Voter apathy and the royal baby prove we’re not all in it together, only the ‘it’ we’re in has a silent sh at the start….

Thursday night was one of the most unedifying experiences I’ve had in a long time. Unedifying because it highlighted the sheer apathy of vast swathes of the electorate. The occasion was a hustings in which all the candidates from my constituency were present and were available to be questioned by members of the public. This was a free to attend meeting, was widely advertised and therefore it was a self-selecting audience – only people who wanted to be there, were there.
I went there with a friend who observed that the hall was full and that there were nearly two hundred people in it and that the doors had been closed. A similar amount of people who’d been unable to gain entry to the hall were outside and hadn’t dispersed, so the candidates had an impromptu discussion with them before returning to the main event. This was my friend said a good thing. To me however it was anything but.
A paltry figure of almost four hundred people attending a public meeting to grill candidates for an election is not a good thing. Not when you consider that population registered to vote in my constituency was 78,605 (in December 2010). Or that the demographic inside the hall was not the same as the demographic outside it. Again, it’s a self-selecting audience. It’s one thing people saying that the reason for their lack of engagement in politics is because politics doesn’t mean anything to them, but by the same token it follows that if people are not bothered enough to take an interest in politics, why should politicians be interested in them? As I touched upon in my last blog, it’s a cycle of apathy that politicians publicly decry, but privately delight in.
Helpfully for the purposes of this blog, I’ve my own personal experience to call upon. At a general election – the one in 2005 – I bet a friend that I wouldn’t canvass in the same street for all of the three main parties. Regretfully I lost. I only canvassed for two of them! I took the view that if nobody said “Hang on, you look oddly familiar. Have you got a twin brother?” then they fully deserved what they got. What was even more shocking was the lack of any interest from the vast majority of people. Some could see that canvassing was happening when they averted their gaze from the idiot’s lantern and didn’t bother opening the door. And when someone did open the door the chances were it was either a child or someone saying they were in the middle of doing something. You hear politicians often saying that when they meet people on the doorstep, people say this or that, but in my admittedly brief experience most people only opened the door to close it in my face. And when they do want to discuss policies with you – I was equally able to argue a convincing case for either parties policies – then the lack of any thought or comprehension, an inability to join up the dots on how policies might interact with each other became all too clear. There was no, ‘But if you say we can have x, doesn’t it mean we can’t afford z and y. And doesn’t your policy on a, contradict your policy objective on b? . ’You could put someone in a monkey suit and they’d get elected. Oh silly me, I was forgetting, they already did that in Hartlepool a few years ago.
I take politics seriously. I did a degree in it and if my brain injury hadn’t happened, I planned to do a Masters, for no other reason than for the sheer pleasure of learning more about something that fascinates me. Some years ago I was working with a colleague of mine happened to have divergent political opinions from me. We both thought about the way things were, how they could be, what could possibly improve them, and the rights and wrongs of various policies espoused by each party. However, we reached different conclusions. He, no doubt, thought mine were as wrong as I thought his were. People were amazed that we got on so well. To me it was amazing that people thought it was amazing. Just because someone holds different opinions doesn’t mean they’re not a good egg. (Cracked maybe….) Only that they take similar basic information and arrive at a different conclusion. Like two cooks given the same ingredients yet plate up different dishes.
John Stuart Mill had the radical idea of letting everyone have the vote but – and here’s the good bit – making certain people’s votes worth more than others. His criteria was based on education. I for one don’t see a problem with this. If you are bothered enough to think of politics and what it means and are able to evaluate competing policy choices and arrive at your own conclusion, then why on earth then should your vote have equal weight with someone who thinks about none of these things. Or as Noam Chomsky once said, it’s amazing when some people say that politics is complicated. But whenever you hear a sports phone in you hear a bewildering amount of views on what a teams tactics should be, who should be sold, who should be brought, how the manager is doing and reasons for the teams success or lack of. They can devote such insight and understanding into something that has no tangible benefit to their lives. And yet politics is complicated? It isn’t. Anyone who can understand the dynamics of an extended family can understand politics. Don’t believe me?
If you imagine that the competing parties at the U.K election are members of an extended family. The Labour and Conservative parties are like an old married couple who’ve been ruling the roost for a long time, but they can see their influence gradually waning. Their children, who are now adults, are rightfully clamouring for their voices to be heard. These are the S.N.P., Plaid Cymru, and the Greens. No prizes for guessing who the drunken uncle is, whom everybody tolerates with a mixture of embarrassment and apologies for his random outbursts. It’s Nigel Farage! (Does that mean then that Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, is a milf?) Any other political parties can be represented by disparate relatives who are shouting loudly from the side lines but have little chance of impacting upon the family. The shifting alliances, the changes in power, the expenditure, the choices that are made – if you can understand how that works in a family, you’ve grasped the fundamental nature of politics.
Speaking of family, specifically one that sponges off the state, lives in free housing, does no actual work – although a grandson has broken that cycle – but faces no sanction for doing so, this family has bought another mouth into the world. There is no denunciation of them in the press, no condemnatory opprobrium for their feckless breeding whilst expecting the state to pay. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the royal baby is healthy, but aren’t all baby’s royal to their parents? It’s just that her birth proves the lie of ‘We’re all in this together.’ Because we so are not. She’ll enjoy a life of privilege, of luxury and comfort. She won’t go hungry or be reliant of food banks either, because if the body politic is indeed a metaphor describing the nation state as a corporate entity, then she’ll be fed on the taxpayer’s breast.