A fundamental pillar of democracy is the involvement of the people—us exercising our right to vote, to decide and choose who represents us and leads the nation. Without this, politics is not an expression of the will of the people. When voters are infected with apathy, when we grow sick and tired of the goings-on of Parliament and Westminster and no longer vote, then those elected are not representations of the people. When this apathy infects larger groups, they become silent in the national conversation.
This is why the election date of 12 December is so controversial. It has been called during a time when so many university students will be between university and home, moving from where they are registered to vote. It has been seen by many as an attempt by the sitting government to make it more difficult for a large and politically significant group to vote. An article published in The Times said an aide claimed this was one of the reasons behind the attempted previous election date of 15 October.
This proves that this election will be tighter, more fiercely fought and keenly followed than any other election in decades. It will likely decide the outcome of Brexit after three years, and it will significantly decide the direction of our nation’s future. All of this is why it’s so important to vote and have your say in the future of our nation.
Apathy indirectly disenfranchises large swathes of the population. I understand why so many people are apathetic about politics, especially today. Brexit has highlighted just how little say the people have, whichever side of the debate you fall under and however they vote.
It is perhaps the perfect case study for the danger of apathy toward politics. Not only because of the aforementioned, how it has perfectly highlighted the existence of this apathy, but because now, moving forward, it could be more dangerous than ever. This widespread apathy is being used as an argument to get Brexit done regardless of the outcome, to cancel Brexit altogether and for everything in between. But this apathy, being sick and tired of Brexit and therefore seeking to simply get it over and done with as quickly as possible is extremely dangerous.
Brexit has been described as the ‘political event of a generation for a reason’—whatever happens will determine future years of trade, of the economy and will affect the livelihoods of almost everyone in some way shape or form. To be apathetic now, to be uncaring about the minutiae of what follows, does legitimately threaten livelihoods.
I understand how people are sick and tired of Brexit, it has dominated our news and TVs for three years now, and seemingly not progressed at all. But to not see it through now, to not ensure we get the best for the people, would mean the last three years have been in vain, and it will be us who come off worse. The ordinary and the common, not the rich political elite—it will be us.
It is not just Brexit, however, that this coming election will decide, but also the fate of the NHS, our policing and public services, where or what investment is directed towards our infrastructure and transport and so much more. These are all key issues whose future will be determined in the coming election. While it can often seem like politics has been reduced to just Brexit, it hasn’t. And while it can often seem like voting is pointless, it isn’t.
We cannot afford to be apathetic. We have to register to vote and exercise our right as citizens. We each have a voice in the outcome of Brexit and we must use it. It is now that our voices matter, really matter, and it is now that we decide the future of our country. Are you ready? On your marks, get set…
Representation matters. That’s the current buzz behind books, slogans, and political campaigns in 2019. And I stand by it. If our diverse backgrounds are reflected by those in power too, then it’s often perceived that minorities will be understood in their nuance, instead of being viewed through their stereotype. But representation alone is not enough.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently created his cabinet, and, wait for it, there are four brown people up front and centre. The U.K. now has a South Asian Home Secretary, a South Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer, a South Asian Development Secretary, a South Asian Chief Secretary, and the list goes on. Diversity within politics is now achieved! We can now move onto other topics, maybe even discuss climate change?
When hearing the news, Radio host Nihal Arthanayake tweeted, “An Asian Home Secretary and Chancellor. Politics aside, for Asian kids up and down the country that is a very visible example of representation”. But maybe we need to ask ourselves who is it ‘representing’ Asians and ‘ethnic minorities’ in Britain?
Born to Gujrati parents from Uganda, Pritti Patel has replaced Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Losing her role as International Development Secretary in 2017 due to holding private meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office, Patel joined the Conservative party in her teens. Her inspiration has always been Margaret Thatcher because of her rhetoric for both homes and businesses. Patel also has a record of backing stricter asylum and immigration rules and voted with Theresa May to aid the Windrush scandal, which was inducive in sending many Caribbean citizens ‘back’ and revoking their British citizenship.
She is now going to be in charge of immigration, crime policing, prisons, and probations. As someone who is pro-Brexit and determined to follow through with Johnson’s needs, Patel says her plans for immigration include close selection, “In future, we will decide who we give preference to, so we can ensure we are able to attract the most talented and skilled from other parts of the world”.
Rochdale-born and Bristol-bred Sajid Javid has moved into the role of Chancellor of Exchequer, meaning Javid is now to look after all economic and financial matters. Infamous for removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship this year, Javid similarly has a history of othering Muslim communities in an attempt to make them ‘better assimilate’ into British society.
As someone who on paper is similar to both Patel and Javid (South Asian heritage, Muslim and working-class upbringing, university-educated, and even a history of interracial relationships) seeing these fellow desi faces be granted the highest of seats in parliament didn’t make me scream out with joy nor did it give me hope for the generation growing up, because frankly, it all seems hollow.
In response to Nihal Arthanayake’s tweet and the many others applauding this ‘diverse’ cabinet, this is only a visible depiction of diversity, it is not diverse by school of thought, class backgrounds and where politicians lie on the side of policies. Doesn’t representation and diversity only work when we’re showcasing a breadth of ideas, of people and their beliefs, instead of acting like sheep in wolf’s clothing?
If the bar is we need more ethnic faces in politics, sure, that alone with elitism, nepotism and schooling systems systematically makes it more difficult for brown and black folks to enter politics, never mind those who are from faiths and backgrounds that are just about tolerated by the government. But in 2019, I’m not going to applaud you for being South Asian and within the political system claiming to be ‘for me’. My bar isn’t so low, and neither should yours be.
For our parents, grandparents and so forth, the idea ‘see to be’ may have worked as a point of aspiration for their children to climb up to, but as second and third generation British Asians settle, our ideas surrounding representation needs to be refreshed. In times of an alt-right rendition and rise of Islamophobia, our needs have expanded.
Both Patel and Javid utilise their tokenism for their personal benefit. This British Asian heritage works as a duality, leveraging to the South Asian communities while showing Tories can also be inclusive (as Labour has always had a larger ethnic minority presence) and simultaneously making sure the ladder is pulled back up, only for them to look down on those who are still ostracized because ‘Hey! If I can do it, so can you!’
In the past, Patel has said she is ‘British first’ and finds the term Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) offensive. Javid has made it public that he fits into British society by drinking alcohol (his example), placing the blame onto Muslim communities for terrorism instead of questioning the root of why homegrown terrorism is occurring, and best of all, saying he is doing it for these communities.
I’m not asking for politicians to hold onto their roots if they do not feel the need to nor do I want anyone to feel as though there is only one way to be South Asian and in politics. However, what I am asking for when seeking representation in politics are people who are working with our ethnic minority communities instead of against them. Politicians that don’t equate assimilation to deleting their heritage just like their user history. Individuals that don’t distinguish being successful in politics with being South Asian or Muslim and won’t stay silent in the face of racist proceedings. Representatives that are now ready to put new systems into place.
Boris Johnson may continue to assemble a diverse cabinet, maybe even throw in a politician whose background may up the ‘ethnic card’ but if we don’t have politicians who work for us, as a community and country, we’ve already lost.