Not bothering to vote isn't usually a good thing. It's partly a sign of laziness: don't bother to actually think about the issues, just sigh and say 'Bah! Politicians, they're all the same.' Not voting is sometimes also the result of a certain naivete: 'There isn't a party that represents exactly what I stand for, so I won't vote. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, politics! And now I'm being deported because I lost my ID card...'
But at the moment it's hard to find a compelling reason why people should vote. The pundits are currently getting excited about the outcome of the next election, but at the same time, apathy is a worryingly reasonable response. It's ironic because we live in interesting - maybe even unique - political times. Sadly, none of this uniqueness is positive.
We've got a New Labour government that is mindbogglingly contradictory about almost everything. It makes all the right noises about the Third World, yet supports the invasion of Iraq, bringing death and chaos to a country already racked by sanctions and dictatorship. It supports public services, but also supports weird PFI projects and crap rail firms... we've been here before so we won't go on.
Perhaps the best analogy is that New Labour is like one of those people you occasionally meet (always a friend of a friend, always in the pub) who has weirdly compartmentalised views. You know the sort: they'll say something like:
'Racism, it's just ignorance, isn't it?'
Then, ten minutes later, they'll say:
'Anal rape. That would sort out shoplifters.'
The two statements aren't directly contradictory, but in spirit at least they do jar somewhat.
Meanwhile we've got an opposition that seems to have decided that the best way to win an election is the simple strategy of 'being shit'.
There's so much that's shit about the Tories it would take several editions of TFT to list them, but let's attempt a synopsis. Instead of attacking New Labour on its obvious mistakes and failings, the Tories instead come up with impossibly convoluted policy positions, eg.
'The war in Iraq was based on flawed evidence and outright lies. But if our soldiers are to win a war based on flawed evidence and outright lies THEY MUST BE GIVEN THE EQUIPMENT THEY NEED TO DO IT!'
Not only this, but the Tories seem to actively enjoy being shit. They love banging on about marginal issues obviously cooked up by PR strategy wonks at Conservative Central Office, eg. political correctness, speed cameras, an Englishman's home is his castle, etc. As if this wasn't enough to lose an election, they've also got Michael Howard, a crude facsimile of a human being fashioned from pure smarm.
The only other significant piece of our contemporary political jigsaw is the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are a bit like Labour before they went horrid. And that's about it. (Although at least they've had the honesty to say they'd raise income tax to pay for better education.)
The most fun you can have with this slightly dismal bunch is predicting which one is going to win the election. So who will it be? Presumably the party with the closest match to the issues we care (or, more probably, don't care) about.
The polling company MORI says that the NHS, education, crime , pensions and asylum are the big issues for the general public - there must be some brilliant minds at MORI. (The position of the average voter on these is what you'd expect: less crime, not more, etc.) It's also received wisdom, backed up by opinion polls, that the public is more concerned about public services than Iraq.
As such, Labour should win the next election because the hammering it's taken over Iraq will be more than compensated for by the money it's slung at the NHS and its various 'clampdowns' on crime and immigration.
But this may be underestimating the anti-war vote. Many people who are natural Labour supporters were appalled by the war and will vote on that issue alone. The fall-out from the war has been that Labour looks like just another bunch of lying politicians (for some strange reason), which won't play well with floating
voters who thought 'Let's give them a chance' in the last two elections. So it's equally likely that there's going to be a massive swing to the Lib Dems, simply because they haven't had the chance to screw up yet, accompanied by a drop in turnout. You won't find Peter Snow being this cynical on election night, but he probably thinks it.
Perversely, this is all the more reason to vote: if the turnout is miserably low, then your vote counts for more. If total apathy takes over, we could be looking at a government formed by the Countryside Alliance. 'Aw Dad, do we have to go hare coursing AGAIN?' 'Yes, son. It's the law. Now be quiet and get on with shagging your sister.'
Brace yourselves for the election, because there's going to be endless analysis of who's 'tough on crime' and 'strong on the economy' - as though the whole nation is statistically and economically literate, rather than just a bunch of people who vote according to their unreliable perceptions. One thing we needn't expect is debate about issues that really matter. Issues like:
- How long we can continue to have politics based on childish Westminster name-calling and PR-led initiatives;
- Whether government figures (the only publicly accessible measure of how well policies are working) mean anything whatsoever; and
- How much longer an unashamedly careerist political class (who, iincidentally, seem to be in love with perks, jollies and freebies) should be allowed to decide what's best for the UK.