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Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?

Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?

🕔17.Nov 2012
Curated from Labour Uncut, written by Editor

by Kevin Meagher

The people have spoken.

Well some of us have. As the results from the police and crime commissioner elections trickle in, it will be a blessed relief if as many as one in five of us actually voted.

Of course some people were not just apathetic about the idea, but determinedly hostile; visiting the polling booth in high dudgeon – simply to spoil their ballot paper.

Here was a chance, as I argued yesterday, to bring some much needed accountability about how a vital public service is run. Might be a bit boring, or possibly abstract for some, but the hostility to the idea leaves me baffled.

Of course it’s not just the police commissioners. The dismal 18 per cent turnout in last night’s Manchester Central by-election reflects the same malaise at the heart of our politics. It is reckoned to be the lowest turnout in a parliamentary election since 1942, when just 8.5 per cent voted in Poplar South, (although I suspect the not insignificant combination of world war two and the blitz may have had some bearing then).

Even in Corby, scene of this afternoon’s significant Labour win by Andy Sawford, just 45 per cent voted. And that’s after a small rainforest’s worth of election leaflets and direct mails were shovelled through voters’ letterboxes.

It seems the old saying that ‘we get the politicians we deserve’ has never been truer. For a nation of inveterate moaners about how we are led we seem to readily pass up the chance to do anything about it.

Police commissioner elections are the third major attempt in just the past couple of years to shake-up the ways in which power is used in this country. Each time the opportunity for change is extended to us we slap it straight back into the offering hand.

First there was the referendum on electoral reform. That went down in flames. Then there was the chance to have elected big city mayors. Again, crashed and burned (except for the good burghers of Bristol). Now we have police commissioners elected under the worst possible scenario: an abysmal turnout which will question their legitimacy to act.

Mind you, there is no golden age to look back on. The Welsh only voted by a hair’s breadth to set up the Welsh Assembly back in 1998, while only just over half of protestants actually voted for the Good Friday Agreement which paved the way to devolved working in Northern Ireland.

But things feel much worse now.

The cynicism about politics, the willingness to believe the worst in everyone running for public office is utterly corrosive, but perhaps it reveals a shocking truth.

The inescapable logic of twenty years of falling turnout in elections and hostility to established politics is that Britons prefer decisions being made for them.

Rather than a pejorative term, ‘the nanny state’ may just sum up how we want to be governed these days. Move over Chartists, pipe down Sufragettes, there’s not need to worry about voting, just leave it to those clever council officers, civil servants and chief constables to make all the decisions for us.

This might even reflect part of the upswing in support for the monarchy. Hell, why don’t we just restore the right of our Sovereign to rule over us?

The political parties can relax. Instead of endless chatter about “reconnecting” or worrying if young people have “switched off politics” we should just carry on as we were. Whatever we do doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Not in a culture where the biggest expression of democratic support for a politician this week has been to vote for Nadine Dorries to eat a sautéed kangaroo bollock.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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