Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Myth that Politics is Our Fault

Max Benwell in the Independent bemoans the low turnout in local elections and advocates compulsory, online voting.

One at a time, I reckon...

Local elections have low turnouts because most people think they're pointless. It's not even like councils have much control over their fund raising and spending ability. The centralised Westminster machine has been making sure it gets a decent handle on that for decades. We just see local elections as being a chance to cock a snook at the ruling party in Westminster. Otherwise we don't really care, outside a few truly rotten boroughs, who it is that fixes the roads and fouls up the cycling infrastructure that a glossy magazine - produced at our expense - tries to tell us about. You can hand your brassy chains to the next Buggins every twelve months, you can make your enormous speeches about the future of local recycling facilities, you can turn up and open fetes. But other than that, leave us alone.

Then the trouble for me about compulsory voting, is what it tells us about the regard those wanting it have for themselves. When Stephen Mayo bemoans on his blog having to stay up late to see a small turnout being counted, he's saying "Look at me. I've spent my best years climbing a greasy political pole, saying the right things, paying my dues, until I'm local electoral agent for the Labour party - and you lot have so little appreciation you can't be bothered to vote? You unutterable swines - maybe we can count on your vote next time?

Well maybe, the problem over apathy isn't our side of the fence. Maybe we're apathetic because the things we've seen - certainly since Margaret Thatcher was kicked out for having views - have made us so. Whether you're left-leaning or right, the apparent differences in your policies are actually so slight that it makes no difference. At least personality politics gave us something to hang onto. But now what have we got? Shiny and bland David Cameron, earnest and bland Nick Clegg, weird and yet somehow still bland Ed Miliband. A man whose only interesting features are that he's somehow thought more electable than his brother,and  he can't eat a bacon sandwich and campaign in an election at the same time.

Think about it - it was a Tory Prime Minister who got equal marriage through parliament, and a Labour one who bombed Iraq to stay friendly with the Americans. A Labour PM who got so cosy to the banks that a financial crisis blew up, and a Tory one who - whatever the message - kept piling up the deficit. If the gap between you all wasn't the width of a Post-it note (which would probably end up stuck embarrassingly on Ed Miliband's forehead) there would be no way those would be that way round. When the issue causing most fuss in English politics is precisely which books should be on the GCSE syllabus, you know all difference in politics is now nuance, and all remaining support for either side is tribal. You're all hopeless, and that's it. No wonder some people see the amiable, bumbling old-fashioned Tories in UKIP and give them their vote. It's a way of saying they've had enough. And at least they're voting.

So, physicians, heal yourselves, and then we'll see whether we might vote for you. Don't make voting compulsory because otherwise you feel unwanted on Election Night. You are unwanted, and your sadness and loneliness last Thursday shows it. Fix the cause, if you can, not the symptom. (In fact, between Europe and globalisation, I'm not even sure you can do much about the cause. In which case why would anyone bother voting, anymore?)

And online voting. Really, Max Benwell?

Mass postal voting is bad enough. The opportunities for fraud are so large. I'd personally make it so unless you're physically unable to get to the polling booth through disability or incarceration, you only vote if you personally go.  If you're working away from home, or abroad at the time, you'll be allowed a postal vote if you have a note from your mother or other responsible adult.

And why would I think online voting a bad idea? Do I need to list the number of online retailers, banks and other private sector companies that have lost customer data? And they're generally halfway competent. If everybody voted online, it would totally open up the electoral system in this country. Frankly, the Ukrainians in favour of union with Russia, Boko Haram and the Lighthouse Family would all fancy themselves in with a chance of an outright majority. If the Chinese decided which party they preferred, they'd probably have a bash at nudging things their way as well.

Is this suggestion serious? Is this remotely wise? Does anybody think this would improve democracy, rather than give the edge to whichever chancer managed to break their way through the right firewall? I mean, I know the Independent lives in a dreamworld where it hasn't snowed since 1999, but honestly? And if the people at the Indie think that technology would give hip, correct- thinking liberal progressives the edge, they probably need to consider which newspaper shows the best ability to survive in an online world. The Mail.

So, all in all, in response to these two articles, I guess my response would be: If you want us to vote, make us believe, at local and national level, that there is a point. And keeping UKIP out isn't enough of a point - make us believe it's worthwhile, that you care. Then we won't need postal or online or compulsory voting - we will go, thoughtfully, earnestly, joyfully of in trepidation to the polling booths and do our political duty.

Otherwise, take your sparkly chains, your crap bike lanes, your Question Time, your duck houses and expense claims and all the fakery that you're all different, when in fact you're all just terrified of making an "embarrassing gaffe", and clear off. Leave us to Britain's Got Talent and Celebrity. At least then we have a choice.

(And yes, I did vote. And no. It wasn't UKIP.)


  1. So did I. I always have and always will. but it gets harder as the choice becomes less clear. Very well said - I hope you feel better now. :-)

  2. What about bringing back compulsory attendance at Church of England churches ...


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