This post was originally published in The Huffington Post on the 11th March 2015 with the title “How Voting for Policies can Increase Political Engagement.”
This may seem surprising for someone who started a policy website, but I’ve never had much interest in what goes on in Westminster. I don’t have a background in politics and, like most people, politics was on the margins of my life. It’s something I’d think about around election time, when I’d decide who to vote for based on a combination of what I saw in the news and my gut feelings about the different parties.
But in 2010 everything changed. As I listened to yet more election coverage, I realised that I didn’t actually know what any of the parties stood for. I knew which politicians I warmed to and which I didn’t, I knew some parties seemed to be faring better than others in the polls. But I had no clear sense of exactly what each party was promising and what the differences between them really were.
So I decided to find out for myself. I got onto their websites and found each party’s manifesto. I went through them all in detail. For the first time in my life, I felt in a position to make an informed choice about how to vote, based on knowledge of all the policies being proposed by each party. It was a revelation – and one I wanted to share.
I wanted other people to let go of their preconceptions, to see past the spin and judge parties on the policies they were proposing. But, as someone with a passing interest in politics, it had taken me hours of effort and perseverance to reach this point. It seemed ridiculous that there wasn’t an easy way for people to get beyond prejudice and personality and compare every party’s policies in one place.
I work in web development, where there’s a culture of finding solutions to problems. As I saw it, the problem was that most voters, like me, didn’t have the time or inclination to spend hours poring over manifestos comparing policies. I knew there must be a way to make the process easier. So, I got together with some friends and Vote for Policies was born.
It was created over weekends and evenings, with no external funding, just a small group of committed individuals. I still run the site in my spare time, but as it’s grown it’s started to take over more of my life.
I’ve gone from knowing next to nothing about politics to listening out for the latest policy announcements, so I can make sure the site is updated. Vote for Policies took me on this journey from political apathy to engagement, and I hope it will do the same for thousands of others.
Vote for Policies is an independent, non-partisan website where users compare policies on topics such as education or the economy without knowing which party they belong to. The policies come direct from the political parties’ manifestos. In 2010 over 580,000 individuals used the site and since then the survey has been completed a further 3 million times. The 2015 version of Vote for Policies was crowd funded by over 900 individuals and received match funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.