The subject of lowering the voting age occasionally comes up under the conversational umbrella of “how do we get the general public engaged with the political process again?”. As a stream of thought this is fairly simple to shoot down, largely on the basis that it rather resembles a parent suggesting that they should forget their first-born and focus on his younger siblings – oh if only we could start over with a blank piece of paper, then there’s no way that we’d make those mistakes again. How the political class define those mistakes is one of those things that either amuses or irritates this bunny, depending on his general mood.
To the Westminster set, low electoral turnout is at best a result of their ‘letting us slip away from them’, as if a significant swathe of the UK’s general populace has completely forgotten that a ‘democratic’ system exists, thinking an election is something a man might get while reading a filthy magazine. The alternative explanation, one that Statists are especially fond of, is that those who fail to participate do so out of their own stupidity. They are too dumb to understand its significance, while appreciating the efforts of the political class and therefore expressing their gratitude at the ballot box is just ‘beyond them’.
In reality, the old maxim that ‘whoever wins, the government gets in’ might never have applied more in our history than it does now. 21st century Britain is very much a one-party dictatorship in all but name, where the candidates capable of winning wear different coloured rosettes, but the principles (if any) that guide them can be separated by a cigarette paper. The Statist sentiment of steal and squander reigns supreme, transcends supposed ‘political divides’ and in reality is the only option. With the closed shop of First Past the Post rendering market entry for outsiders virtually impossible, the battle has long ceased to be one of ideas and become a nationwide version of ‘the Apprentice’, where three teams of ‘managers’ compete to be the least worst.
Hardly inspiring stuff, and falling voter turnout owes more to this dishwater, faceless corporation politics than it ever will to some perceived collective fault on the part of the electorate. In 2005, a mere 59% of those registered to vote bothered to turn up (and some of us, this bunny included, try to avoid registering ourselves if we can). That this increased to 65% last time out owed something to the mainstream media’s constant message that ‘this time, there really is a difference between the two main parties’. The walking disaster that was Gordon Brown, a charlatan to the core, helped to create that impression by announcing pre-election giveaways that he knew could not be afforded. Dave did not pledge a clean swing of the axe to the taxpayer gravy train and has kept his word, despite the attempts of some to convince us otherwise.
In terms of the course that the government would follow after May 2010, there was no real difference. Supposed ideological distinctions were simply wild exaggerations of minute details, and our rotten political class have a great deal to thank a subservient media for in terms of prolonging their existence. While more than a third of us saw this ‘contest’ for the sham it was, the prospect of a close result (and a hung parliament as it turned out) at least galvanised sufficient numbers amongst ‘core supporters’ to boost the turnout.
Given the way in which political parties invariably betray these loyal people, I’m amazed that such groups still exist. How can anyone be so convinced of one team’s innate superiority when they are demonstrably the same as both of the others? Perhaps habitual Labour and Tory voters await the day that their party starts believing in something again? You might be there a while, mate!! Not voting does not disqualify one from having an interest in politics (this bunny did not bother in 2005 and ‘forgot’ to register in 2010, but votes UKIP in Euro elections) – that’s another little Statist lie, designed to manipulate some form of validation out of the apolitical, apathetic and legitimately hacked off.
All of this is relevant to the Vote16 conversation, since one of the rather silly arguments against extending the franchise is the low turnout in the 18-24 category (as low as 37% bothered to vote in that nadir in 2005). This of course is working on a deeply flawed and dangerous premise, namely that voting is good and therefore failing to do so is somehow bad. That black X next to a candidate’s name is a stamp of approval to both the ‘democratic’ process itself and whoever that individual has chosen to vote for. If they feel that no candidate is worthy of such approval, are genuinely apolitical or would rather have an open dictatorship than a tacit one, then the political class can lump it – or alternatively, stop lying, stealing, fiddling their expenses and actually give someone, somewhere a reason to place that faith in them.
The right not to vote is a crucial one in any democracy – that’s why this bunny supports ‘None of the Above’ boxes on ballot papers (who fancies an e-petition by the way?) and would campaign hard against any attempt to introduce compulsory voting. Validating the process and one of its candidates is a choice, an act which the individual should be free to abstain from if they so wish. Once you take that freedom away and potentially imprison those who refuse to play ball, then no choice exists in reality – the power no longer resides with the ordinary citizen (even for that one day every five years) and any pretence of a truly representative system is dead.
In short, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with making a conscious decision not to vote.
One of the few enjoyable experiences this bunny can recall from his days at school was reading Harper Lee’s ‘to Kill a Mockingbird‘. A key theme of this book is the way in which young people are less inclined to be blinded by prejudice or tribal loyalty than adults. They are not as likely to buy into received conventional wisdom, most have a naturally inquisitive temperament and have not yet had their spirits crushed by a life that teaches one to ‘accept things as they are’. Not all aspects of what some would refer to as ‘growing up’ are overwhelmingly positive.
If a smaller proportion of 18-24 year olds vote than is the case with any other age group, then it stands to reason that even fewer at age sixteen will do the same. Like the children of Atticus Finch, most have not been taken in by membership of a faction or group, and see only what they regard as truth in front of them. If three-quarters of those aged 16-17 choose not to cast (or, god willing, go NOTA) then many will do so having concluded that none of the candidates were worth voting for. Let’s face it, these people would be wise and sensible to reach such a conclusion, far more than many who actually vote out of loyalty to one tribe or an inbuilt hatred of another. This might drag the overall turnout down towards 50%, which would be something of a disaster for the political class – far from being a reason not to extend the franchise, surely this is a central plank of any serious case to do just that?
Of course, there are four very simple words with which anyone can win this argument – No Taxation Without Representation, since there is another word that accurately describes a situation where the former exists but the latter is absent – that word is Slavery. If one is old enough to work and contribute to the upkeep of older citizens who choose not to, then this bunny fails to see a single reason why the kept man should have a say in the makeup of the next government, while the taxpayer funding his idleness is deprived that right. At sixteen, an individual can join the army and be sent into an overseas engagement which they do not support. (in the last decade, this scenario could hardly be dismissed as a hypothetical, yeah?).
A war-mongering government can regard this young man as cannon fodder and sentence him to death, but he remains constitutionally powerless to elect an alternative who might withdraw him from that danger. ‘Fairness’ is a word to which the dud mainstream parties all attempt to lay claim, yet this manifestly unfair situation would appear to be off the radar for all of them. In something of a vicious circle, the fact that sixteen and seventeen year olds cannot vote means that they are simply not taken seriously by politicians – this of course feeds the wishes of the dud parties to keep them disenfranchised despite obvious reasons why such a situation is unjust. This bunny cares neither whether they vote nor how ‘well-informed’ that vote is, merely for the rights of people old enough to contibute to, and die for our society. Take care and I’ll catch you soon.
Daz Pearce is bunny-in-chief at OutspokenRabbit
Photo by PinkCakeBox