So, the whole sorry
mess has finally run its course. No more irritating canvassers calling
at all hours of the day and night; no more spattering of the landscape
with a muti-coloured spew of political paraphenalia; and (least I forget)
no more William Hague.
Poor WIliam - he pressed all of the wrong political buttons in a doomed,
but entertaining attempt to salvage something for his beloved party,
but to no avail. He has gone the way of dinosaurs such as Lady Thatcher
- although the initial opimion polls suggest that there may be several
more right wing Brontosauruses lurching around in the jurassic echelons
of Tory HQ.
However, a far more important issue emerged from the events of last
night and although a main player, Hague was ultimately powerless to
do anything about it. The blame for the lowest electoral turnout since
1918 (58% actually voted yesterday) must sit squarely on the shoulders
of the incumbent governing party - New Labour.
When quizzed about this during the course of last night's underwhelming
events, Jack Straw (who looks certain to be uncerimoniously relieved
of his duties as Home Secretary) blamed what he termed "the politics
of contentment". By this he was implying that Labour had done such
a fantastic job that the 42% of the electorate who forfeited their right
to vote were ecstatically happy with the status quo and saw no need
to vote at all as a result.
Surely this cannot be right. If the disenchanted electorate were so
contented with New Labour's performance over the last four years then
it stands to reason that they would have expressed this through an endorsement
at the polls. In the event,
Labour have been given a mandate to run the UK for the next five years
by only 25% of the voting public.
When pressed by the impudent Jeremy Paxman, Straw went on to compare
his party to the Conservatives of George W Bush. He pointed out that
no-one was questioning dubya's mandate to govern America, now that he
has been in power for nearly 150 days. Way to go Jack.
Reports that King Tony is considering a mass torching of messrs. Straw,
Vaz and Mandelson
have been denied by Mill Bank on the grounds that the smoke and fumes
from such a pyre may endanger the health of locals and also aircraft
flying in the vicinity.
According to Gordon Brown, the dramatically decreased turnout is merely
part of a trend, common to all Western democracies. Therefore, it is
apparently nothing to become overly concerned about if it is happening
everywhere else as well. Or is it?
The turnout in 1997 was, on average, 10% higher than this time around.
It could be argued that in the previous election, the vote was so much
higher, as people wanted to ensure the annihilation of the Tories. There
is something in this and yet, to explain away a dismal turnout of under
six of every ten voters as merely pat of a trend, is wrong.
Evidence to the contrary of Brown's view was resoundingly given by the
Italians in last month's general election in which the right winger
Silvio Berlusconi swept to power, on the back of one of the highest
turnouts in recent Italian electoral history. The Italians are renowned
for their passionate approach to life, but surely not to as great an
extent as this?
Passion is the key theme. Throughout the arduous UK election campaign,
very few people's passions were aroused. The politicians quite spectacularly
failed to connect on any level with the UK public. Only in a few limited
instances did we see evidence of electoral passion. Kidderminster was
one and, more concerningly, Oldham East and West were two others, where
the fascist BNP polled almost 10,000 votes as a result of the recent
racial tension and violence in the area.
So what are the solutions? Line up John Prescott as Audley Harrison's
next opponent (it would be better than Harrison's last bout at the very
Blair's Babes and Charlie's Chicks out in force? Or what about following
the Australian example and forcing people to vote?
This is something which a friend suggested to me last night as a possible
solution. A compulsory vote would certainly solve the immediate problem
of a lack of turn out, yet would it tackle the more important issue
of a swell of voter apathy? No.
It is hugely important that New Labour learn from the events of the
last four weeks. With a compulsory vote it would be far harder to judge
whether people really cared or not. It would, however, mean an end to
Jack Straw's nonsense about "politics of contentment". It
should be hoped by all of the voting public that an increase in the
BNP share of the vote sparks some life into our politicians, so that
they start addressing those issues which really matter, such as education,
health and rising crime. If they do not, then the rotten state of UK
politics and with it the rise in voter apathy, will undoubtedly continue.