People are hailing the forthcoming General Election as a “once-in-a-generation” vote, and in many ways it is. Whichever party is voted in this month will be the party that sees us through our potential exit from the European Union, and will determine whether poverty and inequality increases or decreases within Britain.
I would vote Labour if I could. But unfortunately, I am not allowed to vote in this election. As an EU citizen, my voting rights do not extend to general elections despite having lived and voted in local elections in Britain for the last five years. Those five years included studying, working and paying national insurance, but the Home Office maintains that I will only be eligible for citizenship in 2022. I consider myself settled in the UK, this is my home, even though some might not see it that way. I will be applying for citizenship in the hopes that my immigration status will no longer be in flux, but that of course depends on which party is in charge at the time.
“I am told to stay out of politics, with the idea being that because I am not ‘from’ here, it must not affect me”
Until citizenship is awarded to me, I will always feel like an outsider in this country, contributing to it economically and socially but unable to find representation in the government that rules over me. For those who can’t vote, it can be isolating to be separated from this fundamental right that is awarded to those who “belong” here. Equally, it is difficult to see friends and Twitter followers campaigning for parties, urging people to vote and hoping for the government they feel will give them and everyone else the best outcome, when I cannot actively participate in the act of voting. I will not be able to exercise the right to vote in this election but will have to live under the government that is presented to me – no ifs, no buts.
Each government elected should last five years maximum, unless an election is called early. Since 2015, we’ve had an election called every two years and with Brexit looming over our heads, it is entirely possible that before I can finally become a recognised British citizen, another election will be called. But, as of now, the party elected today should last until 2024 and it could have a drastic effect on my ability to stay here as well as the livelihoods of so many people in this country.
The newly-elected government will have to negotiate Brexit, a task that has proven almost-impossible since the UK voted to leave in 2016. Brexit will undoubtedly impact on my ability to live and work in this country – a in place I chose to settle in when I was just 15 and, having found amazing opportunities in my chosen career of journalism as well as amazing friends, I do not want to leave.
“I can’t vote in this election, which makes it even more important for you to go out, vote for Labour, and make your voices heard”
Each party also has differing stances on immigration and citizenship. The Conservatives want to introduce a discriminatory Australian-style “points-based” system and, until recently, forced international students to leave the UK within three months of the end of their course unless they found a job to sponsor their visas. Under these systems, I probably wouldn’t be here for much longer, and while I recognise the enormous privilege I had in moving here in the first place, I am disappointed that I can’t have a say. Even on social media, I am told to stay out of politics when I want to discuss important issues, with the idea being that because I am not “from” here, it must not affect me.
As someone who can’t vote, I’m aware that there are still some things I can do. I read and write both news and politics articles, I have been canvassing in the past and kept myself engaged with the process, even though I can’t participate in the fundamental act of voting. But because of the law, there’s a key thing missing. Just a few months ago, the Labour Party fought for EU citizens to gain the right to vote in general elections and while this was denied, today’s critical election is a chance to change things.
The right to vote is so important to me and I believe that everyone should exercise it, if they can. I can’t vote in this election, which is why I hope that you and everyone around you will go out, vote for Labour, and make your voices heard. I look forward to being able to vote, but until then I will use my voice in other ways. I would urge you to be an active part of the change we’re hoping to see – use your voice to stand up for those that don’t have one.