On the 4th of June 1913, Emily Davison walked in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. She was trampled and later died. Emily died to help women achieve the vote, a right they were denied until 1928, when the Representation of the People Act was extended to give all women over 21 the opportunity to vote. Emily was jailed 9 times, and force-fed during hunger strikes nearly 50 times while imprisoned all for this one civil right.
Some people are uncomfortable with the militancy of the historical suffragette movement, and while the activities of Emmeline Pankhurst et.al are definitely not beyond criticism, I owe my voting rights to these women, and their sacrifices. And in their defence, you don’t get very far in demanding huge legislative change by quietly proffering petitions and dispensing tea.
I’m personally almost violently opinionated, and often frustratingly stubborn, but hey, everyone has faults, and I’m proud to be an activist: to be a fighter in what I believe in, and to take very limited shit. I’ve done some pretty cool things with my activism, that I have known and seen to benefit people. I care a lot about stuff, and I’m pretty down with politics. So you can imagine that I was, to make a vast understatement, pretty psyched about the general election. I hadn’t been old enough to vote in 2010, and it had pained me immensely to watch on the side lines while vital decisions were made about my future: how much I would pay to go to university, whether I would still be able to get the medication and support I needed from the NHS, how sustainable my future would be, and what civil rights would look like 5 years down the line for my queer community. Some people in my life have brushed off voting as either useless or unnecessary: “not a big deal”. That statement is really fucking sad: a symptom of a political system that’s let people down and caused them to lose any sense of power in their vote, that’s led them to throw a precious privilege away. I didn’t want to do that with my vote. I was going to use it, and I had people reminding me every day how important it was that I did so. Among them: Leeds City Council. Leeds fucking City Council.
Back in February, I registered to vote at my new address, and asked for a postal vote at the same time, knowing that I was planning on being at my family home in Germany sometime before the election. I asked for it to be sent there, just as my parents asked for theirs to be. Their voting cards arrived, mine never did. As Election Day grew closer, and I was pretty much beginning to froth at the mouth with anxiety, I applied for a proxy vote, citing my reason for doing so being that my postal vote had just never fucking turned up. I filled out the form and sent it in the first class post one week before the deadline for application. Let’s reiterate these key facts: first class post; completed form; 1 week before the deadline. Got this? Cool: Leeds City Council didn't. I rang them up a couple of days before voting, sat for 18 minutes on hold, and politely asked where my vote was. “Sorry Miss Simpson, but we have no record of you requesting either a postal or proxy vote. Someone will call you back later today or tomorrow.” This was phase 1 in an ever intensifying chronology of pain and frustration. Someone did not call back that day or the next, so I rang them up again. 8 minutes on hold this time, and a significantly more severe tone. Where’s my vote. “We have you down as a postal vote, but there’s no record of you sending a proxy application.” Now credit to Louis, the guy I spoke to (sup), he really tried to sort it, but couldn’t get through to any higher-ups himself and ended up asking me to wait for another call-back. This didn’t happen, so I turned to Twitter, asking Leeds City Council Help where my vote was. I was asked when and how I sent my proxy application: the same questions, the same tediously slow response. And then. Then the kicker: “We’ve not received it.”
I was then given an emergency form to fill out, which I duly did, after I’d returned from visiting my father in hospital, the very reason I had been in Germany and not in England in the first place (if I sound frustrated at this point it’s because I’m FUCKING FRUSTRATED). I was told that I’d submitted that form too late and that, anyway, it didn’t meet the criteria for an emergency, despite my being explicitly given it to fill out from someone within Leeds City Council. WHY. WHY is it apparently so difficult, as an institution responsible for AN ENTIRE CITY, to communicate with each other? More importantly, why, upon hearing that I can’t vote – that perhaps my most significant civil right was being denied – do I just receive a fucking frowny face from Sam at the council. Fucking explain yourself Sam. The council have yet to accept any responsibility for
a) never sending my postal vote in the first place and
b) mysteriously not receiving a proxy vote application I sent well advance in the first class post (you might say it was the fault of Royal Mail but they have been nothing but good to me over the years and I don’t want to start).
I mean let’s all take a moment to realise how truly fucked this is. That thanks to nothing short of stunning incompetence on the part of the people that govern most aspects of my life here in Leeds, I wasn’t able to participate in the election. An election that (thanks by the way) has resulted in a Tory government who look determined to truly fuck everything I care about. I’m not saying that my one vote would have swung the election (it definitely wouldn’t have, not least because of the absence of proportional representation in our voting system), but I deserved a say. I have a right to that say, and country only gives me the opportunity to vote once every few years. I am one of many, many people whose votes were lost, misplaced or simply never followed up on. A friend from Cambridge regaled me with the tale of his postal vote application apparently arriving too late to be counted and then, when applying for an emergency proxy, being told that the council had never received any evidence of an attempted postal vote in the first place. Nice one. Friends from across the country have come forward with their stories; hundreds of people in Hackney couldn't vote due to council error. This is huge. This is people, all of whom would have been affected no matter what the outcome of the election, having their voices taken away from them. This is people being told that their voices don’t matter. “Sorry, frowny face.” We need electoral reform, including online votes. We need councils to take people’s right to vote seriously, and to protect that right. The one positive of this entire situation is that I no longer feel in the least obligated to do anything the council wants. You lose my right to vote, I have as many BBQs on Woodhouse Moor as I fucking please (I’ll clean up obviously. This is between me and the council, not me and the environment). You lose my right to vote, and I ramp up my existing history of civil disobedience, and I never let you fucking forget it.