Wednesday 28 May 2014

You've let me down again

Like every right-thinking columnist in the country, I am extremely disappointed with your performance in the European and local elections.

I should perhaps clarify that I mean “right-thinking” in the sense of “correct” (though not, heaven forfend, politically correct) rather than as an indicator of my own allegiance.

Unlike many, I am not annoyed that 27.5% of you who voted chose a party led by Viz comic’s “Man In The Pub”. That is your prerogative.

But I am beyond furious that 66% of you could not be bothered to vote at all.

What on earth was so utterly riveting that it prevented you from nipping out at any point between 7am and 10pm last Thursday and marking a simple cross on a piece of paper? A journey that you could have avoided, as I did, by requesting a postal vote.

Don’t say “It doesn’t change anything” and “They’re all the same”. Because they’re not, as the triumph of The Man In The Pub demonstrates.

I keep hearing radio interviews with people banging on about how we need to increase numbers on the electoral register and perhaps extend the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, but surely this pales into insignificance compared with just persuading the two thirds of the electorate already on the register to get off their backsides and at least feign an interest.

Our former third party used to be fond of arguing that we would all be more engaged if we made every vote count by abolishing the unfairness of “first past the post”. In the circumstances, it would have taken a heart of stone not to laugh at the almost complete destruction of the Liberal Democrats under a system of proportional representation.

It had all the appeal of watching a famous big game hunter being trampled to death by an angry elephant.

Not so long ago “I agree with Nick” was the political catchphrase on nearly everyone’s lips. Now the only person likely to utter it is Mrs Clegg, and he probably can’t even count on that.

The ejection from the European Parliament of that other Nick from the BNP was another bright spot, burnished by his explanation that the electorate had “voted for UKIP’s racist policies instead”.

Meanwhile Labour are furious with what remains of the white working class for daring to vote for The Man In The Pub rather than their union-appointed leader, who has performed the great feat of making Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock look like top Prime Ministerial material.

Among the erstwhile major parties only David Cameron seems to be avoiding serious questions about his leadership by keeping his head down and praying that his natural supporters will now return to the fold after registering their “protest vote”.

Over the coming months we will grow very weary indeed of hearing “Vote Farage, Get Miliband” trotted out as the entirely negative argument for voting Conservative.

Where are the positives? I am a natural pessimist, but even I am weary of the endless doom and gloom that passes for political debate in this country today.

Britain is a great place to live. (Clearly it must be, or immigration would not be such a big election issue.) The North East is the best place to live in Britain (as I am reminded every time I have to leave it to earn a living).

In my view we all have much to be grateful for but, if you don’t agree, you have the power to change it. Thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 we already know that the next General Election will be on May 7, 2015. So you have nearly a full year to practise going out of the house or to get a postal vote lined up.

If the two thirds of you who did not bother to vote last week could be persuaded to do so, all the polls and calculations will go out of the window because literally anything is possible. Surely that thought must excite you just a tiny little bit?

If not, please remember that those who do not bother to vote automatically lose all entitlement to that most cherished of benefits: the right to moan about the result.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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