31 Oct 2013

Voter Apathy

The negative feedback has started to roll, as political writers respond to Russell Brand’s comments about politics. Unshockingly, the response is to blame Brand for not engaging in the first place.

People become disengaged from and apathetic about politics when they can’t see any point. If it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because the policies are so similar, or if no party offers policies that make sense to you, why vote? If you feel disempowered and just don’t believe your vote will make a difference, that will do it, too. So, where are you going to engage? Clearly not by voting, and anyone who thinks otherwise may be short in the imagination department. You aren’t going to make change by joining a political party, if you already feel marginalised, irrelevant and out of kilter. All that leaves is starting your own. Perhaps that’s realistic if you are wealthy and have a lot of time on your hands, but someone who feels marginalised and powerless won’t go there either, because they already know there’s no point.

If we blame the disaffected, they will stay disaffected.

There have been times when I couldn’t find anyone to vote for, when the parties I wanted didn’t field candidates, and when I found the individual candidates so repellent that really, I didn’t want to encourage any of them. I went to the ballot box with a soiled ‘none of the above’ because I did not want to be counted as someone who did not care. I felt awful. Voting rights for women were hard won, and I take that seriously. Voting rights for the poor took some establishing too. If I don’t vote, I am painfully aware of my many ancestors who could not vote, and I feel like I’m letting them down. But what can a person do if there’s nothing and nobody that inspires them?

Energy bills are rising. The Prime Minister suggests you put on a jumper. Sea levels are rising too. So we’ll be getting an even bigger nuclear power station on the Severn flood plain. People are going hungry and turning to foodbanks, and politicians blame the foodbanks, and the poor. Most of our public services are being sold off to the private sector via the backdoor. Where are the alternatives? Where are the voices of dissent? All the main parties seem to offer is minor twiddling with the system, not radical overhaul. There are women going hungry so they can afford to feed their children and Westminster doesn't seem to care.

If you are a young person who cannot afford a home, cannot get a job, whilst being pushed out of social support, blamed and humiliated for not trying hard enough in a country that has offered them nothing… why would you vote? What is there to believe in? Russell Brand may have been the first person our younger folk have heard in their entire lives who can talk about politics in public and make sense. The answer is not to tell Russell Brand off for not engaging. We need to start thinking about how many people are pushed out to the margins. Not voting might not about being lazy, it might be about despair, or disgust.

Someone needs to sit Mr Brand down and tell him that pretty much everything he was talking about is on the table already. There is a party for radical change, and that cares about not trashing the planet. And we Greens need to up our game, and reach out to more people who feel the way Russell Brand does, not to tell them off for not getting involved, as other parties seem keen to, but to offer them real alternatives. It should be the business of politicians to inspire and persuade people into supporting a vision. It is the politicians who have a duty to engage the voters, not the other way round!


Jon Danzig said...

In the UK, around 25 million people who were entitled to vote chose not to. Did their non-vote benefit the country? No, it made no difference. We carried on without them. If, however, they had voted, they could have completely changed the direction of the country, and put into government any one of dozens of political parties on offer. Instead, their power was wasted and forgotten.

In countries where there is no vote, dictatorship governments can rule for decades, with no opportunity for the people to get rid of them. How much those people envy our right to fire a government with the simple, easy use of a vote.

The advice of Russell Brand not to vote is wrong – because the alternative to voting is to give more power to the powerful, not less. And his talk of revolution is dangerous, because he can have no idea of where it will lead. Looking at history, it mostly leads to violence and destruction. And what's the point of that, when we already have a democracy through which we can work to create a better democracy?

Read my blog in response to Russell Brand, ‘Can’t vote or don’t vote?’


spider said...

I am left wondering, why didn't Paxman suggest the Greens, whose policies address Brands concerns? And then , why haven't the greens responded more publicly to make this point? There ought to be a green writing in new statesman, as Robert Webb has done, is this a lack of contacts? See also Naomi Kleins piece in the same magazine, on climate change.