Voter Apathy

One of the things that constantly troubles me about British politics is the level of voter apathy. Low turnouts are expected norms. One thing that the US presidential election did achieve was a record turnout – and I’d love to know how we can achieve that here. We often hear people here complaining about our government and our politicians, so why do so few of us care enough to turn out and vote? I do think many people here are cynical about politics and politicians. They are characterised as “all the same” and “never keep their promises”. An initiative has been launched ‘Power – an independent inquiry into Britain’s democracy’ (chaired by Helena Kennedy QC). As a LibDem, I’ll venture one suggestion. The crazy, outdated first past the post electoral system we cling to leaves millions of Britons feeling disenfranchised because they live in so-called “safe seats”. Why go out and vote if you live in a constituency where the same party always wins? The Jenkins Commision found that our current system is grossly unfair and it is time for a change. Tony Blair let that report gather dust – perhaps he feels his commons majority isn’t big enough?

I am calling a truce with America

mainly because I realise that the die has been cast, and anything else I could say has probably already been said. I also feel that the understandable interest in the US election has dominated the agenda so much that we have taken our eye off the ball back home. I was going to write piece about how many US citizens have passports – but that has really been overdone. I was reading an article in the Times today (the newsagent had sold out of the Independent – did it have a particularly good front page today?) about how pupils are dropping foreign languages now that it is not longer compulsory. While John Kerry got pilloried for being able to speak french, we in the UK have nothing to crow about on that score. British tourists can have the reputation for visiting our European neighbours and trying to make themselves understood by shouting loudly in english. When I was working in Brussels, I regularly met people who were fluent in four languages (french, english, flemish & german). The neglect of modern languages in our schools is a backward step and will do nothing for our reputation across the channel.

God Bless America

The next four years will now be defined and dominated not only by what George W Bush does for the next four years, but also how the EU responds. The front page of today’s Daily Mirror asks how 59 million Americans could be so dumb? While this is a little unfair, it does lead us to the inevitable conclusion that 59 million Americans prefer isolationism to internationalism. The American people have spoken – that is their inalienable democratic right. But just as we do not have a voice in US politics, so the US does not have to have a voice in ours. The elections has highlighted just how different we are. The British have a proud history of tolerance and inclusivity. The fundamentalism that drives George Bush’s America would never garner serious public support here. Eurosceptics have often pointed to our ‘special’ relationship with the US, and concluded that we don’t really need Europe. I would argue that precisely the reverse is true. Are values are far more European than we imagine. Europe has an historic opportunity to occupy the foreign policy vacuum left by isolationist America. We should embrace the European Constitution, and the EU Presidency. We should seize our chance to set the world agenda on climate change. We should work to build bridges and open dialogue around the world – especially in the Middle East. And above all, we should be proud that we can lead the way. The US claims to be the leader of the free world, yet it still has the death penalty and allows its’ citizens to walk around with guns. It lacks free health care for all of its’ people and shows blatant disregard for human rights (Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib etc). A majority in this country still don’t like or trust the EU, but we would do well to remember that many of the most Eurosceptic media sources in the UK are owned by US media moguls. I remain proud to be European.

Do you really think Americans care what you linguini-spined Europeans think about our election?

Courtesy of Benrik, comes the feedback received from Americans to the Globalvote2004 project. They are split between venomous rants telling us to mind our own business and more broadminded individuals appreciating the importance of world opinion. Whatever, it is starkly clear that there is a large section of the US population who are unable or unwilling to see the “bigger picture”. Speaking for Britain, this will only compound Blair’s resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush even though that flies in the face of public opinion here. I only wish that the date of our election was fixed and soon.