Political apathy is no longer a phenomenon, but a central feature of our democracy. Although politicians have often been looked on as hate figures in our history, in earlier generations trusting and supporting a political party was an activity that almost everybody was involved in.
The rich and affluent voted Tory, the working classes voted Labour, and the middle classes bounced between the two, occasionally toying with Liberalism. Ideology played an important part in this decision. The rich wanted to protect their interests, and Labour’s core Socialist doctrine was attractive to working families and communities.
Now, we exist in a political era without the same simple societal divisions. More people now occupy the middle-ground, not strongly identifying with the main parties. There is a definite stagnation occurring in Westminster. Ideology has vanished in a slow, mass centralisation of politics, a quick-fix to dropping voter turnout, the main parties trying to appeal to everyone, becoming so-called ‘big tent’ or ‘catch all’ parties. Now we essentially choose the one we see as presentable, or the one that we detest the least. It was this sort of rationale that carried Cameron to victory in 2010.
So, if we can’t trust or identify with anyone, why should we vote? It’s a valid question. Russell Brand’s admittance of having never cast a vote in his life has raised many eyebrows. It is true that to neglect your right to vote is to take our privilege for granted. Some would say it disregards all those who have fought and died for our democratic rights. But if we cannot invest trust in politicians without being made to look like fools, then why should we bother? Can we really progress with the current system?
I think Brand’s calls for people to start talking about revolution are baseless in a country with no real history of revolution- the British collective consciousness has no revolutionary precedent to act on. Revolutions require clear ideological direction and selfless leadership, if one wants to avoid instability and potential civil war. I do not disagree with the concept of revolution, but as a nation, there are fundamental things we can do to strengthen democracy and individual rights without having to sweep away everything first.
Reinvigorating British politics is not going to be easy, but it can be done. Does anyone even remember the Alternative Vote referendum? It was rolled out a year after Cameron was elected, an unusually short amount of time between the announcement of the referendum and its occurrence. Call me cynical, but it was clear to me at the time that the Tories were simply ticking off an obligation to the Lib Dems – Cameron has recently announced a 2017 referendum over EU membership, allowing four years for people to make up their minds and think over their vote properly. Changing our voting system to AV stood to open the door for smaller, newer political parties, so Cameron understandably didn’t give it a chance to gain momentum. We were told that AV would give a voice to fringe groups like the BNP, so most people voted against it.
As long as we have First Past the Post voting, there is no chance of relieving political apathy. Grassroots movements are shut out in the cold, and the traditionally radical and active youth are destined for a permanent state of disinterest. I’m not saying that AV will save us, but it may well force the door open to a multitude of voices. Healthy democracies include a variety of smaller political parties who are forced to work together in the national interest.
There was hope that there would be greater consensus in the Coalition Government, but the Lib Dems have rolled over so many times they are barely even remembered as an entity, subsumed and subjugated by overwhelming Conservative doctrine. AV would end the monopoly of Tory and Labour, parties that have been hollowed out by media spin and the celebrity of ‘professional politics’, grandstanding at election time and making impossible promises.
Democracy functions on the basis of an engaged and politically active population. Out of frustration, or out of a belief that politics is out of their reach, many people have turned their backs on this obligation, concluding that “nothing changes whoever I vote for.” That may be true, but the onus is on us to remedy this. The political system is not going to change itself, and if we continue on this apathetic road, the likely ending will be total plutocracy, the poor disenfranchising themselves out of sheer frustration. First Past the Post is absurdly out-dated. We need to start talking about Alternative Voting now, or our long-term political outlook will just get bleaker and bleaker