won his 15 minutes of fame last month for interrupting Tony Blair's dinner with his views on Iraq, he took a different view from Mr Brand. Interviewed later, Twiggy Garcia said that he was "annoyed" with Mr Brand for telling people not to vote. "Create a party yourself," he said.

In this newspaper's view, abstention is not a principled position; it is an abdication of responsibility. It is not a clever or brave defiance of "the system", as Mr Brand would like us to think it is. It is saying to everyone else in the country, in effect, "I don't know; you decide." Our view is that it is always worth trying to choose between the candidates and parties on offer, and, if you do not like any of them, take Twiggy's advice and put yourself forward; start your own party or pressure group.

The Independent on Sunday ran a campaign before the 2010 election called "One of the Above" to encourage people to vote. In about a year's time, we will revive it for the next election. However, you cannot vote unless you are on the electoral register. So if you are not on the register, now is the time to bite the ballot.

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