As readers are considering the next step they would like to take for Election 2015, I would like to suggest that perhaps your next step could be to gather a group of friends. Whether you gather in a friend’s living room, a coffee-shop, or a pub (or go wild and have a 3 course meal!) there is a good deal of sense in gathering as friends to chat through the next election.
Voting is (of course) an individual choice, but the steps you take to reach your choice do not need to be taken in isolation. One aim I am confident every voter holds is the desire to be well informed as they cast their vote. This takes many forms – knowing which candidate is standing for which party; who is likely to win in the constituency, and how that result may impact the overall national picture; what policies the parties and candidates stand on; their past reliability on delivering election promises – these are all useful pieces of information, and quite daunting for one individual to gather by themselves.
This then is the advantage of meeting with friends – each of you will bring your own enthusiasms, knowledge and experiences. Questions will be asked that you may never have thought of, but you may also know the answer to someone else’s burning question. The aim of the evening, in a spirit of generosity, is not to land on how you should vote – it is instead that you leave the evening better informed than when you started, and better engaged with the political process.
Better informed doesn’t just need to be that you have gained a lot of knowledge. Some readers may not know what their next step is – but by meeting with friends you may realise that none of your group know a lot about the candidates in your constituency – so you each agree to take a candidate and share about them at a next meeting. Or you may discover a really important local issue, and decide you want to learn about it and ask your MP what they will do if re-elected.
The main rule of course is to meet with friends, and have an environment and discussion style that suits your group – but here are some suggestions that could help you:
- Agree if any areas are off-limits. This is helpful because you want the conversation to be in a gracious spirit of friendship. If you believe that certain topics may conflict with that (for example, of matters of conscience such as abortion law) you can agree as a group not to discuss them.
- Agree that the aim is not to actively change how people vote. So for example, you could say to a supporter of Party A, “That’s interesting, because Party B would favour this policy instead,” but you could not say “Party B have a better policy than you, and you shouldn’t vote for Party A.”
- You may optionally agree that party preferences should not be expressed – whether you adopt this or not, you should agree not to challenge anyone on their party preference.
- It may be helpful to agree areas your group really wants to discuss, and to prepare in advance. The obvious example would be researching party manifestos or local candidates, but you could also choose specific issues that your group care about – for example, students may want to specifically look at issues of youth unemployment.
- If you know people who are politically active or interested, consider inviting them as a resident ‘expert’ – but do take care to ask them to declare any partisan interest that they may have, so that everyone is aware of the potential for their comments to be biased.
- Affirm and encourage each other. Remember that the aim is to encourage as large a number as possible to become politically engaged – that may mean smiling at the person who wants to campaign for a party you don’t like, and saying: “That’s a brave step – well done for having the courage to get involved!” These kind of discussions aren’t for scoring party political points.
- Actively ask each other what your next step will be at the end of the meeting. You don’t need to be as specific as “I’m going to vote for Party C!”, but the act of speaking a next step reminds you that the purpose of the evening is to be better engaged with the election.
And if you do hold conversations with friends, be sure to share on social media if you enjoyed it! The more people who take a #nextstep, the more natural it becomes to take an interest in the election.