Opinion

Michael Sani of Bite The Ballot: It's a thrill to hold our leaders to account

You can have the world you want – but you have to be in the game to change it, says Michael Sani

We act and we react…

The US presidential election and EU referendum results mean that we can no longer dismiss the lack of democratic engagement by saying ‘nothing ever changes’. I fully believe that we can have any kind of politics we want but you must be in the game to make this a reality. Our politics is certainly not the best in the world and neither is it the worst. However, this is no excuse for us accepting things as they are and not fighting for a system that works for all of us.

We must all share in the desire to make change. It’s been the one consistent feeling of all social activists that have made changes to the lives of others, changes we can quickly forget or take for granted. Make a politically engaged statement today and register to vote. Give yourself the choice to have a say and demonstrate our collective power.

I know that trying to make change is not an easy task and I understand why many people are put off by politics and feel hopeless about the influence they have to change the system. I felt the same not too long ago. As someone who only took an interest in politics and registered to vote at the age of 27 (seven years ago) I have come to realise, through the work I do and the amazing work of others, that change can happen. It just may not happen as quickly as we’d sometimes like it to.

We must all share in the desire to make change. It can happen, just maybe not as quickly as we’d sometimes like

We have recently changed our strategy at Bite The Ballot (BTB) to try to tackle some of the root causes related to why our work exists in the first place. This new strategy has seen a greater emphasis on advocacy work and trying to change or update legislation. What a rollercoaster ride it is. We are learning first hand just how difficult it is to change the law, as well as public opinion. We have had our ideas for policy and legislative changes opposed and sidelined by parliamentarians, even with the facts and moral grounding we have put forward. Despite all the struggles we have encountered we are not anti-government and believe we all have a role to play in shaping our society, our role at BTB is to increase civic engagement and ensure we hold our government accountable to doing what it says it will do. We are solely focused on the outcome.

But with all that going on our journey is an absolute adventure, not quite House of Cards-style and I’m not suggesting we go Frank Underwood on anyone but there is a thrill in questioning and holding our elected (and appointed) representatives to account. There is a buzz in strategising for all possible outcomes and planning for all eventualities.

When I write for you next month we’ll know the result of a legislative amendment we are in favour of that will see more students registered to vote when they enrol on to their university course. With students being one of the least-registered groups within the UK the government are merely inviting universities to offer students the opportunity to register when they enrol – but we believe it should be an obligation.

A pilot in Sheffield University saw them reach a record high of 76 per cent of eligible students registered compared to some other similar-size institutions that are as low as 13 per cent. As a result of this scheme the cost to the council for registering university students dropped from £5 per student to 12p.

There are a few models that universities can adopt and there is an opportunity for them to create their own model to ensure student registrations take place at the point of enrolment. This legislation would provide a simple and cost-effective way for higher education institutions to play an effective role in the electoral registration of students, at a time when they are already collecting all the relevant information from the students when they enrol. This legislation still allows students to be registered in two locations and decide which location they’d like to vote in. The amendment was passed in the House of Lords by 11 votes and will go to the House of Commons in the week of March 27, so stay tuned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HK2J4_gscnk

Active engagement, demanding transparency and greater accountability is the real meaning of democracy and it’s awaiting your involvement. It’s time for you to find your political animal and begin your journey as a change-maker.

@BiteTheBallot

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