Hilton Dawson: Decent and responsible politicians should not be acting in this way

North East Party leader Hilton Dawson on the choices we face at the election - and why we must use our votes

James Bolam, November 1975, with actor Rodney Bewes the stars of television programme The Likely Lads
James Bolam, November 1975, with actor Rodney Bewes the stars of television programme The Likely Lads

I’m going to do whatever I like’.

It’s ancient television now, that scene from ‘Whatever happened to the Likely Lads’. Terry has returned from the Army, apparently set on a bold, exciting, adventurous future; for the umpteenth time Bob begins to wonder about the choices he has made – the steady job, the mortgage, the life with Thelma on the Elm Lodge housing estate.

For Terry ‘whatever I like’ turns out to be working in a cafe in Berwick rather than gun-running off Bali; and so the point is extremely well made. In one moment of wistful humour and pathos, the writers of a TV show expressed a human dilemma more effectively than a dozen philosophers in a thousand pages.

On the day that Parliament is prorogued ‘I’m going to do whatever I like’ might also apply to voting.

Of course there are always those who will tell us that there’s no real choice to be made. There are the parties of all colours who will assert that so and so ‘can’t win here’, the commentators who compare the ‘form’ of elections as if they are horse races, the pseudo-science of academics trying to find a simple pattern in complex human behaviour.

I think we should confound such prejudice. I agree with the Lancaster binman who once declared to me that ‘you can have a surfeit of psephologists.’

I love going to vote. The people who administer elections are the epitome of first class public service; they are calm, scrupulously independent and businesslike.

The whole process of a secret ballot confirms for each of us our individual right, our own choice to vote for whoever, whatever we like, without anyone being able to do anything about it at all. It is a pure moment of freedom.

We do not have to be bound by any choice we have made in the past, we don’t have to justify it, or tell anyone how we have voted at all. We can put an ‘X’ in any box or none, we can express any opinion we like.

I would never, ever support prisoners being given the vote. Of course anyone in prison should be treated with humanity; however someone who has committed an offence serious enough to be imprisoned has surely put themselves outside the basic freedom and rights of our society? If you’ve so damaged our society that for a time it has to be protected from you, it’s surely right that for that time you have lost your ability to change it.

Of course there’s always some bloke, it’s invariably a bloke, who’ll tell you, might even emblazon it on a t shirt that ‘if voting changed anything they’d abolish it.’

If you’re out canvassing this is the person who then shuts their door in your face. Why indeed, would they need to carry on a conversation when they are in smug possession of such invariable and universal truth?

In these circumstances it’s important not to shout at people through their letter box, lean on their door bell or indeed waste the example of all the millions of people who have died for their right to demonstrate their own stupidity.

In fact, voting can change everything under human control and, wherever there is democracy there are people who actually are trying to abolish it.

‘Let’s put it to the vote’ is one of the most decisive things a human being can say. ‘One person, one vote’ underlines the fundamental equality of us all. A vote, administered properly, fairly, cannot decide what time the sun will rise tomorrow morning; cannot alter empirical evidence but it can tell us, collectively, what we have to do.

Having experienced some of the ways that ministers and civil servants, powerful people, try to manipulate democracy I should really no longer be shocked when it happens.

However, last Thursday, I attended the 7th ‘Devolution’ consultation meeting organised by what should really be called the Non Elected Combined Authority (NECA).

Plainly ‘consultation’ only goes so far. Unless you are particularly bloody-minded (which I am) there was really no opportunity to question the representatives of seven local authorities about how they could justify dividing our region in two and setting up another layer of devolved government without another North East referendum, or without any idea that it should be directly accountable to us all.

Respectable, responsible councils, decent politicians who actually want to do well by communities should not be acting in this way. Devolution is all about extending democracy at all levels, about providing more participation and more votes about the big issues and absolutely not about abolishing any sort of voting at all.

From now to May 6 we have the chance to challenge all politicians about these matters and others, to raise the biggest questions about the future of our country, our region, ourselves.

Then on May 7 we have that great moment of freedom currently denied to billions across the globe. Let’s do whatever we like, but let’s for goodness sake take part.

If North East people vote, the North East will change.

Hilton Dawson is leader of the North East Party.

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