Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Democracy vs Apathy

I sometimes get the feeling that many people in the West don't deserve democracy. It's become part of the furniture and is mostly taken for granted.

It was with interest then, that I read Daniel Finkelstein's article in The Times today, 'Which Queen? Which Speech? Who Cares?' in which he bewails the lack of interest in politics by most people. They simply, he says, don't care. At all.

It's not even that they've become disillusioned recently. They never been interested. What people notice is results - cleaner hospitals, less vandalism, better schools. The rest is just tuned out as 'noise'.

For anyone who fought for democracy, this is either a sorry state of affairs, or proof that it works so well that people cease to notice it. Unfortunately, when you stop taking notice, you leave the situation open to abuse and it's only when the results start hurting - unemployment, too much immigration, too much surveillance, restraints on free speech, political correctness, excessive human rights laws, elfansafety lunacy, over-taxation, financial crisis that people sit up and realise a lot's been happening behind their backs.

Then there's uproar and the papers have a lovely time digging the dirt and analysing ad nauseaum until everything settles down to be quickly forgotten.

In France there is a much higher turnout for elections and peope are continually complaining about the government. It helps that Sarkozy concentrates minds wonderfully as people moan and whine about the changes he was elected to implement. Because there is so much to do and most of it not pleasant, large swathes of the (mass) population detest him and enjoy being bad-tempered amongst friends at the threats to their avantages acquis.

As with Brits, they are especially virulent when results of policies affect them adversely. What politicians believe is that their policies will affect the way people vote, but it's not that at all, it's what everyone's personal situation is on the day of voting that affects the way they vote. Consider this from the last British election:

For two months in the run-up to polling day, voters were asked: “Has there been anything in the news about what the Conservative Party has been saying or doing that has caught your eye this week, whether on TV or radio or in the papers?”
Most of the time the proportion who could think of nothing hovered around 90 per cent.

Scary? Comforting? It does help to know that all that last-minute political posturing passes most people completely by and makes no difference to the way they vote. If they vote at all, that is...

So do we deserve democracy? I have a nasty feeling that one day so much will have been going on behind our backs that it'll be too late to stop, and then we'll rue the day we took democracy for granted.

Look after democracy,
Cherish it with care;
For you never know its value
'til it's gone, and then you'll care!

1 comment:

  1. My fear is that day arrived a while ago, Sarah. It was certainly chillingly obvious to anyone in the UK in March '03 ...


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