It’s one of those things that you hear about happening to other people, but you never think that it’s going to happen to you. It’s one of those distant, theoretical things that happens in faraway lands, but never at home.
Well, today, it happened to me. Today is May 6th, 2010, the date of a General Election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Today is the day that I was disenfranchised from voting and having my voice heard.
Sadly, I live outside the borders of my sceptred island home. I live far away, across the ocean in the United States of America. It’s a strange and quirky land, to be sure, and not a lot like Blighty. As any responsible citizen should, I applied for a postal ballot. I actually applied in person, at the town hall of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Unfortunately, due to a little administrative jiggery-pokery, I had to do so a couple of times for my request to be recorded. Nevertheless, eventually, they had me down as requiring a postal vote.
Postal ballots have to be sent out in the mail. They’re sent first class, to ensure prompt delivery. Even first class mail, however, must travel from the UK to the US across the Atlantic Ocean, and it does so by plane. Unfortunately, air travel in the vicinity of the EU has been disrupted recently, as a result of an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption. This has caused some postal mail backlogs, and resulted in some letters and packages being delivered late.
Even on a good day, it takes a little while for mail to cross the Atlantic. Today however, there is a particularly important piece of mail missing. You see, that yellow postal ballot has to be in the hands of a receiving officer in the Royal Borough by 10pm tonight. That’s less than 12 hours from now. Unfortunately, I haven’t received it yet, and – according to current estimates – won’t for a week or two, far too late to have my voice heard.
“But” – you may be saying – “RBKC is the safest Tory seat in the country, what value does your vote have?” That is exactly why my vote is important. Because of the first past the post (FPTP) electoral system, even if I had received my ballot, my vote would be useless unless I voted Tory. As the cover of the Independent last election shows, FPTP doesn’t represent the country’s votes well at all. The new government is a chance to change our electoral system for a more equitable one, like proportional representation (PR), but nobody’s going to push for PR if it looks like FPTP is working. That’s why even dissident votes in safe seats are important. That’s why it matters that my voice isn’t heard.