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2012: Another Year of Apathy in the UK

Posted: 23/12/2012 23:00

2012 has certainly been an eventful year. For many in Britain, sporting glory will be the enduring memory of all that has passed. For others, it will be the spectacle of the Royal family, through times of both celebration and of controversy.

For me, however, it is the continued apathy of the British population towards politics that has defined 2012. I can't help but reflect on the unprecedented opportunity we have had to let our voices be heard, an opportunity that has slipped through our fingers due to our indifference towards the political process. And make no mistake, this apathy has pervaded the entirety of the past year.

The first significant triumph for apathy came in February, when the Occupy protest camp around St. Paul's Cathedral was disbanded. But unlike in the US, where a handful of other Occupy style movements sprung up when Occupy Wall Street fizzled out, the St. Paul's camp has yet to be replaced by a protest front with a similar impact or public profile.

There were so many points later in the year where we confirmed just how detached we really are from our political system. Though electing Police and Crime Commissioners in November wasn't exactly the most exciting or important exercise of democracy, a turnout of just 14% nationwide makes any claim PCCs have to a democratic mandate look ridiculous. Yes, voters actively turned away from mainstream parties, but in the context of a historically low turnout this was a somewhat meaningless gesture.

Just two weeks later, David Cameron discarded the recommendations of the Leveson report with alarming disdain. What was equally alarming, however, was the lack of genuine, meaningful protest against this move. Outrage, as it usually is these days, was mostly confined to the blogosphere, with only a very limited physical presence.

At the same time, Nadine Dories was devaluing politics further by appearing on ITV's I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!. Nearly ten million people tuned in to watch her undergo a 'Bug Trial', 600,000 more than watched the first prime ministerial debate prior to the 2010 general election, the first ever to be broadcast in the UK. In the past few years, we have been given unprecedented access to the information that enables us to make informed political choices. In 2012, we confirmed we'd rather watch someone being covered in cockroaches and maggots.

Bearing this in mind, however, reveals the single needle of wisdom hidden in the haystack of Nadine's idiocy. It lies in the justification she gave of her appearance, saying "if people are watching I'm A Celebrity, that is where MPs should be going."

Now I'm not saying this is correct, far from it. But when the majority of the population are so disaffected by our politics, something fundamentally different has be done to re-engage people with the way they are governed. When people would still rather vegetate in front of reality TV than listen to their leaders, then maybe MPs do have to do something drastic and unconventional. It is the depoliticisation of our society that leads perfectly intelligent people such as Nadine Dories to do such ostensibly moronic things as hanging out with z-listers and eating kangaroo gonads.

This is not to mention, of course, that we continued to give our tacit consent to tax dodging by the likes of Starbucks and Amazon even after their dishonesty was exposed. Rising fuel bills and train fares combined with record profits for suppliers has become so normal that, yet again, we failed to challenge it.

And all the while overseas issues made even less of an impact on us. We have sat back whilst Assad continues to slaughter innocent civilians and continued our implicit support for the occupation and expansion of territories in the West Bank by Jewish settlers.

It genuinely baffles me how people can be so uninterested in politics while all of this is going on around them. The only significant victory I can think of for people power over the forces of apathy this year came in September, when the truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the disgusting police cover up finally surfaced after 23 years of public pressure.

But in all honesty, I don't think anyone should be too surprised by this level of apathy. For a start, the furore over MPs expenses and other political scandals is still fresh in the minds of many would be voters, and public disenchantment with the political process will only be exacerbated by recent news that culture secretary Maria Miller - who has the "full support" of the prime minister I might add - is to be investigated for claiming more than £90,000 in taxpayer funding for the second home in which her parents have lived for some 20 years. Red-top tabloids still deify the kind of banality that sucks attention away from the political - see the amount of column inches the likes of the Daily Star dedicated to the menial frivolities of Prince Harry in August.

So maybe George Osborne should concentrate less on the work shy supposedly "hiding behind the curtains", and more on the politics shy, who go to work everyday but are too idle to affect any positive change in the world in which they live.

Revolutions are fought and lives are lost around the world to defend ones right to participate in politics. If we in the UK continue to be so disparaging of this very same right, then we may as well not have it at all.

It is said that democracy only works when a population is sufficiently informed. But it will also only function properly if everyone, and not just the political class, is willing and able to participate. That's the thing with democracy: we get the politicians we ask for. And unless we ask for better, we won't get them any time soon.

 

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