The results of the 2012 Local Elections are still coming in, and it’s looking even better for the left than we could have expected. Which is nice.
The voter turnout, however, is much lower than it normally is – even for a local election – at only 32%, which is the lowest since 2000. This generally gets put down to simple voter apathy; people are dissatisfied with the government and the political system in general and just can’t be bothered voting for ‘more of the same’.
Or maybe they’re just too lazy to get involved – it’s easy to vote nowadays, after all (especially if you’ve registered for a postal vote, you barely have to leave your house…) – so only the most disaffected politically uninterested citizens aren’t voting, right?
All 68% of them.
… that doesn’t sound right at all.
I’m sure there are some members of the electorate who just can’t be bothered to vote – the sort of people who “just aren’t interested in politics”. But I don’t think that accounts for more than two thirds of the adult UK population. Especially not now – when the government is particularly unpopular, when major Bills and Acts that actually affect our daily lives are going through Parliament on an increasingly frequent basis. ‘Dissatisfaction’ like this doesn’t create voter apathy – it creates a burning desire to make things better.
But there are many people who are politically active – notably on the left – who are not just opposed to the government, but are opposed to the entire system of government, and therefore don’t see any of the options as legitimate or worthwhile choices.
The popularity of the Occupy movement and similar protest groups, not just in the UK but all over the world, has shown us that actually there are other large scale ways to get your message heard.
While our leaders may not exactly have paid much attention to Occupy or other similar groups, they don’t exactly pay much attention to independent candidates or minority parties either (and the mainstream media certainly gave a lot more coverage to the occupation of St. Paul’s than they have ever given to the Socialist Worker’s Party…).
It would be short-sighted to suggest that all non-voters are part of some collective political group, or that they all have ties to Occupy (or even the left) – but then it’s just as short-sighted to claim that all non-voters are sat at home watching Britain’s Got Talent because they don’t give a shit about how the country is run.
While it may be tempting to smugly tell non-voters “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain” – that’s bollocks. I believe in the power of democracy – I think voting can change things, for the better, but I don’t think it should be mandatory – and I don’t think the decisions of a democracy should only protect or effect those citizens who voted for them. It’s worth remembering that deciding not to vote is still a valid choice – and that many of the people who didn’t vote yesterday are still politically active in other ways.
(I may not think these other approaches are going to be particularly successful – it will be a cold day in hell before anyone achieves the sort of middle-class uprising we need to start a real revolutionary movement – but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the people who are trying to effect change)
It’s not ‘not voting’ that’s the problem – it’s ‘not making yourself heard’;
So perhaps the real voter apathy comes after you hand your ballot paper in, if you sit back and do nothing else for the next four years…
Thanks to the quoted Twitter non-voters for their comments (used with permission)