We all take pride in that paragon of what it means to be in a ”Western Civilization”, that paragon is known as Democracy. Utilized thousands of years ago during the time of Pericles’ rule of Athens in 460-425 BC and still the cornerstone of our own political structure in the twenty-first century. But what is the difference between then and now? We have advanced far in terms of who can participate within our democratic institutions over the past century but what is it that makes us different from the Athenians? The difference is simple, we simply don’t care as much as they did, despite the advances in technology, science, social care, health and equality.

So why is this the case? What is the reasoning behind this cognitive that apathy seems to be prevalent within our attitudes towards politics? Why does standing on the Pnyx (or in our case standing for election / letting our voice be heard) not seem all it is supposed to be? One reason behind this is that many people state that their vote ‘simply doesn’t count.’ That is to say that a single vote doesn’t make much of a difference, but this has severe backlash attached to it, once people begin to argue this point, their apathy then leads other people towards the same indifference and so on, creating a disturbing domino effect if you will. For example, here in Northern Ireland, Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein was elected in Fermanagh / South Tyrone as their MP by a margin of 4 votes, beating independent unionist candidate Rodney Connor 21,304 votes to 21,300.

This puts into perspective what just a few votes can do to make a difference, but there are other reasons behind this sudden apathy. Another two popular examples I’ve witnessed is that:
a) People spoil their vote because they want to make a stand against those that don’t represent them.
b) People vote for a party out of protest and outrage (UKIP / Monster Raving Loony Party) for example.

The problem with (a) above, is that spoiling your vote does not change the status quo or indeed anything that you want changed! As Plato once said: ‘one of the penalties for not participating in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.’  If we leave behind the vote spoiling and actually look at party policies and manifestos, why not vote for a party that best represents you? We as humans need to understand that those who stand for election will not represent us 100 percent because we are individualistic in our opinions, personalities, relationships and indeed by nature. If you truly feel nothing but contempt for those standing at the current point in time, why not run for election yourself? Every political party and candidate had a start somewhere, that doesn’t mean to say that Joe Bloggs can’t too.

Onto (b), if you are going to vote for a party because you want to protest against the invisible enemy known as ‘the establishment,’ often likened to some sort of shady 1920s Mafia group, then you should take a minute to remember why you are voting for them and ask yourself whether these people are also part of this shady collective known as ‘the establishment.’  This has certainly lead to UKIP’s surge in popularity over the past four years, but when you are voting out of protest, you must ask yourself whether this new group truly represents you. Look at their manifestos and policies on issues which matter to you and try to make an evaluative judgement based on what they are trying to achieve and whether or not this is sound.

We need to look into a more compassionate form of politics, voting out of anger only creates more anger and it is from these dark regions of the emotional abyss that the radical smiles sardonically appear, knowing full well what fear mongering and scare tactics do to people. In Northern Ireland for example, there were two big parties to begin with, the UUP and the SDLP, Unionist and Nationalist respectively. Once people began to disagree with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and tensions were risen, more outspoken parties began to surge in popularity as is the case with the DUP and Sinn Fein, both Unionist and Nationalist respectively. Then, when people disagreed with the St Andrews Agreement of 2007, the TUV was spawned, an even more right-wing Unionist party. Even currently, an even more right-wing party has been created in the form of the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist Coalition).

Why does this happen? Because we are letting the hate-filled opinions of others shape our politics and democracy. Because instead of having a compassionate desire to work together for what is good for all of us, regardless of nationality, we feed on fear, anger and most important of all, the apathy of most people who genuinely want their views represented but did not vote in the elections.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but elements of the ‘Norsefire’ party in Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, are certainly coming out in the form of rising fascist groups and radicals that proclaim to be anti-establishment.

I know it’s boring to read leaflets of every party and I know it is tedious to research each individual candidate, but remember that these are the people governing our lives and the ones who will represent us at every stage in politics, and if we don’t exercise our right to vote, if we do not overcome the apathy within politics and the anger, at what point will we express our individual freedoms? When that piece of legislation passes that has a severe impact on your life, be it cuts to the NHS, digital freedoms removed or even permission to question for ridiculing a political party, it will be too late.


References:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/northern_ireland/8667134.stm
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ukip-free-speech-row-police-tell-blogger-to-take-down-legitimate-facts-taken-from-official-eurosceptic-party-policy-9358196.html