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Brendan O'Neill is the editor of spiked, an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms.
The electorate’s silent, withering rebellion against the political class
If you needed any further proof that the political class inhabits a different moral universe to normal human beings, look no further than this morning's analyses of yesterday's elections. "It was a good night for Labour," chirp Ed Miliband's delusional cheerleaders. "It shows that Cameron must re-engage with traditionalists," say Tory desperadoes. "It confirms the British public's rejection of the mayoral system," intone deathly dull political studies lecturers. All of these yawn-inducing attempts to decipher what message the British electorate was trying to send to the political class yesterday overlooks what the majority of us chose to say to them: absolutely nothing. Zilch. Diddly squat.
Sixty-eight per cent of eligible voters did not vote in the elections, a bloc of people so big it could be described as "the vast majority", or certainly "most people". Most people chose not to take part in these elections, and in doing so they implicitly rejected the political class in its entirety; its ideas, its policy proposals, its representatives – all were very publicly and humiliatingly cold-shouldered. What we witnessed yesterday was a silent, withering rebellion against the political elites of this country. A good night for Labour? Are you kidding me? Labour got roughly 39 per cent of the vote on an estimated turnout of 32 per cent. This means around 12 per cent of the eligible electorate voted Labour. To put it another way, 88 per cent of us – the heaving mass of society – did not vote Labour. If that's a good night for Labour, I'd hate to see a bad one.
People are already starting to wring their hands over the "apathy" of the electorate. What an insult, to be branded "apathetic". Apathy, coming from the Greek apathes, means "without feeling, without sensation". It means cold, indifferent, phlegmatic, "indolence of mind, indifference to what should excite". This is how the political class now views the mob: as a sensation-less bunch of no-marks who can't be arsed to peel their eyes away from Jeremy Kyle for five minutes once every few years to go out and vote. But it isn't the public's "indifference to what should excite" that explains plummeting voter turnout levels – it is the failure of politics to excite us, to enthral us, to engage us, and I mean engage us on a properly cerebral level, not through one of those focus groups that asks questions like "do you feel queasy on bendy buses?" or "would you vote for a politician who wears a beard?"
There’s nothing peculiar about the majority's refusal to vote. It’s perfectly logical. At a time when the political class is fantastically disconnected from everyday people, when mainstream political debate has been almost wholly colonised by suits and PR people and media darlings, it makes sense for people to deduce: “This has nothing to do with me.” Just look at some of the allegedly burning political issues of our time: gay marriage, media ownership, the Educational Maintenance Allowance, the question of whether the Lords should be stuffed with old farts from the Shires or right-on blokes who play tennis with Tony Blair. These are not real issues. They’re the myopic obsessions of political and media types who know a great deal more about their own navels than they do about the real world. Even worse, when they do make an effort to engage with “ordinary people” it’s always at the level of trying to save them a bit of money, as with Ken loudly promising to cut Tube fares in London. Because that’s all that “ordinary people” think about, isn’t it? Not democracy or the future or war or progress; just how to avoid having to spend £3.50 to go from Uxbridge to Piccadilly.
Yesterday’s elections were the most boring in living memory. But they revealed something very interesting: Britain is morphing into an oligarchy, with a gaping chasm emerging between the spin-doctored politicians and Twitterati who “do politics” and the man and woman in the street who do not.