Thursday, March 25, 2004

too disgusted to care: the Blair effect
Politics is on the verge of becoming a minority interest, the Electoral Commission warned yesterday.

Its audit of political engagement paints a bleak picture of a nation with little political interest, knowledge or satisfaction. Its poll, conducted by Mori, found that political apathy is so extreme that only about half (51%) of those questioned were certain to vote at the next election and just 42% could name their MP.


The poll comes as the government and the commission, the independent body that promotes participation in elections, seek to reduce voter apathy. Turnout at the last general election was just 59% - the lowest since 1918 and down from 71.5% when Labour came to power in 1997.

So between 1997 and now, the response of 20% of the electorate to New Labour government is to drop out of the political process altogether. Throughout most of this time it's been an article of faith amongst his supporters that Blair himself was more popular than Jesus with free drugs. There are any number proximate causes of course: the general narrowing of political choice; the expression of those choices that remain entirely in terms of shopping; the recasting of its traditional vote base as a problem to the rest of society rather than people whose concerns it is Labour's particular job to adress. There's the overweening attitude of smugness and condescension, the jokey pseudo-egalitarianism, the general air of a cargo cult on its last legs. There's the inability to tell a straight story about what it's doing or even to get its story straight. The moral flatulence about rights and responsibility, the staginess and narcissim, the freeloading on popular culture, the strange fetish for expressing all civic preferences in terms of shopping. There's the sense that they're just power drunk - not in the usual sense, but reeling around, battered by next day's headlines, randomly puking legislation over the public, then promising that they've really changed and next time it'll be different.

Taken overall, it's such a poisonous mixture that trying to respond directly is like trying to punch toxic fog. Better to just turn away and have done with the whole thing...