Fever pitch politics

It’s that time again: the election looms, due on Thursday 7th May (2015). Ed Carlisle wonders what it’s all about, if it makes any difference, and what we can all do about it.

Ed Carlisle lives in Beeston Hill in south Leeds. He co-runs Leeds charity Together for Peace (t4p.org.uk), and is involved in a load of community and city projects including: the Holbeck viaduct scheme, Park Run, the South Leeds Life blog and newspaper, a bit of youth-work, and more. He keeps hens, and tries to grow veg. He likes film, coffee, cats, and real ale, and is married to a very patient lass called Tania. His big current project is standing in the local elections in May 2015: edleeds.org!

If you want to share your views, opinions and thoughts on the general election, email studio@leedscitymagazine.co.uk with your views!

Elections are like good sex. A long slow build-up, a vigorous thrust of activity, and an exhilarating climax – all underpinned by great love. Gimmick aside (sorry for that), I think the last point’s true: politics needs be driven by love to come alive. The great politicians and political movements all carried within them great love: Martin Luther King and co, Aung San Suu Kyi (of Burma), Churchill, Aneurin Bevan (the founder of the NHS), and even a few local councillors in this city. They and the movements they inspired shared great love for a community, a country, a vision for a better world.

Ed Carlisle

Ed Carlisle

But that’s not where we’re at in the UK nowadays. We all seem to have fallen out of love with politics – and I’m not surprised. Politics has become a pretty dry and barren thing that seems far away from regular life, run by a small enclave of people, of little relevance to the rest of us, drained of love and vision. (A bit like religion – but that’s another story, and I should surely only dare to bring up one taboo per article…)

Yet like it or not, politics is pretty important. I’d love to reassure you that it makes no difference, and you can leave it to the ‘politicians’ – but in fact, we should at least recognise that it shapes our lives in massive unseen ways. The healthcare we get (or don’t). The cost of transport, food, energy, and everything. Tax. The wars we fight, or not. How quickly the potholes on our street get fixed. Whether we at least try to stop climate change. The rights we have (or don’t have) as citizens. And so on and so on. (I should add: politics doesn’t fully determine any of those things: they’re also shaped by many other factors. But politics is a seriously major player.)

So, how did we all fall out of love with politics? Mainly I think because many people in the political world have lost sight of the love (and therefore vision) that drove them – or maybe just drove previous generations of people. So it’s become a very dull functional thing – like plumbing. I’m glad there are plumbers in the world, but don’t know many who are passionate about it.

But I wonder if politics could be something more? Because politics shouldn’t be a purely functional thing, a strange sideshow of life – but about regular people talking, making decisions, and taking action together. We all want something in life, and there’s lots to put right in the world – so could we bring politics back to ground level, together recapture some vision for it, and re-shape our city and our world?

Can I propose that a small step in that direction is for people to vote in the election next week? (Many people will vote, but even more won’t.) Here in Leeds Central, voter turn-out is spectacularly low: normally less than 50%, and down to 10-15% in some areas. If some of those who don’t normally vote come out and do so, it could make a huge impact on the results.

But I hear you say, so what? Aren’t all politicians the same, and can they really make any difference? Looking around the city, there are a few (not enough) really passionate city councillors who are making a real impact in their communities. And it’s easy to assume all the MPs are on the take – but again, there’s a few candidates who are I think trying to lead the country with wisdom… and love. All of them are subject to limitations – but good people make good things happen whatever the lie of the land.

Then also, who to vote for? voteforpolicies.org.uk is a great website that helps you match yourself against the national policies of the different parties, to help you decide how to vote in the General/Parliamentary Election – to send our MP to Westminster. Then on the same day, it’s the city council election – when we elect one of our three councillors, to represent and serve us locally. Local councillors have very little impact on the big national issues – so whilst party politics aren’t irrelevant, you arguably want someone who you trust to do the local stuff well. If you live in the city centre, check out southleedslife.com/elections-2015 to see the list of candidates in both the Parliamentary election (Leeds Central), and the local council election (City + Hunslet). And if you really can’t find anyone worth voting for, please go anyway if you can, and ‘spoil’ your ballot (for instance, add a cheeky message instead of a cross) – that sends out a powerful message too.

Next up, some plain old facts – because they have their uses! You should hopefully already be registered to vote: if not, I’m afraid it’s too late for this year. (But there’s nothing to stop you registering for future elections: it takes 2-3 minutes online at aboutmyvote.co.uk.) The election itself is on Thursday 7th May, with polling stations open between 7am-10pm. The city centre polling stations are: Leeds Parish Church, Holy Trinity church on Boar Lane, the Deaf and Blind Centre on North Street, and Marlborough Towers. You will receive a polling card telling you which one to go to – although note that you DON’T need to take your polling card, as they’ll have you down on a list when you get there.

And finally, politics doesn’t end there. Politics is not simply about elections, but – again – about people talking, discussing and acting together year-round. Could we start to create good politics in Leeds city centre… then in the wider city… then go take on the world?! I think it’s worth a shot – and I’d love to work with you (all) to help make it happen. What do we want Leeds to become? What have we each got to contribute? And what’s stopping us..?