Written by Rae Earl

Voices

You don’t appreciate your vote ’til it’s gone

Not having a vote in her adopted country – Australia – has reminded Rae Earl of the importance of having your say.

Woman drawing a phallus on her voting slip

All illustrations by Harriet Carmichael

I have a terrible feeling I missed voting in the 2005 General Election because I was waiting to interview Lemar. The bloke who came third in the first series of Fame Academy surely can’t account for more than 12 hours of total political apathy but I’m putting it at his door. It’s easier that way as I’m a bit embarrassed. The truth is, I took democracy for granted ’til I wasn’t part of it anymore.

It wasn’t always like that. I engaged in politics from an early age. I distinctly remember being taken to a Tory fete in the early 1980s and being given a Mr Nasty badge with Tony Benn drawn as a Mr Men character. My mum, who ended her working life a union representative on the left of Lenin, conveniently can’t remember this but I can.

I also remember where and when I voted in 1992 (Pearson Park, Hull) and the colour of the denim jacket of the bailiff who came to collect my community charge County Court judgement fine in Hull in 1993 (brown denim and UP YOURS THATCH! I still managed to get a mortgage with a CCJ). And I remember the pub and drink that I toasted the new Labour government with in 1997 (Rotunda in Nottingham, three quid for a pint of cider).

Then life started getting in the way. Jobs, families and TV talent show contestants. My political voice got shouted down by all the other stuff in my life. And there was the little matter of Blair and the Iraq war. What was the point in voting? You still got the same old shit repackaged – with a different colour tie. They’d all been to the same schools, the same universities, and still drank in the same bar. I’d seen the House of Cards trilogy. It was all rotten in the State of Denmark, and I was moving to Australia for a time anyway. Sod it.

” To vote in Australia, you have to be a bona fide proper Australian and I’m not. To quote the nice lady at the polling booth: ‘Oh – you’re a Pom, dear. Never mind. You can get that changed.’”

I assumed a lot of things about Australia. Most of them have proven to be wrong. I’ve only seen snakes in a zoo and five massive spiders in six years – and they were not hiding in a toilet. I thought that, as my husband had been allowed to vote in the UK (Australian citizen, UK permanent resident), I would also be allowed to vote here. In fact, I thought they’d make me.

Voting is compulsory in Australia and you’re fined if you don’t. Australian elections are really quite jolly too – most polling booths have a cake stand and a sausage sizzle (they cook pork products better than we do – you have to give them that). You have to turn up to vote, but if you want to spoil your paper with a rude drawing of your local MP you can. It’s not North Korea. It’s Australia. A brave, new world. A world where things aren’t the same as in Britain. I can’t vote. I’m not allowed. I’m not allowed until I take the test and get the passport. To vote in Australia, you have to be a bona fide proper Australian and I’m not. To quote the nice lady at the polling booth: “Oh – you’re a Pom, dear. Never mind. You can get that changed.”

Australian voters in beachwearSo, unless I go through a formal process and learn an anthem that includes the lines “girt by sea”, I am currently powerless in my country of residence. This is problematic, as Australia has a government with an immigration policy that even Nigel Farage describes as “too tough”. If you want to find out more about a modern humanitarian disgrace, Google Manus Island. It’s one of those issues, like the poll tax, that could galvanise the most apathetic voter into action. Even into the action of getting a new nationality. Dual nationality, of course. I’d still be British. You don’t realise how British you are until you’re 10,500 miles away from home. Like you don’t realise how important your vote is until you don’t have one anymore.

Politics has disengaged lots of us of late. Expenses scandals, cover-ups, inequality: it’s getting harder to fight the cynical belief that the system doesn’t serve the majority of the population well at all. The true activists seem to be coming from outside the mainstream system. Russell Brand has spoken about and done more for social justice in Britain than the Labour party have in a long time.

That said, I still think it’s important to get out there and vote. Even if you spoil the paper by drawing a massive phallus on it. Puerile, I know, but the person I know who did it was very angry indeed. But even with the angry phallus you’re getting involved – registering YOUR view as to how the UK is run. The alternative is to join me, by the vote-less barbecue, watching people I genuinely regard as far less able than me ruin other people’s lives. Life is rough without a voice. If you can use yours, do.

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Written by Rae Earl

Rae Earl is the writer of 'My Mad Fat Diary' and the 'OMG!' Hattie Moore series. She has never, despite three decades of trying, taught a cat to show jump. @RaeEarl