The British Character : Has It Changed? #4 Political Apathy

The burning issue in the world of politics this week seems to have been apathy.  The BBC is doing its bit to combat it – or possibly stir it up – with an advertising campaign.  The Independent, under the headline ‘Politics holds least interest for the public in a decade’ reported

“The research … shows that less than half the population is interested in politics at all and one in three is unlikely or certain not to vote at the next election. … The study found that dissatisfaction with politics is particularly evident among Liberal Democrat supporters.  A year ago 72 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters said that they were interested in politics but that has now fallen to just 50 per cent.  The number of Conservative supporters interested … has now fallen to 65 percent while Labour support has dropped to 48 per cent.”

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, under the headline “Apathy appears to be the burning issue in Newcastle“, Dutch journalist Joris Luyenduk reported

“Most people I have spoken to down the campaign trail south from John O’Groats don’t know there are local elections coming up, or don’t care … Half a dozen random strangers either won’t vote, or won’t tell me who they’ll vote for.  Perhaps the apathy itself is the burning – or simmering – issue.”   

I’m not sure that apathy – in the sense of an absence of feeling – is quite the right word here.  I suspect that most people find the aspects of party politics that fascinate those professionally involved with it – the personalities, the tactics – about as involving as minor sports such as basketball or ice hockey. 

In the good times, this translates into a benign indifference, but, when times are hard, it turns into a sort of exasperation that people in whom they have so little interest can exert such influence over their lives, and annoyance that it feels irresponsible and potentially self-harming not to care.  But perhaps this is mere autobiography.

But is this new?  Predictably – according to Pont – the answer is no. This is from 1937, when there really was quite a lot going on in the world of politics.   

Firstly …

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2 thoughts on “The British Character : Has It Changed? #4 Political Apathy

  1. I think it also has a lot to do with disempowerment. Many people feel that even if they do get involved in politics, no-one’s actually listening onr actin g on the wishes of the public. MPs are supposed to represent their constituents but more often than not they follow the party whip and leave the people who voted them in to fend for themselves. We have witnessed this first hand in Market Harborough as Edward Garnier flatly refused to get involved in the public protest against the Council’s proposal to close the market.

  2. I suspect Garnier might have been more helpful if it had been a non-Tory council that was planning to shut the market. A while ago I was peripherally involved with a campaign to prevent Harborough’s train services being cut in half and he was quite helpful about that – but then he was giving us advice about how to pester a Labour minister.

    I’m sure there are a lot of factors involved in this “apathy” – the electoral system being one. I’ve been conscientiously voting in every election since 1979 and I’d say there was only once (in ’79) any serious doubt about who was going to win (I think local elections are a bit different) But I guess the chance to improve the electoral system has now gone out the window for a while.

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