Letter: Voting with their feet

May 11, 2001

On the eve of the general election, politicians are apparently worried. The level of abstention on polling day risks reaching catastrophic proportions for a country that boasts of being a model democracy.

Despite all the money spent by political parties on advertising and coaxing, many politicians get elected with 70 per cent or more of their constituents not bothering to make it to the polling station. MPs' representativity is getting slimmer by the minute. Being duly elected is fine. Truly representing your fellow citizens is another thing.

Why do electors vote with their feet? Recent surveys clearly show a list of people's wishes: a good and cheap public transport system, a good National Health Service, good schools, decent jobs and decent pay. What do they get? None of these. Instead, over the past 25 years, they have witnessed indecision, incompetence, lack of direction and leadership, misguided authority.

Young and more mature citizens who care about the world we live in are warned not to express their opinion by gathering in places that not so long ago were advertised around the world as synonymous with free speech and a democratic society.

Take the police handling of the London May Day demonstration: it has been greeted by all major political parties as the proper way to deal with anarchists and terrorists. Had these things happened in China or Iran, ministers would have sternly concluded that human rights and human dignity had been violated. True, as some people in high places remarked, the Jubilee 2000 demonstration was much better organised and peaceful. The only snag is that it did not achieve anything. Politicians cannot expect to raise the interest of voters in the democratic process if they refuse to engage with those issues the man and woman in the street consider important enough to demonstrate about, even if this brings full confrontation with an intimidating array of official might.

Politicians get the number of voters they deserve - very few.

Eve M. Aldridge
University of Portsmouth

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