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Columnists

Universal suffrage

Lucy Winkett

lucylookright.jpgLiving in the middle of the City of London, with few residents, I was not surprised to find that there was no polling station queue when I walked down Fleet Street to cast my vote in last month's General Election. But there was a steady stream of people ready to do their democratic duty.

After I had voted, (resisting the momentary urge to vote for the Pirate party in the process), I went to a pub with a friend where we toasted Emmeline Pankhurst and chewed over the fact that women were given the vote on the same basis as men only as recently as 1928.  Over a pint of beer we recalled the headline events of the suffragette campaign - the death of Emily Davison when she threw herself under the King's horse at the Derby, the hunger striking, the thoroughly unladylike smashing of windows and incidents of arson that came to characterise the attempt to achieve equality to the astonishment of the gentlemen's establishment.

The diminutive label 'suffragette' does nothing to describe the energy of the female franchise campaign (and always reminds me of the old fashioned verger at the church where I grew up who would not allow me to be a server at the eucharist, declaring he would not have 'serviettes' in the sanctuary).  

The fact that we were in a pub discussing all this made me smile as one of the theories about why we always have elections on Thursdays in the UK is that, historically, people were not paid until Friday and so a Thursday vote would ensure that citizens were not too drunk to express their opinion coherently.

Notwithstanding our capacity to vote, in a society where we are often told by opinion pollsters of a large segment of the population who say they don't care at all about politics, it has been striking to see the fury of people who couldn't cast their vote in this election. Whatever the organisational reasons (not enough ballot papers, not enough staff, large numbers of first time voters who didn't bring their polling cards, a higher turnout than expected), the fact is that there were citizens who were rendered powerless at the precise moment when they had the opportunity to exercise political power.

Despite the disillusionment with politicians over the expenses scandals and the lack of choice, the realisation that people have been disenfranchised has clearly stirred strong feelings and enquiries will be held. It reminds me that for all our attempts to think clearly and act dutifully, emotion plays a part in our identity not only in our private lives but as citizens and as people of faith.

And so it should - our roles as citizens and as disciples are indistinguishable if we want to be people who act, who vote, not only in order to express ourselves but in order to cultivate a compassionate society and commit ourselves to make the world a better place.