Magazine article The Spectator

Voter Apathy

Magazine article The Spectator

Voter Apathy

Article excerpt

When I was asked last week who I thought would win the general election, I didn't have a clue. This is such a peculiar election that few arc prepared to predict confidently its outcome. With opinion polls all over the place it could go either way. Much seems to depend on turnout, as well as on postal voting results now that the governing party of Britain has decided that ballot-rigging is the perfect solution to apathy among Labour voters.

Apathy is an interesting phenomenon: is it the result of voters perceiving that however they vote it won't make the slightest difference as the politicians will ignore them anyway? Or is it something to do with the realisation that, as more than 50 per cent of our laws are made in Brussels by unelected people, voting for British political parties is now meaningless?

I don't know. Bernard, now Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the Commons, made heroic efforts to enthuse a group of sixth-formers to vote in future elections and to take an interest in politics in The Age Gap on Radio Four this week (Monday). It was rather a good idea and turned out to be much better than I had thought it might be. Weatherill, an energetic 83-year-old, and his producer Sally Flatman, went along to Coulsdon College in Croydon to see if the students were interested in politics. He found, not surprisingly among that age group, a certain amount of apathy and stereotypical ideas about Parliament, i.e., that it was filled with grumpy old men who couldn't relate to the young. That may well be the case but the young also have to try to relate to their elders, something most seem unwilling to do. Anyway, Weatherill engaged with them in an unstuffy and humorous way, and succeeded in winning most of them round.

He told them of his own background: he left public school at 17 because he hated it, went to Sandhurst and joined the Bengal Lancers. Then it was straight into his father's tailoring firm. The chairman of his local Conservative party in Guildford persuaded him to enter politics, which he did as MP for a Croydon constituency. Later, he became deputy chief whip under Margaret Thatcher. The sixth-formers, who seemed to be an intelligent bunch, which is rather reassuring these days, asked him how Parliament had changed in recent years. …

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