Why do a sizeable number of the UK electorate fail to vote in elections? When the last the UK general election was held in 2005 only 61.3% of the electorate turned out to vote. This was actually an improvement of just over 2% on the 2001 election, the introduction of postal voting being credited for the slight rise. But why are so many people turning their backs on the democratic process?
In the 1980s, politics was at the forefront of many peoples minds. News programmes concentrated on the big political issues of the day, the front page of every serious daily and Sunday newspaper covered these same stories, and there were a number of mainstream entertainment television shows with a political theme. Several popular entertainers built their careers around their political beliefs.
Twenty years on, things have changed dramatically. Politics is no longer a part of everyday life, and political news stories will often take second place to non-stories, for example, the coverage of reality TV shows. This is coupled with a growing number of people, especially those under 25, who feel that they are powerless to change anything.
This apathy is not surprising. The general consensus is that politicians are ‘all the same’, that they lie during election campaigns, then pursue their own agenda once in office. Political parties are said to lack any sense of individuality and imagination. Instead of creating clear dividing lines and easily recognisable opinions they borrow each others’ policies and make reactive, knee-jerk gestures, rather than proactively tackling problems.
A 2001 study commissioned by the government suggested voting rates could be improved if access was made easier – the above mentioned postal voting came about because of this. However, while this is a step in the right direction, I feel more needs to be done to address the sense of distance and removal felt by many of the electorate, particularly the young.
Young people need to be acquainted with the idea that politics is about everyday life. It’s about their local school, hospital or park. It’s about the roads they travel on, it’s about the amount they earn, or pay in tax, or spend on necessities and luxuries. We have a generation who have grown up knowing little about the democratic process, or their place in it.
It is time to put the celebrity gossip back on the entertainment pages of newspapers, leaving the front pages clear for real news. Subjects such as politics and sociology should be reintroduced into schools. Politicians need to ditch the popularity contests and silly name-calling sessions they indulge in, sack the spin doctors and bring about a return to real policies and open debate.
Many would argue that politicians prefer to have an apathetic electorate which asks no questions and makes no demands. The danger is that if we allow this situation to continue, our democracy could become endangered. There is one group who make fervent voters, who never miss an opportunity to advance the cause of their chosen party – extremists.
The far right party, the British National Party (BNP) have already gained seats on a number of local councils, and have stated their intention to campaign in general elections. If mainstream voters do not re-engage with the electoral process there is a danger that such a group could achieve a level of power which is disproportionate to their actual level of support. And that would be dangerous for voters and politicians alike.Powered by Sidelines