Let me start first by saying this, politics is a huge part of my life. I've been following political debates for a long time, I've written articles for newspapers and websites about political issues and I'm finally inching towards the end of a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics after six years without a social life. However, what you're watching on television and reading in the newspapers at the moment could only generously be described as politics.
I'm thinking here of arguments concerning how many kitchens Miliband has, whether an MP took a photo of a white van as an insult to a voter, whether David Cameron voiced support for Jeremy Clarkson, or whether HIV-invected terrorist immigrants are coming to burn our poppies and roast our swans. To a certain extent this has always been a problem of political debate, but I think it might be starting to peak. What's more, it seems you all agree with me, as the BBC poll tracker shows no virtually movement in any of our opinions during this election period.
The 'leaders debates' which have taken place so-far this year (which for the most part I haven't been able to bring myself to watch) have been another prime example of all that is wrong with the standard of discourse. People's responses to this political theatre - and the events themselves - tend to be stripped of all context which would otherwise be useful to understand whether what the leaders are saying is true or whether the proposals they are making are feasible or even possible. It comes down to who looked best, who sounded most leader-like and who 'won' based on some vague criteria devised by each polling organisation. It is political debates as boxing matches, condensed to sound bites, with any nuanced discussion and political theory seemingly banned from the event.
This would surely be enough to tempt anyone outside the Westminster Village to flick their brain into the 'off' setting and reconsider whether anyone on their screen deserves their vote. Over the last decade or so, there have consistently been warnings about young people failing to cast their vote, our politicians disdain for them, and the dire consequences of this. As Aaron Bastani writes in Vice in a discussion on where future cuts will fall:
Tory activists I've spoken to openly admit their party has little incentive to look after the young given that they rarely vote Conservative if at all. That means leaving the benefits of older voters alone, while hammering the young - from higher education to the minimum wage and unemployment benefits.
However, as concerning as this is, I'm beginning to wonder whether this is anything other than a slightly more extreme version of the disconnection which applies to the public in general. Talking of voter apathy is almost cliché these days, and can be used as an excuse not to explore the problem further, but is is phenomenon worth engaging with.
So what are the causes? Smarter people than I have surely done a better job, but I see it like this. In part, our current bout of apathy is a consequence of the narrowing of the Overton window, the range of ideas and political proposals deemed acceptable to discuss, leading to the lack of choice between the main parties.
This has of course resulted in the rise of UKIP, a party who promises big things, but - like the phenomenon of the Lib Dems in 2010 - falls to pieces when actually entrusted with the expectation to exercise their political power. This narrowing of Overton has also had a significant impact on Labour, whose capitulation to the tabloid or mainstream view of the world is reflected in their latest manifesto, leading to their haemorrhaging natural Labour voters in 2010. Labour openly admits that it "lost the argument" on certain issues such as immigration, but in my view they never even bothered to fight them out of simple fear and reticence.
Furthermore, there is a complete - and perhaps understandable - absence of acknowledgement from political leaders that they can no longer control and shape society in the way they used to, as political power is now far more diffuse, carved up into the hands of a wide range of global institutions, finance, corporations and individuals. This is clearly a recipe for a disappointed electorate. As a consequence, the old ideological debates of the 1970s and 80s die because leaders lack the power and influence they once had to see certain policies through or even propose them in the first place, politicians start to sound the same, propose roughly the same things, and nobody can be bothered to put a cross in a box.
To this I would say firstly, people fought for your right to vote, not your obligation to do so. I wouldn't dream of chastising anyone choosing to stay at home on May the 7th. However, as Chomsky says, we should perhaps get out there nevertheless:
Choosing the lesser of two evils isn't a bad thing. The cliché makes it sound bad, but it's a good thing. You get less evil -- Noam Chomsky
Labour might not be the party I want in power, but thanks to FPTP they're the only viable alternative and would almost certainly cause marginally less damage than another Tory-led government. I'm not going to propose a permanent solution to all this because I'm not sure there is one, and I'm not going to tell you what political issues you should care about because those are your own decisions to make.
My advice on polling day would be this, choose the lesser of the evils available in your constituency and whatever you do, don't look too happy about it.