On Tuesday, Use Your Vote launches in London with the ambitious aim to become as big a brand as any you know.
The campaign’s creator, Dr Tony Breslin, believes that access to democratic participation needs to be much easier than it is. The Use Your Vote brand will, he hopes, help to do that.
Tony wants Use Your Vote to become a meme; or, at least, a phrase so ubiquitous that it’s very hard not to notice it hanging around, lurking at the bottom of every email and every website; heck, Tony wants it graffitied onto buildings, incorporated into street vernacular, overused on the radio – whatever it takes to make it so common that we feed it into Google unthinkingly whenever we look for anything vaguely voting-related, and so simple and catchy that we might search for it merely out of curiosity.
Why? Because, Tony believes, it will lower the barrier to participation. ‘Strength of democracy depends on strength of participation,’ he says. ‘At best, we can say that a third of the population does not take part in voting. So, even if low – and declining – voter turnout is only a small part of the story, it’s still one big barrier to a strong democracy.’
But Tony also believes that voting is a more important aspect of democratic participation than some may think.
He puts it in terms of ‘elected power’ versus ‘unelected power’. Unelected power lies in the hands of big corporations, who move assets at will and with little public accountability except to shareholders. So, says Tony, elected power becomes even more important: ‘without it, how do we speak up; how do we change our world? The “crises around voting” is a proxy and a metaphor for all kinds of concerns about participation in society’.
‘There’s an awful lot of good stuff in this field’, he says, but often little reason for people to find it: ‘that often requires a level of political literacy in the first place,’ he says. He uses the Electoral Commission as an example: ‘they produce some excellent resources, but how would you know about their existence if you weren’t already a little bit interested in politics in the first place? With “Use Your Vote” we’re making a much more direct and unashamedly populist appeal’.
So, Tony wants to nudge people to go looking in the first place. He wants Use Your Vote – the phrase and the logo – to become so common that it lodges in people’s heads; and when they eventually google it, they will land on useyourvote.com. There, he says, visitors will find links to all those places they might not have thought to visit, simple explanations of key processes, and lots of other resources, all put into context.
Tony isn’t trying to compete with anyone; on the contrary, he says: he wants to give everyone else in this field more exposure, to be a new front gate to what remains, for many, ‘the secret garden of politics’.
He wants to lower the barrier that stops people wanting to understand more about their democracy. And he wants to re-open access to what he sees as ‘a professionalised politics overly-detached from everyday life’, in which ‘the “spadocracy”‘ (his collective term for spin doctors, think tankers and policy wonks) ‘has little connection with anybody outside the Westminster village’.
‘Every voter, of every persuasion, needs this simple, low-barrier access-point to democracy,’ says Tony. ‘I spent the best part of a year canvassing (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the last general election, and at every doorstep I was reminded that this really matters; this really matters if people are to be confident in having their say, demanding of their politicians and effective in their democratic participation.’
Use Your Vote launches at the House of Commons on Tuesday. If you’d like to attend, you can register for free on Eventbrite.