After being relentlessly confronted by news reports providing coverage of the Arab Spring, for over a year the UK observed tremendous movements of solidarity, and witnessed people in their masses risking their lives to fight for democracy and the power to exercise their human rights. With an unknown overall death toll - an estimated 30,000 in Libya alone - how fortunate we Westerners must feel to not have to live fighting for emancipation from dictatorship. But no, what should be an attitude of gratitude for democracy has increasingly proved to be instead one of significant apathy.
With just 32% of the UK’s population having voted in local elections on May 3rd 2012, what is most concerning is not the fact that the turnout was the lowest since 2000, but that democracy in this country is diminishing.
So, why did the vast majority of presumably relieved members of this democracy not vote? Or perhaps more appropriatly, how could they choose not to exercise their freedom to vote in the face of those sacrificing themselves for such a privilege? The undeniable, unremitting problem is quite simply but surely this; a lack of passion. To follow politics you need a vehicle fuelled by a certain level of conviction. People follow a religion on the basis that they believe in it, hence why it is called a Faith. This is very similar to how a minority of people follow politics – because they believe in its power to change things for the good. Thus, to be bothered about politics you need to have faith in it. A contemporary reason for people not participating in elections in the UK is most often their lack of hope.
What is the root of this hopeless apathy that is cast upon us? Primary sources reveal the infamous ‘MP’s are all the same’ ethos to be the perpetrator of all disillusions. This is a factor all of us may be empathetic towards; my personal experiences have led me to abstain from political party alignment. Once a fervent Liberal Democrat supporter engulfed by their bright promises to truly reform with policies such as lowering the voting age, I was in my element as I strongly believed if they were to rule government than the future of politics really could be bright. The coalition ensued and I was fortunate enough to be on a delegation with my then hero Nick Clegg. I questioned him about how the Liberals were to push their manifesto promise to lower the voting age, he told me it ‘isn’t on the agenda at the moment’. I left the delegation a Lib Dem no longer, astonished at how MP’s expect the people to follow their party’s beliefs, when they incessantly fail to stand by them themselves.
Alas, I voted on Thursday. I voted for Ken Livingstone as London Mayor, who not only pledged chiefly to lower public transport fares – something of great urgent necessity – but to resign if he did not achieve his promises. He gave me hope for positive change, and I voted for him. Furthermore, after waiting an exasperating 18 years to vote, the opportunity was really quite exciting so even if Mr Livingstone did not present convincing conviction in his campaign, I would have voted nonetheless for what may be referred to as ‘the least worse’ of the candidates.
Therefore, while hope and passion are potent factors in encouraging oneself to be directly involved in politics, the absolute underlying problem is lack of political education. It is extremely difficult for any individual to feel obliged to concern themselves with something they know nothing about. Politics from a young age is infamously classified as boring which is ironic because unless they’ve been educated at Eton or the like, the likelihood is they will not know much about politics at all. It is merely a regurgitated prejudice response.
This is because in the year 2012 we are still living in an elitist run society where politics is not accessible to everyone; in some people’s eyes activities such as voting remains the sport of ‘gentlemen’, whilst many were not even aware nor bothered that the election was occurring.
Awareness is key for fairer politics, but the key needs to fit through everybody’s door – not just the big expensive ones.