Last week citizens of all countries in the European Union were given the chance to vote for members of the European Parliament. While a handful of countries (Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Eire and Greece) boasted a turnout at polling stations of over 50%, well under half of all eligible voters in all other EU nations bothered to cast their votes. In Britain the figure was a shameful 35%. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia it was less than 20%.
With only two exceptions that I can think of (Spain and Greece) there was a serious swing to the right, with ultra right-wing MEPs being elected in many areas, notably the south of France. In Britain a rightist “party” which previously had NO elected members at national level, and control of NO councils nationwide at local level, won 24 seats in the European Parliament, more than any of the major existing parties. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party was beaten into third place. The aforementioned party, UKIP (UK Independence Party) has no discernible policies except to leave Europe and stop immigration. Its candidates are racists and fools, many of whom have been publicly exposed for their bigotry and buffoonery in the leadup to the election. While their seeming popularity is a massive and tragic disappointment to me, what may be even more disheartening is the fact that 31 million of my fellow residents did not mark a cross on their ballot paper, did not bother to visit their local polling station, did not bother to leave the small world that is their own home. I wouldn’t say I’m in favour of an Australian system where voting is compulsory. It’s more of an inexorable sadness that so many in this country have such a diminished sense of self-worth and a huge feeling of powerlessness that they feel no compulsion to take part in an election.
I kind of feel that by not using our democratic right to vote we are pouring scorn on the likes of Thomas Paine, The Chartists, the victims of the Peterloo Massacre, The Reform League and of course the Suffragettes whose ideas, integrity, commitment, hardships and even deaths brought about the political reforms that gave us all a say in society. But then there’s the other view so succinctly voiced by blogger Daniel Owen on Twitter today…..”People seem very worked up about turnout. Not sure why we think forcing those who don’t give a shit to pretend to give a shit would be good.”