Friday, March 28, 2008
Political Apathy in UK Now a Major Problem
-only 53% of voters say they are certain to vote
-only 4% have ever made a political donation
-55% say they know nothing much about politics, are indifferent about a bill of rights or a written constitution.
-only 23% of the 18-24 age group say they will vote
-meanwhile 78% of the over 65s say they'll vote
Newspaper reading is falling, BBC news and current affairs struggle for audiences. People are good at grumbling about everything, yet they won't lift a finger to change anything.
We've been here before, of course, but never quite so worryingly; if these survey results are repeated in an election 2001, will seem like a high turnout. And the fact that young people are the most apathetic suggests the problem is not going to get better any time soon. If we continue down this road where are we likely to end up? With political parties which are mere shells, lacking membership but customised to organising and winning the votes the constitution says are needed to win office.
With a huge wilderness of voters who are ignorant, disaffected and not a little angry at why they have somehow brought about this state of affairs. These are the perfect conditions for parties on the extreme to wade in with their seductively easy simplicities; as de Tocqueville wrote, when the public: 'assents to the clamour of the mountebank who knows the secret of stimulating its taste.'
These would be dangerously uncharted waters for our political leaders to navigate and who knows if they would succeed, assailed, as they will be by an ever growing intensity of problems to solve originating in the exhaustion of the world's natural resources. Some experts -Professor Anthony King for example, believe all is basically OK and that all we need is a 'closely fought election at which a great deal is at stake' for voters to turn out again 'in their droves'.
Polly opts for constitutional change. Straw has ruled out making voting compulsory, as is the case in parts of Europe and Australia, and PR seems still to scare Labour's horses to death. Instead, she goes for the small but useful: introduce the Alternative Vote(where voters state preferences and a 50% requirement elects a candidate) which will stop candidates winning on minority votes and give more space to smaller parties which will play a role in tactical voting.
This would be a useful beginning and some progress towards the voting reform we have needed for some time; odd that we've introduced it for devolved assemblies, Scottish and Ulster local government and the London Assembly but not for the most important elections in the country. Problem is , the government is too apathetic itself to recognise the actions needed to counteract the dangers of political apathy.
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