A piece in the BBC’s Magazine today reflects on a report into voter apathy. The Joseph Rowntree-backed Power Inquiry has delivered a ‘devastating critique of the state of formal democracy in Britain’ (its words) – claiming, if I might paraphrase, that politics doesn’t care about people, rather than people not caring about politics.
Political parties and elections have been a growing turn-off for years. The cause is not apathy. The problem is that we don’t feel we have real influence over the decisions made in our name. The need for a solution is urgent. And that solution is radical.
In fact, the solution seems to be (after a quick scan of the report) a fairly predictable mix: an elected House of Lords, decentralisation of powers, more transparency in politics, replacement of the first-past-the-post voting system. Nothing to stop you dead in your tracks. But the BBC picks up on one particular point:
We may be living in the Information Age, but when it comes to putting a simple cross in a box many potential voters are complaining about being kept in the information Dark Ages… The claim that voters lack information stands out for being so stubbornly at odds with current trends.
No party worth its salt these days would launch a national campaign without a website as back up. And then there are third-party sources, the BBC being just one of them. In fact, a totally contrary suggestion could be that instead of a lack of political information, voters may be drowning in too much of the stuff.
I think the BBC is missing the distinction. Yes, we have plenty of material – but not what I would call genuine ‘information’. All I want is the truth, just gimme some truth, as John Lennon sang in 1971. Cold, hard, honest, impartial facts. OK, maybe there’s no such thing as absolute across-the-board truth. But let me speak as a voter. Give me the facts, and I’ll decide where I think the truth lies. And vote accordingly.
Is it any wonder that we get turned off by politics when one side says one thing, the opposition says the opposite, and every argument ends up in a score-draw? Don’t you wish, just once, that a TV debate would finish with the words ‘well, that settles that then’, as opposed to ‘we’ll have to leave it there.’