The Fuzzy Warm Glow of Democracy In Action

The people have spoken! See the might of British democracy in full and glorious light of its majesty as the grateful hordes stream to polling stations across our land and choose their democratic representatives!

Or not.

One could fairly convincing argue that on a day in mid-November, there were a couple of by-elections and a slew of elections for posts no one asked to be created, stood for by a selection of people no one knew about, mounting campaigns that no one cared about. At one polling station in Newport, no one, that’s not one single person, voted. In North Yorkshire, my neck of the woods, the “contest” between two party hacks for the PCC job managed to rouse a mere 13.3% of the vote to even bother casting their ballot.  The “winner” was a Conservative. It’s a bit difficult to convince that she has a mandate, with such a pitiful turnout and the fact that an almost unheard of 7.2% of the votes were spoiled ballots. Across the country, the level of spoiled ballots was ten times higher than normal, according to some news reports.

Our esteemed Prime Minister blustered pathetically in an attempt to justify the lack of engagement with the entire process. If this was such an important part of government policy to “hand power to the people”, why hold the elections at almost the worst time of the year? Why actively prevent electoral material form being disseminated to voters? It’s not just the left-leaning press that are pouring scorn on the Government. Even right-leaning sources like The Daily Telegraph are asking questions about the whole, expensive exercise.

It didn’t stop the odious Grant Shapps, Conservative Party co-chairman, saying the new commissioners had “much more credibility and legitimacy” than the police authority chairmen they were replacing. He forgot that these chairmen were generally also elected (albeit indirectly), and headed up  organisations with both cross-party and extra-political representation. But that’s not stopping candidates claiming a mandate, oh dear me no!  The winner in Wiltshire, Angus MacPherson tried to dodge this bullet when interviewed on radio this morning by saying that he didn’t feel like he’d been elected, more like taken part in a big job interview.  It’s a fairly pitiful attempt to disregard the fact that barely one voter in 14 in his area thought he was worth bothering to even vote for. It’s even more interesting to consider that, had this been a trade union election, these figures would have been used by some to claim that there was no mandate for any action taken as a result. A hideous double standard, as it happens, but an all too predictable bit of hypocrisy.

Weirdly, it’s not just the PCC elections that we should be thinking about. Today the government have had to admit that not one single household has yet registered interest in the government’s “Green Deal”, though registration has been open since the start of October. So engagement is problematic in several places.

And in a move that was as as predictable as it was irrelevant, Coalition gin wallah and tea boy, Nick Clegg this afternoon claimed that the results were a “mixed picture” for the Liberal Democrats. He said there had been “a lot of difficult news” (like losing their deposit in Corby) and “people are generally quite disenchanted with politics at this mid-term point and that has been reflected in the low turnout”. I think there’s a level of delusion here. The narrative in Westminster seems to be that this is just another sign of voter apathy. I don’t think it is. It think this is anything but. Listening to people it appears that many of them were not willing to vote in elections they had not an idea of what they were supposed to be voting for. Some others actively decided to not vote for any candidates. others yet simply are no longer willing to engage at all with a system where nothing they say makes any difference at all. This is not apathy, Clegg, it’s fairly clear antipathy. And that is much more worrying.

This week is not simply about people not being bothered to vote, but making conscious and active decision to dissociate themselves from the elections. It distances the political class from us even more, and politicises a role in most regions that was not the political football it is likely to turn into in coming years. Maybe even the British people are seeing their leaders for what they actually are. Many of the policy pushes from Westminster over recent years have been risible.  It might seem at first sight that the great horde of the unwashed are essentially small-c conservative : they seem to rather consistently demonstrate that though they complain a lot about the current political settlement they don’t want any of it much changed.  In recent times, they have said “no” to regional assemblies, elected mayors (including abolishing them in Hartlepool yesterday, so perhaps Stuart Drummond will be Hartlepool’s only ever elected mayor),  electoral reform, and apparently PCCs, if we believe the figures. No doubt they would be against an elected House of Lords too.

Maybe it’s not the idea of change per se that concerns them, more the half-arsed way in which much of the changes suggested are presented to them. Each one of those things listed, when exposed to any kind of scrutiny, have proven to be hastily cobbled together, piss-poor political pisswizardry, and not actually any kind of substantial reform at all. Basically, politics done on the hoof to look good for short term electoral gain without actually thinking of the longer term consequences. Thankfully the public have been sensible and seen through the risible gallimaufry of those “policies” (to over-aggrandise what one might actually call shite written on the back of a fag packet in a Commons bar).

All of this only makes me thing that something larger is afoot in this country, and that change (of some sort, and likely fairly drastic) is coming soon, whatever that is. And I don’t think the political classes are even coming close to understanding it, never mind dealing with it.


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