Bite the Ballot, The Coalition and Youth Voter Apathy

Bite the Ballot

This morning, the BBC’s breakfast TV show covered the activities of a new group, Bite the Ballot, which is attempting to combat voter apathy amongst young people and encourage them to vote. The programme showed one of their members explaining to a group of young people that unless they vote, they have no voice in determining important government issues and that somebody would be voting for them. They also interviewed one young woman, who gave the reasons she believed that young people didn’t have an interest in politics. She didn’t take much interest in it, because she felt she didn’t know enough about it. Politics, and the differences between the parties, for example, weren’t taught in schools. And without a proper grounding in these issues, young people simply had no interest in it or voting.

The programme also remarked on the influence of members of the older generation, like Russell Brand, and their cynical attitude to politics and politicians. Brand caused controversy a few months ago by telling people not to vote, because of the complete lack of interest in representing the public by politicians. I distinctly remember Billy Connolly saying much the same thing a few years ago. The Big Yin declared himself to be an anarchist, and urged his audience, ‘Don’t vote – it only encourages them!’

This cynicism and apathy is partly caused by the venality and mendacity of politicians themselves. The expenses scandal that broke out doubtless confirmed many people’s belief that politicians were all corrupt and just in it for themselves. Nor would recent revelations about Clegg and Cameron’s lies about the NHS and tuition fees contradict such opinions. Mike has blogged on the report on the Guardian, pointed out to him by one of the great commenters on his blog, that Cameron made his statement that he would not privatise the NHS, and Clegg declared that he would not raise tuition fees before the general election with the intention that they would not keep these promises once elected. The public was lied to by a pair of cynical media manipulators of whom Goebbels would have been proud.

George Sorel

Georges Sorel: Radical Syndicalist who believed all politicians were liars.

The radical anarchists of the 19th century attacked parliamentary democracy for the way they believed politicians lied to and exploited the expectations of the voting public. The revolutionary Syndicalist, Georges Sorel, declared in his work, les Illusions du Progres that

‘Democracy succeeds in confusing people’s minds, preventing many intelligent persons from seeing things as they are, because it is served by advocates skilled in the art of confusing issues, thanks to captious language, a supple sophistry, and a monstrous apparatus of scientific declamation. It is especially with respect to the democratic era that one may say that humanity is ruled by the magic power of big words rather than by ideas, by formulas rather than by reasons, by dogmas the origin of which no one ever dreams of seeking rather than by doctrines founded on observation’.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg: Two of the politicians trying to prove Sorel right.

This exactly describes the Coalition, which has indeed deceived – and continues to deceive – the British public, and whose doctrine are neither exhaustively scrutinised by the Fourth Estate, but simply repeated as obvious common sense, nor are founded on observation. In fact, IDS deliberately seeks to obstruct proper examination of his policies by dragging his feet over giving any information to the Work and Pensions Committee, and blocking release of the figures showing the number of people, who’ve died after being thrown off benefit by ATOS.

There are dangers to this cynicism. Sorel’s radical anti-parliamentarianism, and his cult of violence expressed in Reflexions sur la Violence, influenced both the Bolsheviks in Russia and Mussolini’s Fascists. When he died both countries sent delegations to pay their respects.

However, the atrocities committed by the great totalitarian regimes like the above in the 20th century have had an effect in turning many people off politics. Certainly very few now have any time for extremist political doctrines like Communism or Fascism. The result is that most of the population, rather than seek radical answers outside parliament, or the reform of politics itself to make it more representative and more responsive to the needs and desires of the electorate, simply turn away. Faced with dissimulation and corruption, people simply change channels on the TV, or turn to the celeb gossip or the sports pages in the newspapers. ‘How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move’, as the old joke went on the late, and very great Max Headroom show.

Which may be exactly what the politicos want. Political journalists noted that Blair’s government was highly suspicious of the general public, and was very careful to stage manage congresses and meetings with them to present Blair in the best possible light. Mass membership of the Labour party declined, as voters felt Blair was not interest in the views of the little people, only in rich donors. The same attitude pervades the Conservative and Liberal parties, which have also seen their membership decline for very much the same reasons.

Not that this bothers Cameron and Clegg. These are upper-class aristos, leading a government of upper-class aristos. I get the impression that their background and temperament makes them instinctively distrustful of modern, mass politics. They’d far prefer that of the 18th and early 19th century, when there was a proper property qualification to vote, which excluded all but 20 per cent of the population from having the vote. This left government in the hands of the aristocracy, like themselves. Mike has reported how the government’s reforms of the registration system for voting will leave many confused and so disenfranchised, which certainly seems in line with such an attitude. Possibly in dark corners of smoke-filled rooms in Whitehall or Chequers Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the old Etonians gather round to complain about how it all should have stopped with the Great Reform Act of 1833, or at least with Disraeli’s expansion of the franchise in the 1870s. After all, the rotten and pocket boroughs weren’t all bad, and at least guaranteed the right sort of people a place in parliament.


Richard Nixon: the corrupt politician’s corrupt politician. But at least he knew how he put young people off politics.

Richard Nixon had the self-awareness to recognise that his attempts to overthrow the American constitution had put the young and idealistic off politics. In his interview with the late David Frost, ‘King Richard’ said he’d like to apologise to the young kid, who now felt all politicians were liars and frauds. His apology wasn’t sincere. Rather than being spontaneous, he’d carefully prepared it in order to gain public sympathy and wrongfoot Frostie. But even if he said it for purely selfish reasons, he at least was honest about the effects of his actions. There has been no such honesty from Cameron and Clegg. Mind you, they’ve got away with it. Nobody’s impeached them. But we live in hope.

Bite the Ballot are doing an excellent job of encouraging young people to take an active interest in politics. Public turn out at elections is declining alarmingly, to the point where I feel there is a real danger of politics simply becoming the preserve of an elite managerial class, which is funded and co-opted – not elected -from their friends in industry, with the masses kept a very poor second, if at all. If politicians really want people to start turning out at elections and give them a mandate for their policies, then the tenor of much modern politics needs to be changed. The political parties need to turn their attention to recruiting and representing the public, not rich donors. We also need politicians and governors, who can speak simply, clearly and without the management jargon that has now got into modern politics. People with a more ordinary background, who know what it is like to be a member of the working and lower middle classes, who have worked 9 to 5 jobs worrying about take home pay, rents and mortgages, and the difficulties of getting the kids into a good school, rather than the ambitious young things straight out of politics, philosophy and economics courses, and who understand that world only from the statistics they’re given by think tanks, Special Advisors and whichever management consultants or financial firm is the current governments flavour of the month.

But most of all, they can start by actually telling the truth to the public, and not cynically lying just to get a few more votes.

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9 Responses to “Bite the Ballot, The Coalition and Youth Voter Apathy”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Joan Edington Says:

    I hope that this group have success in engaging with younger people since once the decision not to vote is made it will rarely be changed in later life. I voted from the first election I was allowed and have not missed one since (45 years) but this attitude is sadly missing today.

    Many people have criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to lower the voting age to 16 for this year’s referendum. They say it is just a cynical ploy to get more votes. However, I see it very differently. Schools are now holding their own debates on the subject, thereby getting youth at the earliest age possible interested in politics. As you said in your article, lack of interest is often due to lack of knowledge, and I am hoping that this interest in the referendum in schools will continue political debate in classes of the future.

  3. Ian Duncan Says:

    I won’t vote til I have someone to vote for. It’s that simple, for me. I.m not going to vote for one shade of blue or another shade blue when I’d quite like a nice bright red. Even a pink would do, for now.

    PR would be a massive step forward as well.

  4. jaypot2012 Says:

    I see the need for the younger people to be told about voting, and what it entails as well as the difference in parties.
    If the youngsters are educated to a certain degree then they will vote, and also because it becomes their right, and their choice. It must also be discussed that the vote is for each one person alone, and not because their parents vote a certain way, or indeed, that their friends vote a certain way.
    Discussing politics in school and colleges is a great way for the debates to start and that starts the education they need when it comes down to politics.
    I believe that here in Scotland, we are doing the right thing in lowering the age to 16, as those teenagers will have an entirely different view on the world and their country than anyone aged 55 like me.

  5. untynewear Says:

    Reblogged this on UNEMPLOYED IN TYNE & WEAR.

  6. nosuchthingasthemarket Says:

    I am not apathetic. In fact, I am so politically engaged that I did a doctorate in the subject because I wanted to be properly informed about it. But I do not vote because all of the major parties – and most of the minor ones – have agreed to accept a free-market agenda that is openly murderous towards the poor. To give my vote to any of them is to be guilty. If I was a ‘young person’ I would feel that charging tuition fees no matter how I voted indicated precisely how useful voting was – and I would feel patronised in the extreme. If you wish to engage people like me – or younger people with the same curiosity and energy as me – in electoral politics then you’ll need to approach us as equals, rather than as simply an apathetic group that needs educating. And that means that the people seeking our votes will need to change themselves.

  7. hilary772013 Says:

    Thank You! so much for this enlightened information and it is as if you have read my mind. I am 63 years young and never had an interest in politics until the the coalition came into power, due in part to the freely available information (for now) on blogs likes yours. I have voted at every general & local election, the fear I have is if I vote Labour none of the Conservative heinous policies will get overturned & we will just get a watered down version of the Tories. I have never voted Tory in my life, Labour & Liberals I will own up to. I know full well the value of my vote & have always said if you don’t vote you shouldn’t complain & have no right to when things go wrong BUT! who the heck do I vote for?? I have always voted for the party I felt was right for me & believed they were working for my best interest. I am sorry to say I don’t believe any of them will work for my best interest, which is such a sad state of affairs.
    I really don’t know what to do, I want to vote but in all conscience have not got a clue who to vote for if any.. SAD!!
    I also know a lot of my friends feel the same but if we don’t vote the Tories may get back in if we do vote Labour the mini Tories get in Catch 22 & LibDems No Go

  8. amnesiaclinic Says:

    Some interesting things are happening. 38 Degrees is considering becoming a political party as that is one way round the gagging law. Iceland did not bail out the banks but instead held an on-line consultation to form a new constitution. They are also prosecuting the bankers but many of them are holed up in the city protected by this govt. Whoever you vote for the agenda will continue as the bankers call the shots.
    Until that is sorted voting is a waste of time and locks us into this dead- end of stealing from the poor to boost the rich. Young people are right to be cynical. They are the jilted generation. No jobs, no housing and no voice. How is Bite the Bullet going to change that?

    • beastrabban Says:

      I actually agree with you that the lack of difference between the political parties is a major problem, and it has acted to discourage young people from voting. The only solution to this is much greater grass-roots political involvement by ordinary people in order to make the politicians listen to them. Mike has repeatedly urged people on the Left to join the Labour party and start campaigning within that party itself for it to return to its left-wing roots. I would also urge people to vote for the various alternative political parties in their area if they feel that voting Labour will not change anything. At the last election in my ward in Bristol there were a number of small socialist parties founded by Socialists and trade unionists offering a socialist political programme. I don’t think any of them got more than a few token votes. However, even if such small, minority parties don’t get in, an increased vote for them would act as a barometer to the main parties that the wider electorate is not satisfied with Neo-Liberal policies, and are prepared to use their vote against them. And you don’t know – some of them might actually get somewhere.

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