(Eng) Voting...

neil birrell (neil@lds.co.uk)
Sun, 24 Sep 1995 22:16:19 +0100

(Freedom 9th Sept 95)

Twenty per cent of British adults aged 18 to 25 are not on
the electoral register. Forty-five per cent did not vote at
the last election. The govemment, or to be precise the
British Youth Council, a quango using government funds,
is to pay for a massive advertising and publicity campaign
exhorting young people to vote. Cinema commercials have
already been produced. One of them features a rapper who
declaims "If you are a citizen and wish to be of note,
register your name and register to vote". Whoever you
vote for the government always wins, a saying originated
by anarchists which has become commonplace where
young people meet, is mentioned in a 'news item' produced
by the British Youth Council and may feature in another of
their cinema ads.
The campaign could be called 'a waste of taxpayers
money', but no politician has objected so far. Of course
each would like more votes than his or her rivals, but all of
them think it more important that people should support the
system. The game itself matters more than who wins.
A few decades ago, not voting was equated with apathy,
and an anarchist anti-election campaign was described,
paradoxically, as a campaign in favour of apathy. But
today's young non-voters are not described as apathetic,
because it is recognised that many of them are politically
active. Amnesty International has doubled its membership
during the last five years. Membership of Greenpeace has
seen a comparable increase. 'Reclaim the Streets'
demonstrations, obstructions of road building, hunt
saboteurs and protests against live animal exports meet
with widespread approval. There is no decline in political
activity among the young, only disenchantment with
professional politicians and their shenanigans. We must
not over-simplify. To say 45% of young people don't take
part in elections is to say that more than half do take part.
But it could be that, while young people want to change
society as much as ever young people did, there is a
dawning recognition that society cannot be changed by the
electoral process. Societies, by and large, conform to what
most people want. The way to change society is to change
what most people want. Whereas the way to get elected is
to find out what most people already want, and offer them
that. The Labour Party confused its aims in the past, trying
to educate people's desires and get their votes at the
same time. This lost them elections. New Labour has seen
the light, and concentrates on getting the votes. The
evidence of the last four general elections is that the
electorate want rich people to be able to keep their money;
so New Labour has dropped old Labour's proposals to tax
the rich. On the other hand, the evidence of public outcries
is that certain particular ways of getting rich, such as
awarding oneself a fortune from a privatised monopoly, are
seen by the electorate as improper, so New Labour
promises to do something about such 'abuses'.
The evidence of opinion polls is that people want
improvements in the health and education services, so New
Labour promises to improve them. On the other hand,
people disagree about exactly what should be done, so New
Labour keeps the promises vague. The evidence of the
1992 election is that many people vote as recommended by
Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, so Mr Blair goes to
Australia to kiss Mr Murdoch's arse.
Of course New Labour has a programme to be
implemented after it is elected, but as a serious political
party its first aim is to get elected and its second aim to stay
in office at subsequent elections. The allegation that its first
and second aims are its only aims is not strictly true, but to
borrow a term from engineering, it is 'close enough for
practical purposes'.

Message to socialists in the Labour Party

Are you disappointed that New Labour, in its keenness to
get elected, is abandoning its traditional socialist aims? If
so, meaning no disrespect, you are being politically naive.
You cannot educate people to want something different,
and at the same time promise them what they already want.
Which is to say, you cannot strive for radical social change
and at the same time get elected.
It is certainly possible to change attitudes and
institutions. In this country fifty years ago, only those
sexual unions were 'respectable' which had a licence from
God and the Queen. Now, unmarried couples are as well
respected as married ones. The beating of children by
teachers, which fifty years ago was respectable and even
described as 'kind', is now disgusting and cruel. People
have become less deferential to authority and more
concerned about the natural environment.
All these social changes were brought about by 'single
issue' campaigners, who concentrated their energies on
convincing people of the rightness of their cause, not on
getting people elected. Govemments, of different political
labels, have changed the law to match changing attitudes,
partly to placate the electorate and partly because, of
course, they too are people whose attitudes are subject to
The electorate has less influence in matters of weaponry
and finance, because in such matters the elected
government is not the effective government. But non-
elected governments, too, rely on the consent of the
governed in the long term.
The road to power is not the road to socialism. If you
really want a better society, campaign to convert people to
your views, not to get some politician into power. And if
you cannot imagine being satisfied with any society other
than one where there is social equality and individual
freedom for all, then recognise that you are an anarchist.