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Cast your vote for 'none of the above'
Jim Johnson

‘In a world in which politicians now all sing from the same hymn sheet, people who want to change the hymn sheet have to go outside the church.’ Noreena Hertz.

The amount of people voting in general elections has been steadily declining for the last 50 years. The landslide victory Labour achieved at the 1997 election was gained on a turnout of only 69%. Predictions are that this election will break this record with an even lower percentage of the electorate turning out. So what is it that is making people stay at home? I don’t agree that it’s just a case of apathy. Most people care deeply about the society that they live in, it is almost impossible not to. But many are choosing not to vote because they see that governments and politicians are failing them; that whichever party they choose to run the country will make absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Economist Noreena Hertz in her acclaimed book The Silent Takeover argues that people are increasingly abstaining from voting because they cannot see what purpose governments serve any more. Governments have been withdrawing from the state and allowing corporations to fill in for them, shifting away responsibility for society’s affairs. Hertz argues that this is a bad thing for democracy as corporations are ultimately driven by profit and won’t always have the public’s welfare as their highest priority. In Japan for example, companies used to provide school vouchers, housing and health care. But since the Asian financial crisis these corporations have been forced to drastically reduce their community support, placing a huge strain on society. Sometimes the needs of business match those of society but this is not always the case, shareholders and profit always have to come first.

This is one reason why many don’t bother voting. It is certainly the reason behind the May Day riots and other protests against the dominance of big business around the world. But I think there is another reason why people are switching off from politics in their droves.
The reputation of politicians has been badly damaged. People don’t forget corruption and sleaze as easily as they would like us to. We can see through their attempts at hiding the truth when damaging stories emerge in the press. All the stage-managed politics and the spin-doctoring do not fool us. Politicians good and bad are all becoming tarnished with the same brush and most are now deeply distrusted by the public, and who can blame us?

Up until 1997, my generation could be forgiven for thinking that corruption was purely a Tory attribute. But it didn’t take long for Tony to prove us wrong. Once Labour had gained power we learnt that Bernie Ecclestone had donated a million pounds to party funds. In return, Formula One was exempted from the ban on tobacco advertising in sport. An example like this shows where the real power is, how wealthy businessmen influence politicians and policies. How can any government justify this stance; if they think tobacco advertising in sport is wrong then they have to ban it without exception.

Deciding to have an election at this present time shows that the Labour party are more worried about their own political careers than the state of the nation. What else could explain their decision to hold an election during the national crisis that foot-and-mouth has become; nobody is forcing their hand. No doubt astute advisors have told them that it would be best for Labour’s political future if they hold it now. But in doing so, Blair has shown a massive lack of sympathy towards the rural community. Try telling farmers in Cumbria, the southwest and Wales that foot-and-mouth has been dealt with. Right now the government’s priority should remain focused on dealing with the crisis and helping those who are suffering from it, not diverting time and resources to an election campaign that could easily be postponed. No doubt Labour realises what they are doing and are relying on the fact that they wouldn’t get much of the rural vote anyway. It’s not worth changing their plans, as these people are statistically unimportant to them.

It would defeat the point of what I am trying to say if this article started to sound like Conservative Party propaganda. In the interest of balance it would be unfair not to mention the Tories. Lets start with a look at Hague’s election manifesto. He pledges to save 8 billion on public expenditure but at the same time remain committed to the same level of support for education and health. Even a fellow Tory like Edward Heath couldn’t pretend to understand this logic, commenting: ‘What sense does that make to the ordinary voter?’ Is this pledge merely a desperate attempt to win much needed votes or have they conceded the election already so are just making up promises that they won’t have to keep?

The Tories have a shameful track record in government. Who can forget John Gummer feeding his daughter a beef burger on TV? Only a very sick person would use his or her child as a public guinea pig, however safe you thought the experiment was. Not only that but it appears the government was very wrong when it assured the nation that beef was totally safe during the late-eighties to mid-nineties. With over 70 dead so far of vCJD we can only pray that this tally is not the beginning of a global epidemic. The government did not put the interests of the people first. They could not have been certain of BSE’s inability to cross the species barrier but were prepared to pretend otherwise. Avoiding any blame for the situation being placed at their door and potentially damaging their re-election chances.

Since the Tories privatised the railways, standards have dropped even further than the already low ones set by British Rail. Back in 1988, the Clapham train crash killed 35 people and prompted calls for the installation of an Automatic Train Protection System (ATP). The official report recommended it to be fitted within ten years on all lines. However, in 1995 the Conservatives abandoned the scheme due to its high costs - one billion pounds. Coincidentally this was the same amount of profit that the combined train companies made in 1998-1999. Had ATP been installed it would have prevented the Southall and Paddington crashes at the very least.

Incidents like these destroy public confidence in politicians. We could go on all day listing recent examples of corruption, sleaze or hypocrisy: Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken, Mandelson and John ‘three jags’ Prescott are just a few names that stick in our minds. There is an old saying that those who want to be politicians are the last people that should ever get the job. This appears to be very true.

It is unfair to view politicians outside of the main two on the same level, but parties like the Liberals don’t seem to offer any alternatives. As far as policies go there is very little to separate Hague and Blair, so there isn’t a lot of room for the middle ground. I am simply trying to explain the reasons why voting is becoming less popular. Whether smaller parties are worthier than the major ones is irrelevant. The facts remain that the public is losing respect for politicians from all sides due to the dubious actions of some and the relinquishment of power from the democratically elected to profit driven capitalist forces. Together this leaves the individual feeling powerless and detached.

We need something to restore the public’s confidence in those who govern us so that we feel that our vote really makes a difference. We also need politicians to start behaving with the responsibility that their positions demand. Governments need to start clawing back some of the power that they have sold off to others, or at least to start with, they should stop this trend in its tracks. For example, air traffic control is one item on the privatisation agenda which will hopefully be staying under state control, in the interests of public safety.

In response to the current situation the ‘None of the Above Campaign’ has been launched. It aims to send out a message to politicians. They want people to prove to that they are not apathetic, to demonstrate that they do care about politics and society. That it is the lies and sleaze that they are objecting to when they don’t go out and vote. They want to encourage people to use their vote, but instead of putting a cross in a box for any of the candidates they should write none of the above. This they see as better than not voting. Maybe they have a point, perhaps if masses of spoiled ballot sheets are registered then politicians may start to realise that some kind of reform is long overdue.

© Jim Johnson 2001


None of the above campaign - http://website.lineone.net/~3rdegree/noneabove.html

Channel four alternative election - http://channel4.com/nextstep/election2001/

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