Sunday, November 18, 2012


Political Engagement

It stands to sense that democracy is founded upon the condition that voters care enough about it to participate, at least to the extent of voting. Yet we see a decline in voting at General Elections which seems possibly terminal, a shrinking of party membership which makes those 'small platoons' even smaller and a record low turnout in the recent PCC elections of 15%. The by-election in Manchester Central, I was pleased to see returned the excellent Lucy Powell, but on a turn-out of a mere 18.6%. Even the key Corby by-election failed to interest over half the voters in that constituency.

Reasons for this phenomenon have been adduced form across the gamut of human behaviour and human nature: government is too remote from us; we can't believe voting will make a difference; parties are too much alike; there are too many leisure choices these days for people to find the time or motivation; politicians have sullied their good name irrevocably by their squabbling and venality.

In his piece today Andrew Rawnsley offers another explanation. He suggests we are just too effing lazy (my 'effing' there, not his). Well it seems we can vote in greater numbers for Nadine Dorries to eat Ostrich anus and be buried under sackfuls of horrible creepy crawlies, but we do not consider it important voting to make our own government accountable. Human nature is hard to fathom, as Rawnsley discusses. Maybe government is too remote and voters are unable to make much of a difference, but when given a chance- to adopt a reformed voting system as in May 2010, we deliver an emphatic no; when given a chance to elect local mayors, we say no; to elect regional assemblies, we say no.

Could it be that democracy, the jewel in the crown of western civilisation since the Greeks, is slowly coming to its sell-buy date? If so, how can we prevent self interested rogues from seizing hold of government and inflicting upon us the horrors and privations to which history generously attests? Maybe this will have to happen before we truly appreciate how essential, of such prime importance is our ownership of the vote.

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