Apathy, Apathy – They’ve All Got Apathy!

June 25, 2009

Firstly, let me apologise for writing this – and, specifically, the naff post title – whilst [partially] drunk. A copious stream of bollocks may follow.

Writing forĀ The Blue Blog, Serene John-Richards questions whether young voters are as apathetic as we’re often told they are. It’s a question I’ve asked myself and, like Serene, I believe the answer to be clearly ‘No’.

As Serene notes, young people demonstrably do have an interest in political issues, but are often left marginalised when they try to make their voice heard. Whilst their voice outside of Parliament is often ignored, they don’t have much of one inside either. Only three MPs under the age of thirty were elected at the last general election. Maybe this is part of the reason why general voter disinterest is particularly pronounced among young voters – perhaps they feel alienated by politics, because they can’t see their own interests and concerns being represented within Parliament. All parties need to do more to nurture their young talent. Not just because it’s in the parties’ interests to protect their futures, nor simply because it would help to engage young voters, but because Parliament would be better able to serve the community it represents if its composition more accurately reflects that community.

Confidence in our elected representatives is currently so low that it’s threatening to fall through not just the floor, but the gallows trapdoor. The expenses scandal has become a focal point for the public’s wider dissatisfaction with our politicians, and their anger over being ignored and treated with mounting contempt. The electorate’s cynicism is no surpise, given they’ve seen Governments blight the very hopes they raised to win power. Likewise, it’s little wonder voters feel disenfranchised when they’re used to seeing politicians arguing fractiously, rather than working together for the common public good. In her own post, Serene says that young people are cynical towards polital parties, and these are, I think, just a few more reasons why. But these will also hold true for for the disillusioned electorate as a whole. Another thing which, I think, may help to explain why perceived apathy is most prevalent among young voters is this: whilst the youngest voters may never have been able to perceive any real difference between the main political parties, their parents can still remember when there were was a manifest choice, and lived through events which burned the parties’ ideological differences onto their memories forever. Simply put, older voters may be more reluctant to give up their vote, because their past experience makes them worry about the possible consequences if they do.

It’s clear to me that, if we deal with the problems that have turned off the electorate in general, we’ll automatically have covered most of the ground we need to with the more specific problem of young voters’ apathy. Dealing with issues such as MPs’ corruption and unaccountability will be worth much, much more than any patronising proposal to let people vote by text (something which, I’m sure, isn’t anywhere near as easy to implement as it may at first seem).

For years, politicans have bemoaned voter ‘apathy’. But this just seems to be accusing the electorate of having become lazy – a charge that can be more accurately levelled at the politicians themselves. By the same token, our politicians like to stress how greater participation leads to a stronger, more vibrant democracy. They’re right – but they’re also trying to shift the blame again because, no matter how many people vote for them, any democracy can only be as good as the people elected to uphold it. It’s high time our MPs took the time to reflect upon that.