Sunday, 25 April 2010

Can I vote please? I even have a Manifesto!

Since I called for an election themed best of British Mummy (and daddy) Blogging carnival (entries can still be submitted by twitter @cartside, email cartside at and by leaving a comment to this post) it's about high time for my very own take on it.

However, there's a bit of a problem here. I'm not a UK citizen, though I have been resident here for the past 13 years. This means I have no right to vote at Westminster elections. I can still vote at all German elections, but I think it was after 5 years or so of living here, when the adventure was set to become somewhat more permanent, that I didn't feel it was right to vote at German elections. And at the same time I started to feel more strongly about wanting to vote here (I'm allowed to vote at local and Scottish elections). Personally I believe that it's a democratic duty and responsibility to vote - yet the politics I feel strongly about, the politics that affect me and my family, are in a country where I don't have the right to vote. So the question begs if I should change citizenship.

Even writing that sends shivers down my spine. Don't get me wrong, I love this country, enjoy living here and given the choice, in spite of some of my best friends still being in Germany, I would continue living here and probably will. But I'm still German. Changing citizenship just to be able to vote is wrong, yet what defines citizenship more than the right to vote? Heather over at Notes from Lapland has also blogged about this and the debate in the comments sections is more than interesting and I would encourage everyone to have a look.

Add to this the slight oddity that if you hail from a Commonwealth country and are resident in the UK you have the right to vote. Yet if you hail from a European Union country, an alliance that I would see as more relevant in our current day and age, and which accounts for the vast majority of immigration (and emigration) to the UK, you can't. Of course the reasons are historic, but history moves on and shouldn't this be reflected?

I don't suggest an easy answer. For the first few years I lived here, I didn't even want to be able to vote. My stay here didn't seem permanent, I was much more in touch with current affairs in Germany and voted at German elections. Now, for the upcoming elections, this has changed significantly. It happened over time, slowly, until now I feel left out and that something isn't quite right.

Yet I also know how many Germans feel about the right of their own immigrants to vote at their elections. The reluctance of letting people of Turkish decent vote, or stand as candidates, even though they do have German citizenship and are so integrated that they are more German than the Germans. But they will always be Turkish and foreign to a large part of the population. Any call to change the voting system to accommodate long term residency (which often is second or third generation residency) is met by the argument that this could mean that some people can vote in two countries, and that if they want to vote, they can always apply for citizenship. Like me really. And they don't, which I now, more than ever, understand.

So what would be my vote? Well, it's never easy and I'm also partial to proportional representation. There is no party that I fully support which is why I still haven't joined one. In Germany, I was green through and through, here, I choose and pick. My own manifesto would look something like this:

- Adopt the Scandinavian model of early years education. I.e. give parents a full year of paid leave (and that should be paid at a decent proportion of their salary). Then offer subsidised and high quality child care from 1 year, led by paedagogues. Make this system integrated and affordable. For low earners this would mean that the full cost of child care could be covered through subsidies (rather than the 80% maximum that we have now). Make child care cheaper for the second and third child so that women have a real choice if they want to work or not. Enable and encourage fathers to take a proportion of maternity leave.

- Invest in knowledge, technology and promotion of renewable energies and make them accessible to everyone, not just those who own their homes.

- Introduce a more progressive tax system to reduce the ridiculous inequalities in income

- Introduce a living wage that always pays so that there is a real incentive for people to work. At the same time I'm not opposed to a maximum wage (honest, I think it's obscene if people earn more than 100k even though I understand that living costs in London can be high, but maybe they'd be lower if nobody earned that much?)

- Improve tenants rights so that tenants have a better sense of ownership of their home. This would ease the pressure to buy. For example, tenants could be protected so they can't be thrown out of their flats/houses unless there is a significant reason, in return they could be responsible for improvements to the property

- Introduce an integrated public transport system in all cities which is always cheaper than the cost of petrol to undertake the same journey by car. Make cycling more attractive and safer.

- Change the tax and benefit system so that it's easier and people don't lose out on what's due to them.

- Prohibit energy companies to charge a premium that affects those with little disposable income more. Get rid of prepay metres or charging more for the first x units, and less for more.

- Rise to the challenge of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels (this is massive and will gnaw at the heart of our cosy capitalist life styles, yet I believe it's the biggest challenge of all and one we will have to face sooner or later - and if we face it sooner, it may not be so difficult later)

- Use alternatives to prison sentences if these alternatives are proven to be more effective

- Reduce military expenditure, especially on nuclear weapons.

- Introduce an immigration amnesty for anyone who has been resident here for over 5 years and who on the whole abides by the law. Make the asylum system fairer so that anyone with a genuine claim is given refugee status. Particularly change the legislation so that persecution which is specific to women is recognised equal to persecution which is typical for men.

- End the detention for immigration purposes of children. It's wrong to imprison children. It's even more wrong if they haven't committed any crime.

- Promote flexible working hours, part time work for both women and men so that anyone can have an acceptable work - life balance; including at the point of advertising a post (job share should be offered by default)

- Fill the loopholes of tax credits, e.g. where one parent works and the other parent is a student or offer a right to subsidised childcare which depends on family income and work/education status only.

I'm sure I've forgotten rather a lot, but I'll leave it at this because it's more than enough to get started. If you have anything to add, why not blog about it or leave a comment? I'd love to hear about more ideas.



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