Monday, 14 April 2014


Britain's political landscape is a wasteland of so called 'centre ground' politics. Conservatives are the same nasty Tories they've always been but they pretend to have discovered compassion. New Labour are Tories with Red ties and a few quid from unions. The Lib Dems are just lying Tory bitches and the new kids on the block - UKIP - are merely a more racist, homophobic version of the Tories. Guest blogger PAUL SOUTHWOOD bemoans a lack of choice and explains that not voting should be seen as a positive action.

It's not apathy that stops people voting, it's the realisation that politicians are all the same.

VOTER APATHY. Already, the phrase has become enshrined in media-speak as a pocket-sized explanation for why so many people stay away from ballot boxes at elections. But it is a misnomer - like describing comets as falling stars or fossils as figured stones. Perhaps there are some apathetic non-voters out there; I haven't met any. I have on the other hand met angry non-voters. After some thought I have decided to join them as I am angry too.

Voters of course, are horrified. If you don't exercise your right to vote they say then you have no ability to effect changes nor any right to criticise the elected government. And the vote, they say is a right for which our forebears fought - at great cost to themselves.

Political parties of course feel no such tug of' historical heartstrings. This seems especially true of the present Labour Party; historically, nobody much can be said to have made any great sacrifice for the cause of Toryism.

Sadly, history can make a mockery of sacrifice, and it can do so In short order. 'If I die,' wrote many Red Army soldiers before battle was joined at Kursk "then count me a communist." Yet even if their sacrifice changed history, where now is their cause '? The Vietnam War cost one side millions of casualties, and scarified the conscience - and pride - of' the other. Yet now, increasingly, Vietnam is an aspiring Singapore.

History is littered with such lost causes - some deservedly lost. If British democracy is not to join them, then British politicians must manifest the one characteristic that makes voting in a multi-party state worthwhile - difference.

The latter commodity is in short supply of late. It's not just that politics has shifted to the right; it has also come to occupy ever narrowing bands of ideas. Increasingly it's any political colour you like so long as it's blue with the prospect of the wavelength shortening to ultra violet dimensions. This phenomenon became apparent before the 1997 election. "Vote Blair," said the graffiti in Oxford, where I was living at the time, "for more of the same shit."

The political spread was being reduced, practically before the electorate's eyes, into little more than a choice between the wet and the dry wings of Thatcher's Tory party. Core Old Labour voters saw Blair coming, and stayed away from the polls. There being more such voters in safe Labour seats, the outcome of this attitude was clearer in such constituencies. Hull East: 54.2%, Islwyn (Neil Kinnock's old constituency): 60.1%. Left wing Tories, too, stayed away - put off by the Major regime's image of sleaze.

The 1997 election was decided by a collision of the respective right wings of the two main parties, together with tactical voting where this could be focused against a Tory candidate. For both major parties, the left-wing vote - Tory europhiles and 'wets'; Old Labour socialists - were notable largely by their absence from polling stations. On fiscal and social policy alike, the manifestos of the political parties represent little more than fine-tuning. And in privatised (not to say feudalised) Britain, the power of politicians to effect change in the name of those who elected them is seen to be strictly curtailed. The resulting political consensus that made the four or five yearly trek to the local school or community centre worthwhile – choice, was absent.

"No vote - no voice", said the old posters, trying to encourage young people to get themselves onto the electoral register. And so still say the fervent voters, horrified at the growing scale of electoral absenteeism. But, in truth, it is a bleak message - suggesting that the ballot box flashed at us every few years is indeed the only voice we have, and seeming to confirm Lord Hailsham's assessment of the British political system as an "elected dictatorship."

We need a different view of democracy than this. We need a view of democracy that sees it as an active agent in people's day-to-day lives; in jurisprudence; in culture; in the freedom to speak out, to demonstrate and - where need be - to take action.

Voters and non-voters are equally entitled to participation in such a robust, living democracy; to exclude non-voters from it is to accept the strictly limited 'democracy' of which Lord Hailsham spoke. Voting is a component of democracy: it should not be considered the complete and entire artefact.

Indeed, not voting itself is a democratic action. Quite properly, voting is a right. But a right, by definition, is not an obligation. When democracies try to make voting mandatory - as, for instance, in Australia - then the electoral process runs the risk of supplying politicians with a false sense of popular approval.

Some commentators have used the term "voter apathy" to argue the opposite - that a section of the electorate feels good about the political and economic direction of Britain, and feels no need for the traditions of voter intervention. Clearly, this is tosh. There is no sense of popular dissatisfaction, and thus apathy, about a world of uncertain and insecure employment, health service delivery, old age provision, cheap rentable accommodation or increasingly expensive higher education. Such commentators have woefully misjudged the mood of the non-voting public.

It is not apathy that stops people voting but anger and the realisation that, deprived of choice at the ballot box, they can make no difference through that route.

That such a formerly highly regarded nexus of change is being abandoned by so many is a clear indication of the narrow and rotten state of politics: politicians should look to it and amend. The alternative is that this particular artery to the heart of democracy be allowed, slowly, to fur up.


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1 comment:

  1. Excellent! Well written, puts the point across perfectly.