Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Thursday 2 May 2013

You can choose.

IN China, 1.3billion people can vote so long as it's for a Communist.

In Russia, 141.9million people can vote for whoever they like as long as Vladimir Putin agrees with them.

In Saudi Arabia, about 12million women can't vote for another three years unless the king changes his mind and they object to him appointing or unappointing them from his council at whim.

In all 88.7% of the world's population doesn't have the right to vote for whoever they want without being bullied, killed, coerced or made somehow illegal.

That's 6.1billion people out of a total of 6.9billion on the planet who don't get the say we all take for granted, sitting here reading whatever we like on the internet on whizzy computers.

In the country I live in there are 47million people registered to vote in local elections, there are local elections being held RIGHT NOW, and only 30 to 50% of them will bother to do so.

That's around 32million to 24million people not helping to decide which unqualified tosspots will be deciding on digging up their street, imposing one-way systems, collecting their rubbish, running their swimming pool, taxing their house, maintaining the street lights, running libraries and deciding how cheap their state-provided carers should be and how many minutes is enough to get someone out of bed, wash them, feed them, and wipe their bum.

Yet those 32million to 24million people aren't disbarred from using any of those services or complaining if they think they're rubbish. And lots of people tend to think that if someone is issuing taxes, then you get to have a say in how they spend it.

The trouble is that democracy, once it's won, is taken for granted and local democracy is just painfully dull. I spent five years covering everything from parish council planning committees discussing the location of someone's shed on a wet Wednesday night all the way up to the heady heights of a city's budget being thrashed out by swivel-eyed lunatics with an eye on Westminster.

All of it was important to someone and none of it was attended by more than a handful of locals. We all just presume that as long as the lights come on and there's potholes for us to moan about that things are rumbling on much as they always have.

Nothing seems to change, so what's the point in voting? Well there's one thing that's changing, which is that fewer and fewer people can summon up the enthusiasm to put a 'X' in a box.

In 1983 local election turnout was 44%. In 1993 it was 37%, and in 2003 it was 35%. Today's figures will be boosted by the fact it's sunny but if they're significantly greater than ten years ago I'll be very surprised.

And why? It's not as though what local councils do isn't important, and arguably might have a greater immediate effect on voters' lives than the House of Commons.

It's local councils that, under current welfare reforms, are going to be providing social support to the sick and disabled. They fund fire brigades, social workers, school meals, buses, housing benefit, play areas and provide more than a million jobs.

This is crucial stuff, but less and less of us can be bothered to get off our backsides. Even when you don't need to get off your backside, even when the council will send you a freepost letter you just sign and send back for FREE.

In Iraq three years ago 62% of voters turned out even though 38 people were blown up in bomb attacks by people who'd rather they didn't.

In Romania and Bulgaria, countries which 20 years ago were blinking at democracy like it might bark at them, voter turnout is around 80%.

Yet here we can't be bothered even though people like my grandad towed a gun through France and Belgium, saw his best mate blown to pieces and returned home a changed and unhappy man in order to protect our right to have a say. We can't be bothered even though Emily Davison threw herself under a horse so half of us could do what she couldn't.

Perhaps it's because all that seems like such a long way away - a different country, almost. But it's recent enough if you stop and think. My grandmother was born in 1916, when no woman was allowed to vote. My mother was only allowed to vote when she was 21, despite having been a taxpayer since she was 16.

I spent my whole childhood waiting impatiently until I was 18 - not just because it made me an adult, but because I was raised to think putting an X in a box was one of the finest things you could ever do.

Voting is not just your right - it is a privilege and what's more a duty. You owe it to my gran and grandad, as well as your own, and you owe it to your children to take them to the polling booth with you and tell them they're as lucky as hell to have the luxury of being bored to tears by all of this.

Perhaps your X won't change which little Hitler is in charge of your library. Perhaps it won't stop it being shut down and perhaps the local swimming pool will still be infested with disease and flies and morons who splash around too much.

More than likely, you won't be voting for someone you like as much as you'll be voting for someone who seems the least idiotic option.

But not putting your X in a box will change a lot, and change it for the worse. The idiotic options will be picked by someone else, there'll be no-one to fight for granny's meals-on-wheels when she needs it, and your children will grow up thinking it doesn't matter.

If that happens, we will suddenly be a lot closer to that different country where voting was something people fought each other over.

You can vote red, blue, yellow, UKIP, racist, fringe, green, single issue or Monster Raving Loony. You can set up your own party, and you can do it all without being blown up, without being hunted down afterwards, and despite your reproductive system. You are luckier than almost 90% of the planet.

I don't care which idiot you vote for; but please, just vote.

What would she say?