Work, school, exams, bills, children and mortgages; these are some of the many things that plague the mind of the everyday Briton. With so much to do, and so little time to do it in, it is unsurprising that there has been a dramatic drop in political participation. The most common statement that I have heard when discussing this subject with people is: “my vote will not make a difference regardless,” though this may be – to some extent- true, it does not permit the lack of public participation in politics.

We know that the UK is suffering from a participation crisis because fewer people are getting involved in politics. We can measure this by the decreasing turnout at general elections, for example, in 1959, there was a turnout of 78.7 percent and in 2010; there was a turnout of 65.1 percent. These figures reveal that election turnouts have been steadily decreasing for a number of years and as such, it is time to address the issue. After all, how can we complain about the lack of democracy in the UK if we do not exercise the few democratic rights that we do possess?

The decline in turnout in general elections is a significant indication that the UK is suffering from a participation crisis as the trend has existed since 1959. Furthermore, the turnout during the 2001 election was the lowest since 1918 at 59.4 percent and although it rose to 65 percent in 2010, it is still significantly lower than it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Why? Political parties are, arguably, more concerned with getting the most votes as opposed to representing the people. If this means targeting all of their policies towards large groups, then they will ensure their policies are perfectly tailored to attract their votes. The issue however, is that this technique is no secret. Due to Britain having a two-party system, this results in the very limited number of political parties creating similar, if not the same policies. With no choice, abstaining from voting seems like a much more appealing option.

If not voting is becoming a new phenomenon then we must look to its highest profile advocate; Russell Brand. In his interview with Jeremy Paxman, he stated that “at the next election we shall have a choice between the people who’ve given us five years of austerity” and “It won’t be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don’t bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences.” His outspoken views have echoed across Britons as his interview raised questions that people feared the answer to. His claim that the process of voting is “irrelevant” is troubling to some. Broadly speaking, women have only recently gained the franchise (1928) and so of course talk of not voting is alarming. For many citizens of the United Kingdom, it seems to be the right action to take in a time of political disillusion. However, if more and more people begin to abstain from voting, we are at risk of throwing away generations of hard work to earn these supposedly “irrelevant,” rights. Whether it is worthwhile to show the government that there is political disengagement is uncertain, but electoral turnouts are only one of many ways that we can see a growth in political disillusion.

Although elections are a common form of revealing levels of public participation, it is not the only way in which the public can vote. Conventionally speaking, there are few ways in which the electorate can show their active participation in politics. However, some argue that anything from voting in a referendum to watching the news can be a form of participation. If participation is the act of being active in politics, then isn’t discussing current affairs over the dinner table a form of this? Sharing opinions and voting on polls show that one is active in politics.

Unfortunately, we as a people have only been given a small number of ways to affect our system of government. If we choose to refrain from exercising these rights, how can we expect a stronger influence over our government? From the government’s perspective, electoral turnouts are the only indication as to how much power the public should have in making decisions.

It is beyond difficult to maintain equilibrium between the acts of political participation with the position of being an advocate for political change. However, it would be contradictory to request more democratic rights when we refuse to utilise the ones that we have at our disposal. The reason this is so problematic is simply because not voting may be more appealing than voting. When the public believe that refusing to vote makes a more efficient stand than voting itself, there is clearly an issue. Voter apathy can only be resolved by making the UK more democratic.

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