Britain’s main political parties are worried about what they perceive as progressive voter apathy. Fewer people are actually bothering to sign up as party members and the percentages voting – in both General and local elections – are declining. Various attempts to arrest the slide, such as encouraging postal voting, have achieved little. There has been talk about making voting compulsory, as happens in Australia.
What is the solution?
You can see where the politicians are coming from. To them, politics is not just a career, it’s an obsession – and to those who are one-eyed, the prospect that their constituency (the vast majority of the British public) just don’t care is not just hurtful. It’s weird, borderline inexplicable.
Somewhere in the media over the last few days, I saw a report on a new survey of voters’ attitudes that may just point to the problem. It appeared to demonstrate that the key is not passive (i.e. apathy) at all, it is anger.
I guess that the crossing of the Rubicon – the straw that broke the camel’s back, the watershed moment in this respect – was the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009. It lifted the rock under which the messy, corrupt, world of British politics, previously hidden to a large extent, was finally exposed for once and for all.
Politics is a game. The key has never been whether new policies are right or principled, but whether or not they will persuade the British public to vote for the party that conceived them. Voters are disillusioned because they feel that their vote will not make a difference. Irrespective of where they mark their ‘X’, the politicians will simply carry on and do what they want anyway – so what’s the bloody point?
The trouble, of course, is that apathy – whether tinged with anger or not – comes with attendant dangers. If you ‘switch off’, or go to sleep, committed factions such the Far Right can make gains.
It’s a version of that old school playground game: every time you turn your back, they take another step … until, one day, they’ve got you.