The DWP’s twitter account contained a lovely Valentines message. The picture was pink with hearts flowers and clouds, and the message scrolls in “Declaring your Love tomorrow? Don’t forget to declare your TRUE LIVING ARRANGMENTS too – tell us your change of circumstances.” Followed by the ominous “Don’t get separated from your Valentine”.
It is a fairly crass way of highlighting benefit fraud, and the tweet links to an even crasser and inaccurate article the DWP has placed in the Daily Express – which plays the usual tricks to exaggerate fraud.
This photo was taken in 2014 at a march held to commemorate a suffragette rally that took place in Walthamstow, east London, in 1910.
This is my mother, my daughter and me, three generations marching together for equality and to honour the women (and men) who fought for the vote for all. So as the week commemorating the Representation of the People Act draws to a close, what does the vote mean to us?
Turning eighteen is a pretty big deal, suddenly you can buy alcohol, serve on a jury, buy fireworks and sue or be sued, just to name a few. Of the rather interesting and sometimes random things that you can do once you reach eighteen, I see voting as an incredibly significant opportunity and responsibility. Voting is significant to me for lots of reasons, but many of these reasons boil down to two aspects of my character. My womanhood and my faith in Jesus are two pivotal parts of who I am and why I hold the right to vote in such high regard.
I grew up fascinated by the stories that I heard about suffragettes. I was also brought up to understand that voting is a very important responsibility. I was first entitled to vote at the 1997 general election and my parents made a bit of a fuss about it and were very keen that we should make our trip before school and work to our local polling station together. So I stood in the polling booth that May morning, and every time I have had a ballot paper before me and stubby pencil in hand since, and gave silent thanks for and to Emily Wilding Davison who after being arrested, imprisoned and force fed multiple times as she fought for women’s suffrage was eventually to die for the cause as she stepped out in front of George V’s racehorse Anmer at the Epsom Derby in 1913. I give thanks too for Millicent Fawcett, for mother and daughter Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and the countless other women who campaigned for their inclusion. I also wonder if some of the tactics used by the suffragettes were used today whether they would be considered good and decent campaigners for a cause or terrorists who should be stopped.
1974 was an exciting year in British politics, with two General Elections. I wasn’t old enough to vote, but the second fell on my 15th birthday – so I remember well having a day off school! From that day onwards I couldn’t wait to be 18 and to vote. In the 1979 General Election I exercised with great pride this democratic right, so hard-won for women by our brave and visionary fore-mothers. The result may not have been the one I wanted… but that hasn’t put me off voting at every opportunity since.
In my ministry in Wakefield and in Yorkshire I have met many people from other countries who are seeking asylum. Commonly they are seeking refuge from oppressive governments which they have no power to oppose and no mechanism for changing. For me, being able to vote and take part in a process by which governments are made accountable to the citizens of their country is a privilege and I am really grateful to those who had the vision to seek the vote for all women and men. In my role as a Baptist Regional Minister and as convenor of the Baptist Union Gender Justice Hub I see other issues of equality still to be tackled but having the right to vote as an equal member of society is foundational.
JPIT’s newest team member, Simeon Mitchell, introduces himself.
For as long as I can remember, I have had more questions than answers. Why can’t I walk on the grass? How do I know that I’m real and not just in a dream? Why is the sea blue when water isn’t?
As I grew older and was exposed to some of the realities of the world, many of my questions became more pointed and focused on issues of injustice. Why is a quarter of the world hungry when the planet produces enough food to feed everyone? Why do we spend so much money on weapons if we don’t want there to be wars? Why doesn’t someone change the system if it doesn’t work?