Elections can be confusing - especially when you’re being shouted at from seven different directions. David Cameron says the choice at this election is between recovery with the Tories or chaos with Labour. Ed Miliband argues that the choice is either about making the recovery work for everyone with him as PM, or for just a few at the top with Cameron. The other parties are making familiar grumbles about pressing on with a new style of politics, or reverting to the dichotomous politics of old.
All of them are wrong. This election - every election - is first and foremost about having your voice heard. It’s about you choosing either which set of policies best represent your interests, or which candidate is going to stand up for you and your local area - if you’re particularly lucky, your vote might tick both boxes.
Your vote matters. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. If you live in a traditionally safe Tory seat, you voting with your heart today can make a big difference in five or ten years time. If none of the candidates are going to stand up for what you believe in, tell them that - spoil your ballot, go to hustings, have a say. Apathy won’t make politicians change course; considered and thoughtful engagement can.
Beneath the rehearsed soundbites of the televised debates were genuine manifesto promises. Instead of assuming that we are ideologically aligned to a particular party, we should all take time to assess whether those promises actually do align with our beliefs. Traditional Labour voters may correctly assume that the party will prioritise Education - but are their policies actually better than, say, the Liberal Democrats, who are pledging to protect the Education budget and continue their hugely successful Pupil Premium policy? Big business leaders might usually back the Tories, but would they be better off not risking the country’s membership of the EU by supporting Miliband or Sturgeon?
Unfortunately, just having good policy ideas can’t - and shouldn’t - cut it for political parties. They must be capable of delivering on those promises. Despite her car crash interviews on The Daily Politics and LBC, Natalie Bennett’s party does have a way of affording 500,000 new homes - by removing the cap on how much councils can borrow. Whether or not you think those means of achieving the aims are sensible, feasible or practical should determine where you put your cross on 7th May just as much as the idea itself.
It’s not just the Green Party that needs to justify its methods, though. Those other parties opposing austerity - like the SNP and Plaid Cymru - need to present a realistic, sensible and economically viable alternative. If one answer is scrapping Trident, they need to prove that our national security won’t be put at risk. If another answer is to increase borrowing, they need to demonstrate that their plans won’t end in another infamous Byrne-esque note - especially at a time that Government debt is higher than ever.
Perhaps more importantly, parties must earn our trust and belief that they will deliver on their promises. The Liberal Democrats are the only party committing to the £8 billion investment the NHS needs - but you as a voter need to believe that they’ll keep to that commitment. All parties of Government have failed in their promises - the Tories and controlling net migration, Labour and the economy, the Lib Dems and tuition fees. With the smaller parties you need to decide whether it’s even possible for them to keep their promises, and what would have to give for them to work.
Alternatively, you can vote tactically - and, except in the unlikely situation where you wholly agree with a different party, there is absolutely nothing wrong in doing so. Chances are that in your constituency there are only two candidates who have a real chance at winning the seat on 7th May. As a Green supporter, you backing your local Labour candidate might give the party just enough seats to keep the Tories out of Government. A UKIP supporter in Scotland may well choose to back the SNP to make a Labour Government that little bit less likely - and if Miliband in Downing Street is the last thing they want, that is a very sensible option for them.
The final choice you could make is to back the candidate (if you have one) who has the strongest track record of standing up for your community, and you believe will continue to do so. Some of you will be fortunate enough to have such a person standing in your constituency - local councillors past or present are generally a good bet! Take Watford, where Lib Dem Mayor Dorothy Thornhill is fighting the Tories on a local platform - amongst other things, campaigning to keep Watford Tube Station open, whilst the incumbent MP poses with Boris Johnson who signed off its closure.
Of course, we do already have Parliamentarians genuinely acting on behalf of our communities, fighting for a cause above party politics. Whether it’s Caroline Lucas’s fantastic work on the Living Wage in Brighton, Tessa Munt rejecting the Whip to vote against fracking or Andrew George proposing a real alternative to the ‘bedroom tax’, there are politicians across all parties who will stand up first and foremost for their constituents - if you are fortunate enough to have one in your area, there are far worse things you could do than vote for them.
When you awake on 8th May, the next five years of your life is sure to hold some big changes. Don’t let those changes be made without you. Have your say; and have it loudly, thoughtfully and clearly.
Follow Tahmid on Twitter @T_Chowdhury_16