Here’s something I hear far too often: ‘Politics? Oh I don’t pay any attention to that, they’re all the same.’ Upon hearing this piece of nonsensical rubbish I will ultimately do one of two things. Remove myself from a conversation with someone whom I no longer find interesting or worthy of conversation, or, if it’s someone I thought I could have liked, employ my arguing streak to make them see how utterly ridiculous their statement is. Perhaps I’m too heavy handed with people on this subject, but I cannot begin to tell you how angry it makes me. I believe it shows a complete unwillingness to engage in humanity and in the world around you. I’ve been out on a good few dates recently, and far too many of those have ended in disappointment. I once asked a very attractive, lovely nurse what he thought of the Government’s changes to the NHS. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. I promptly ended the conversation. I can’t spend time with someone who doesn’t even pay attention
My line of argument usually follows this pattern. First, I tell them that politics doesn’t just mean the circus show that is Prime Minister’s Question Time, or the election spectacle. It’s about so much more. It governs how we access health care services, whether we have a safety net if the job goes under. Politics forms the guiding principles of our lives and our country; by ignoring it you leave open the possibility of things happening that you don’t like – with no opportunity to change it or fight against it.
Next, I challenge the view that ‘they’re all the same’. A wholly ridiculous notion. Yes, there are some politicians that are only there for personal satisfaction. But, having worked in Parliament, I know full well the amount of MPs that are there, fighting on behalf of their constituents – some of which may never have voted for them – and defending their constituency in debates. These people came into politics for a good reason, to help people, to better our country, and to make a difference. Just because you don’t agree with what an MP does or says doesn’t mean that they are immediately wrong or a bad person. I completely disagree with most of the policies of the current Government; however, I believe that the people in power are still governed by principle and the desire to do right by people and the country. Unfortunately, the expenses scandal (which wasn’t really much of a scandal, considering very few MPs actually broke any laws – it was a vile, anti-establishment media storm) has lumped everyone together. And the sheep in much of this country go along with it.
Which then leads me on to the age old question, ‘Did you vote at the last election?’. Most people I know won’t have voted in council elections, European elections or the AV Referendum. Many of those who tell me they don’t pay attention to politics won’t even have voted at the last general election. I tell them they have no right to complain, no right to make any judgments on politicians, and – if I’m feeling really annoyed – no right to really be in this country. If they care so little about their democratic right to vote, or about making a tiny effort to find out something about the different parties (because, contrary to popular belief there is difference between them all) then I tell them they should go and live in a country like Iran where they have no say anyway.
Then they tell me ‘Who cares? My vote doesn’t make a difference anyway.’ And here, we get to the crux. Yes, our electoral system is flawed and we need a new one. However, since when have the views of one person meant more than the views of the majority? We live in such a self-absorbed world nowadays that we believe our views take precedent over everyone else’s. That our vote, because it is ours, should take precedent over the majority view. Well, that isn’t how it works in a majoritarian democracy; it never was and it never will be. The views of the majority, with safeguards for minority rights, are what governs a country.
When this is the attitude towards politics and politicians, our democracy is in jeopardy. We will have turnout below 60% on a regular basis, calling mandates into question. Parties like UKIP will grow stronger, buoyed by protest votes, and their views will be forced upon us. We can’t allow tabloid media to tell us how to think. Perhaps we do need a change of culture in politics and in politicians, but this won’t be achieved shutting yourself off to the process. Pay attention, learn, question, challenge and above all vote – because if you don’t, you will have no opportunity to change this country.