Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?

by Kevin Meagher

The people have spoken.

Well some of us have. As the results from the police and crime commissioner elections trickle in, it will be a blessed relief if as many as one in five of us actually voted.

Of course some people were not just apathetic about the idea, but determinedly hostile; visiting the polling booth in high dudgeon – simply to spoil their ballot paper.

Here was a chance, as I argued yesterday, to bring some much needed accountability about how a vital public service is run. Might be a bit boring, or possibly abstract for some, but the hostility to the idea leaves me baffled.

Of course it’s not just the police commissioners. The dismal 18 per cent turnout in last night’s Manchester Central by-election reflects the same malaise at the heart of our politics. It is reckoned to be the lowest turnout in a parliamentary election since 1942, when just 8.5 per cent voted in Poplar South, (although I suspect the not insignificant combination of world war two and the blitz may have had some bearing then).

Even in Corby, scene of this afternoon’s significant Labour win by Andy Sawford, just 45 per cent voted. And that’s after a small rainforest’s worth of election leaflets and direct mails were shovelled through voters’ letterboxes.

It seems the old saying that ‘we get the politicians we deserve’ has never been truer. For a nation of inveterate moaners about how we are led we seem to readily pass up the chance to do anything about it.

Police commissioner elections are the third major attempt in just the past couple of years to shake-up the ways in which power is used in this country. Each time the opportunity for change is extended to us we slap it straight back into the offering hand.

First there was the referendum on electoral reform. That went down in flames. Then there was the chance to have elected big city mayors. Again, crashed and burned (except for the good burghers of Bristol). Now we have police commissioners elected under the worst possible scenario: an abysmal turnout which will question their legitimacy to act.

Mind you, there is no golden age to look back on. The Welsh only voted by a hair’s breadth to set up the Welsh Assembly back in 1998, while only just over half of protestants actually voted for the Good Friday Agreement which paved the way to devolved working in Northern Ireland.

But things feel much worse now.

The cynicism about politics, the willingness to believe the worst in everyone running for public office is utterly corrosive, but perhaps it reveals a shocking truth.

The inescapable logic of twenty years of falling turnout in elections and hostility to established politics is that Britons prefer decisions being made for them.

Rather than a pejorative term, ‘the nanny state’ may just sum up how we want to be governed these days. Move over Chartists, pipe down Sufragettes, there’s not need to worry about voting, just leave it to those clever council officers, civil servants and chief constables to make all the decisions for us.

This might even reflect part of the upswing in support for the monarchy. Hell, why don’t we just restore the right of our Sovereign to rule over us?

The political parties can relax. Instead of endless chatter about “reconnecting” or worrying if young people have “switched off politics” we should just carry on as we were. Whatever we do doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Not in a culture where the biggest expression of democratic support for a politician this week has been to vote for Nadine Dorries to eat a sautéed kangaroo bollock.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to “Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?”

  1. Clr Ralph says:

    ‘Fraid you have a very superficial understanding of people.

    The vote on electoral reform was a joke and the alternative system barely worth bothering with. The Parties are now, at their peaks pretty much conjoined twins, politiicans have been caught again and again displaying the worst kind of attitude towards democracy itself that the people are turned away. The Labour Party Leadership has already punished the people who were responsible for defeating the BNP. A problem they ensured gained traction.
    City mayors are more elections for less democracy as power and money are taken away from people and left with individuals and the people know this as well as the politicians. The Police elections are sadly another sad joke more about money than they are accountability….

    The problem is that Politicians keep attacking the public and treating them like idiots. Particularly the Party of privilege, the Labour Party. But it is problem across the narrow spectrum of suits in Parliament.

    So your assertions are completely wrong. The public love real democracy when it is meaningful, substantive and inclusive…it has never been offered to them. As for me I’ll stick to my new Party they at least understand democracy even if they do not always respect it as well as they should at the top.

  2. Rob the crip says:

    Although I’ve given up on voting, your so so right Mr councilor even if your now a Tory

  3. swatantra says:

    Its that old 80:20 rule again.
    Only 20% of the people out there are interested in politics. 80% simply couldn’t care less, are apathetic or couldn’t be bothered, no matter what we try to do to engage them And out of that 20%, well only 10% are activists and 10% just mildly passively interested. And you won’t change those figures., no matter how hard we try. So the old adage is perfectly sound: ‘You get the Govt , etc you deserve’.
    Athough we could try and increase voter turnout by making voting compulsory, but the majority will then protest like hell that their HRs are being infringed.
    No Govt can win.
    I must admit I didn’t vote in these PCC elections because I didn’t agree with PCCs on principle, and so abtained. And, Essex was never going to elect the Labour Candidate in a million years.

  4. Les Abbey says:

    Do we blame the public or the politicians Kevin? Maybe today’s politicians have less of a chance of getting away with things that in the past may have escaped notice, but certainly their behaviour bears a lot of responsibility for the disillusionment that is out there. And we should not forget that New Labour MPs were in there with the worst of them giving support to the anti-politician feeling.

  5. Felix says:

    You’re right Les, he’s looking in the wrong place. Such is the disillusionment with politicians now we can know the nearly the full extent of their cheating and deception that the public no longer wants to pay a penny more for the free-riders. What Meaghers has failed to grasp is that the public has woken up to the con that is politicians creating more politicians to solve a problem that never really existed in the first place.

  6. Mike Homfray says:

    I’m not convinced there is a great demand from people to run services themselves. I think there is a wish to have services provided effectively. However, this does cost money, and the idea that you can do more with less is simply a lie. There will need to be a choice made in terms of what services we receive and how much we are wiling to pay for them, which has always been out of kilter here

  7. swatantra says:

    Agree. Stop Rate/CT Capping.
    You get the quality of services that you basically pay for. If the public feel that a LA has exceeded its remit to claw in money, then the public can boot them out at the next election.

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