Action enables change, apathy enables racists.
Last Thursday, the third of May, like many people with a political conscience I was dragged rapidly through the full gamut of emotions that local elections trail in their wake. As I have been living in an area plagued by an oft-unseen, yet thoroughly repugnant, BNP representative, I was eager to get out and make my voice heard. This was a feeling I believed I shared with my partner and our friends who live just across the street.
Since none of us see another persons’ skin colour as a threat to society and we’d all be rather happy if people that thought that way spontaneously ceased to exist, I thought that when given the opportunity to remove such a person from a position of power we would do so, united. It was at this point, on the dawn of election-day, that I encountered an emotion I have fought against vehemently since my mid-teens: apathy.
The dialogue that brought this unwelcome beast back in to my life was succinct and absolute in its encapsulation of the overwhelming political indifference that has marked these elections with one of the lowest national turnouts to the polls in living memory. Here’s a short transcript of the conversation I had in my friend’s kitchen that morning after taking the children to school,
Me: ‘So, who wants to come down to [the polling station] and vote with me?’
My Partner and Friends (in chorus): ‘No.’
Me: ‘But we could get rid of the racist ***** that hasn’t done anything with his time in power other than use it to print more leaflets designed solely to incite racial hatred and aggression.’
Friend #1: ‘It won’t change anything.’
Friend #2: ‘It doesn’t matter who you vote for, they’re all the same.’
My Partner: ‘That’s what I said this morning.’
Me: ‘But none of us like the BNP! We could get rid of them, but you have to vote in order to do that!’
Friend #1: ‘No, still not going. There’s no point.’
Then came the coup de grâce that made my inner-teen scream with frustration,
Friend #2: ‘Do you think that if no-one votes the government will get the message?’
As the rest of the room laughed, I had to excuse myself before I was unable to control a sudden strong urge to shout profanities at the only people I tend to see on a day-to-day basis.
This prevailing attitude of indifference has been replicated up and down the country with a further drop in turnout from 2008’s already poor 34.9%, bringing the national number of actual voters to below a third of the total number of eligible voters.
Though last summers’ riots, with the obvious exception of the original Tottenham riot, were not as directly politically motivated as they first appeared to be, many commentators had speculated that the re-emergence of direct action as an active social tool was indicative of a new political awakening. Sadly, it appears that the reality of the situation is that many people have just lost faith in politics as a practical tool for change.
With the current coalition government clouding many of the distinctions between Conservative and Lib-Dem policies, and with the national backlash against the BNP nearing completion after their multiple defeats at the polls last Thursday, it is unsurprising that Labour have been the only party to have made major gains from these local elections. But whether the country is truly looking for a new Labour leadership to take charge in 2015, or if they are just enjoying the temporary spoils of the public’s apathetic disillusionment with, ‘them in power,’ remains unclear.
Still, in defiant answer to my friend’s ridiculous hypothetical from election-day, and to conclude on a personal note of victory, proving that the system can work: The BNP no longer holds the main seat on my local council.
I take full credit.