Here is a feature article I wrote last month for my ‘Practical Journalism’ module. I was marked a 1st for it.
“People start to lose their jobs, shops are closing around them and that’s when they really start taking an interest in politics, because whether or not you’re interested in politics, politics is interested in you.”
It’s Election Day 2015 and you can’t bring yourself to stop at the polling station on the drive home from work. It’s raining, you’re tired and you still haven’t quite made a decision. You feel that voting won’t make a difference; the three main choices for government are virtually the same and you feel that the country is doomed. Unfortunately, this isn’t a fictional dystopia, this is reality; a society who don’t know who to vote for because no matter who is in parliament, they make unfathomable, irreversible changes that weren’t in their manifesto.
In the 2010 general election, only 65.1% of eligible voters went to their local polling station and cast their vote making it the third smallest turnout in British voting history. The two latter were in 2001 and 2005 meaning that in the last decade, voter apathy has been very much on the rise.
Is this because the average person just isn’t interested in politics or are they underlying reasons to the lack of votes in the UK? I asked political activist Henry Parkyn Smith; a member of the organisation Counterfire and co-founder of the St Albans branch of The Coalition of Resistance.
“I think it’s mostly through lack of choice. The main three parties pretty much stand for the same things. The liberal democrats only offered an alternative to an extent and unfortunately that was still not enough to sway votes their way.”
I agree with him, the core dilemma facing voters in the next election could very well be that we don’t actually have sufficient choice. The main three parties have let us all down in the past and a lot of people feel that their votes for the liberal democrats in the previous election were made completely redundant by the fact that David Cameron, a conservative, is now our Prime Minister.
“One huge problem is that all three parties have the same policies on war, immigrations, cuts and anything that people really have strong opinions about, so with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, we’re damned either way.”
The public do seem to have some knowledge of politics but not necessarily enjoy reading about them, especially when it comes to long and intricate manifestos.
“Quite often you hear people saying that they hate politics” Says Mr Parkyn-Smith, “but what they actually mean is that they don’t like politicians, and politics is something very different than that.” We discussed the cuts made by the coalition government, particularly in relation to the student protests. Henry told me “People start to lose their jobs, shops are closing around them and that’s when they really start taking an interest in politics, because whether or not you’re interested in politics, politics is interested in you.“
I have a number of friends who couldn’t even tell you which political party are currently in power. It’s quite a depressing reality for those of us who voted in the last election and were disappointed with the result. One of these friends is Max Morris, a 27 year old construction worker from Hertfordshire. Max described himself as ‘working class’ and said he had ‘never taken any interest in politics, or voted’. I asked him to pinpoint the cause for his voter apathy; he told me this “I grew up on a council estate where the majority opinion is that there is no point, because it won’t change anything. My parents don’t vote or show any interest in politics and sadly, this rubbed off on me.” Max spoke to me about ‘political ignorance of the working class’, which I found surprising since he knew little about politics. I began to wonder if the past few generations simply weren’t taught anything about politics, or if they just weren’t interested. When I asked Max if he would have been interested, even ten years ago, in mandatory political education, he seemed very much for the idea. Could it be possible that our state education system is to blame for a terrible turnout? I posed the same question to Henry, who also said he thought it was a very important matter.
So there are two main reasons that can be identified for low voter turnout; the first being that those who are politically educated, often struggle with their lack of choice. The second reason is that the less politically educated have never thought that politics affects them. Some people think they are unable to make a difference therefore choosing not to educate themselves in the matter. By 2015, I hope to see a change in this.