Sunday, 4 April 2010

Tie Your Ribbon To The Right Tree

Three days of the four-day weekend have gone, and I have to admit that I've had a wonderful time so far. Norwich City might have been cheated by some truly awful refereeing decisions on Friday, but my poker game has been going well, the French Market has supplied me with some top-notch food and I've spent my time in excellent company.

I want to take this chance to shout out for BBC2 as well. While other channels continue to commission pointless reality TV and Z-list celebrity shows, BBC2 leads the way for quality broadcasting. This evening alone sees Simon Reeve studying religious tension along the Tropic of Cancer and Professor Brian Cox in his quite excellent show about how the laws of nature apply throughout the solar system. Turn off the phone and get on iPlayer now.

I promised that my blog earlier this week would not be about the general election...but it turns out that I'm more eager to talk about it than I thought at the time. I have no secret line to Government, but the hustings have been cleared and it seems likely to me that on 6 May 2010, one-third (or thereabouts) of the population of the UK will make a choice of government that will hopefully see an end to the economic recession.

At this point I believe I should point out that the suggestion that only one-third of the population will bother to vote is entirely my own estimate. Nonetheless I would imagine that even the most optimistic observer would struggle to believe that the turn out will be in excess of 50%. This is a sobering thought, as it suggests that half the country either cannot decide or don't care who will lead them for the next four years. It would be easy for me to sceptically suggest that contained within the set of '40 million people who do not vote in general elections' there will be a significant subset who also fall into the '20 million people who do vote in Pop Idol' category, but this is perhaps missing the point.

The low turnout is critical for the UK, as numbers have dwindled in successive elections and the reducing turnout weakens our democracy. This is beneficial for extremist parties such as the British National Party, who rely on a small but dedicated hardcore of supporters who are frustrated with the perceived failings of the main political parties. If for no other reason, we all have the responsibility of voting to deny extremists the chance of benefiting from such opportunism.

Low turnouts also suggest a high degree of apathy within the electorate. Of course, with the ongoing MP expenses scandals, it is hard to be critical of those who don't vote because they feel that politicians are all crooked and self-serving. Despite the stories, I really feel that this is little more than apologism for laziness. I simply do not believe that all British politicians are in it for the perks of the post. This is not to say that there aren't individuals who are, of course, but I would imagine that most MPs are dedicated and hard-working individuals who really want the best for this country and for their constituents.

Compared to the average British voter, I would consider myself to be an intelligent and knowledgeable person with a high degree of political awareness. Among my friends, there are many keen political observers and I am fortunate that their opinions and knowledge ultimately challenge and enhance my own. However, even after watching the news and studying the literature, I openly admit that I have struggled to find what the main parties these days actually stand for. The political billboards are all about image and media capital - primarily, the content tends towards mocking the opposition parties rather than championing the success of one's own. One notable friend, coincidentally a candidate in the last local election, describes it as 'the usual bunch of public schoolboys teasing each other in the playground'.

I'm thankful then, that there are sites like Rather than decide where your vote should go based on personalities, you can read summaries of half a dozen manifestos, broken down by subject, without knowing which one belongs to which party. You then select which policies you like for each subject, and the site then tells you which party you have supported with your choices. I would actively encourage anyone who will be voting in the forthcoming election to give the site a try, and you may just be surprised - a lifetime Labour voter, my preferences matched a measly 1 in 9 of their policies this time round.

The results overwhelmingly pointed towards one party at the expense of the others, and on polling day I will therefore be flying the flag for the Green Party with pride. It makes me wonder just how the different the outcome might be if all voters were asked to complete the survey at the link above rather than just being given a voting slip.

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