Remember Friends Reunited? No, I don’t expect you do. Friends Reunited was one of the earliest forms of social media and was incredibly popular in the fledgling modern internet of the early noughties. Think Facebook, but not as good. At its peak roughly half of all adults in the UK used the website, but when Facebook came along everyone jumped ship. By 2010 it had been dwarfed by its competitors and now it lies in the doldrums of websites that boast millions of users who haven’t logged on in five years.
Now, I don’t expect anyone to take pity on the owners of this frankly rubbish website. It used to make money (and it made lots early on), but the beauty of the modern world is that if a company sells a product that no one wants pretty soon it goes away. My sister doesn’t use a washboard, I no longer own a VCR, and I don’t expect to be playing a PS4 in ten years. The products that are available are a function of what people want, and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.
We can infer from this that we live in a society where apathy is a powerful weapon. Websites, bars, DJs and TV shows all need us, and if we stop showing an interest in them they’ll die. It’s a wonderful position to be in—we are all monarchs of the consumer society who can condemn a jester to death with little more than a disdainful tweet and a passionless sigh. Didn’t like the music they played at that shit club night? Don’t worry—it’ll be gone this time next year. A product which earns the apathy of the nation will disappear, leaving only the products which people actually want. Brilliant.
Speaking of things which earn the apathy of the nation, there’s going to be a General Election on the 7th of May. Over the coming weeks we won’t be able to move for politicians offering us their products. Tax cuts for pensioners, tighter immigration controls, cuts to public services. They’re offering it and we don’t want it. So, surprisingly enough, on polling day three in five young people up and down the country will respond in the way they normally do when offered something they don’t want—they’ll stay at home and press the ignore button.
Now, if you’re reading this with plans to be one of those young abstainers then you’re probably feeling pretty regal right now. You’ve probably got that same feeling of superiority and power we all get when we decide that a product doesn’t meet our expectations. I don’t want this product so I’m not going to give it my vote and it will be consigned to history along with Friends Reunited, HMV and those stupid neon glasses with stripes across them that people used to wear to nu-rave nights. The best way to defeat the system is to ignore it.
Unfortunately, I feel obliged to tell you—this plan is complete and utter nonsense.
A government, you see, is not a product which needs to turn a profit. If we stop voting they won’t go bust. You might want them to, but they won’t. If anything, they’ll be more likely to be in power than before because now they need to get fewer votes to get a majority.
This goes against everything we’ve been brought up to think, but it’s true. In 2012 Lucy Powell was elected to represent Manchester Central on a turnout of 18.2 per cent. On that day 4 in 5 people chose to ignore the election but they still counted the votes, they were still legally binding, and she still got the seat. Low turnouts might reduce an MP’s legitimacy in your mind, but outside your mind—here in the real world—it just makes it easier for a politician you don’t like to get into power. And the real world is where the UK’s suffering happens.
Now this isn’t a very popular idea among the young precisely because it offends their consumer-monarch sensibility. When anyone suggests that youth abstention leads to a country run by middle-class pensioners, most 18 – 30-year-olds will respond by frantically hitting the ignore button, then loudly blaming politicians for the rising use of food banks, wars in the Middle East and skyrocketing tuition fees. If you’re unhappy with austerity it’s very tempting to treat it in the same way you treat a rubbish TV show—switching off—but that’s just not enough in politics. You have to actively vote against it if you want things to be different. One less vote for the establishment will make no difference unless it’s accompanied by one more vote for an alternative.
And no, they’re not all the same. If you don’t like the main parties then vote for a smaller one—maybe the TUSC or the Pirate Party. If you don’t like any of them either then go into the polling station and write “politicians are all wankers” on your ballot paper (that’s what the delicately titled ‘spoiled ballots’ really are).
On 7th May there’ll be a little angel and a little devil sat on your shoulders. The devil will tell you that voting isn’t worth your time. He’ll say that if enough people avoid voting for a politician then that politician will disappear. But he’s wrong and you know it—that politician will only disappear if enough people bother to actually vote for someone else.
There are a lot of poor and downtrodden people in the UK right now who need a different government. Our instincts as dissatisfied customers may tell us to stay at home, but for their sake, please be a force for good and vote on the 7th of May.
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