Bimpe Archer: Is it too much to ask politicians to just get on with the job?

This Westminster election sees Northern Ireland voters return to the polls yet again

I’M actually considering not voting in this general election. It would be the first time since I gained the franchise on my 18th birthday that I did not use it.

Make no mistake, that is a big deal for me.

I’m a journalist, so you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I studied Politics and History along with English at A-level. (By no means all journalists study Politics, History and English; but very few students of those subjects, reaching the end of their schooling and staring down the abyss of unemployability, don’t toy with the idea of a career in the media).

So, during those impressionable late-teenage years I learned that had I been born earlier in the same century I would have been denied the right to cast my ballot merely because of my gender.

I learned of the women who put their lives on the line to force a change in the law; who challenged the status quo and dared to imagine a different kind of world where they would not be second-class citizens.

I learned about how fascism swept across Europe, in part because not enough people were willing to actively stop it.

Yes, there was a point of no return, when absolute powers had been brought in which robbed human beings of their freedom; but before that there was point after point when, if more people had stood up and said `Not in my name’ by a simple mark on a piece of paper, they would not have ceded the authority to those dark forces.

I learned that democracy is imperfect, both in the various voting systems that try to balance the preference of the electorate with the need for stable (if you will forgive the word) government, and in how that governance actually works for society and the individual.

Despite these limitations, however, like most people I concluded that it is the system that allows citizens at least some say in the larger forces that shape their lives.

With all that in mind it has always been a point of principle that I make the pilgrimage to my local polling station, present my photo ID and mark my choice on the ballot paper.

Even if I happen to be living in a constituency where I know my chosen candidate or party has no hope of getting in, I want it to be known that there is support for them there. Even if it is a `Yes/No’ referendum that I know will be won by a landslide, I want history to record my voice among the multitude, not because I think it matters more than anyone else’s, but because it matters as much.

This latest election cycle, however, fills me with an ennui which I have not experienced before.

We’ve had election-heavy periods before – where local, assembly and Westminster elections have congested the calendar, and one-off votes have seen us traipse back and forth to polling stations so often when you run into the clerk in the street you `know you know them’ and smile vaguely at them, thinking they must be your doctor or dentist.

But the June election, and the threatened fresh assembly vote, feel unnecessary, manufactured to suit the powers-that-be, not to serve the electorate. Parties who managed to increase their number of seats scenting the chance to swell that haul still further.

It reminds me of another experience from my school days - playing in the badminton league.

I had managed to work my way up to third place and, knowing my own abilities, was aware it was as high as I could hope to go. (Number one and two spots were held by the sportiest girls in the year and there was no mission of unfit me, relying as I was on preternaturally long limbs and a smattering of natural skill, beating either.)

That said, I was proud of my achievement and content with the order of things. Not so the girl who was in fourth place. We had literally just played the deciding game (which I won by a whisker) and were shaking hands when she challenged me to a re-match. When I won that - by about the same margin - she immediately challenged me again. And again. And again.

Eventually, exhausted from these daily lunchtime badminton duels and frustrated at not being able to JUST BE THIRD FOR A WHILE, I took it to the sports mistress for arbitration, whereupon we both learned that such immediate challenges were against the rules and a certain period of time had to elapse before the winner had to grant a re-match.

Part of my frustration was that, yes it was close, but it was still a clear victory and repeated re-runs were not changing the outcome, so I was being forced to replay essentially the same game simply because someone couldn’t accept the result.

Here’s the thing about the last votes – Westminster, assembly, referendum: I ain’t happy with every aspect of each result, but I made the effort, trudged out, marked your blinking ballot and was an active participant in my democracy.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the people that were elected now do their bit and get on with the job they told us they were so desperate for.

So they’re not thrilled with the outcome? Democracy is imperfect, honey.



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