Maybe the big story of the European elections is not who won but who would have won if everyone had voted. The big majority of registered electors did not bother, even though it is easy to receive a postal vote and so not to have to go to a polling station at all.
When most people refuse to vote, it’s a sign of serious fracture between ‘the elite’ and everyone else. Here in Wales, 68 voters in every 100 chose not to vote.
I see the ghosts of 19th century campaigners for universal male suffrage and early 20th century suffragettes staring in appalled amazement at their disengaged successors.
Has the advance of consumerism changed the concept of voting from a civic duty to optional participation in a sort of media game show? Do we vote only if we think we are going to benefit directly in some way, winning tax hand-outs as prizes?
When only a minority vote, no Party can claim a clear mandate. Labour just about topped the poll in Wales with 28.7% of votes, but as only 32% voted, that means only 9.2%, one elector in 11, actively supported Labour. Similarly with UKIP, which obtained 28.1% of Welsh votes. That also translates to one person in 11 prepared to put a cross in UKIP’s favour. Backing for the Conservatives was weaker still, actively shown by 5.7% of the electorate, fewer than one person in 17. For Plaid Cymru, 15.6% of votes equates to 5.0% of the electorate, one in 20. The Plaid vote is very much stronger in western Wales from north to south than in the eastern areas adjoining England, but even in the west, the majority of people did not vote.
Why is voting so unpopular? This was an election for the European Parliament, which receives scarcely any media coverage in Wales or the UK generally. People don’t know what goes on there, but they are told in popular media that it’s a gravy train, that unelected Commissioners make the decisions anyway, that the UK pays through the nose and receives nothing but political black eyes in return.
The BBC, supposedly the national broadcaster, has appeared rudderless through the European election campaign, bobbing on waves of personality and popularity. Did the BBC explain each party’s policies for Europe? Other than over-simplifications of pro or anti, not that I could discern.
The EU has grown too fast, and the project has been subverted to entice East European nations formerly in the USSR’s zone of control, and to create the Euro as a currency to compete with the US dollar. Political aims which appear irrelevant to so many voters in the United Kingdom have descended a path to economic hardship in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland. The EU project combined with beliefs in free markets leads to an economic levelling down towards the living standards of the poorest communities.
Similar economic forces would be at work if we were outside the EU, though, because capital flows are global and are attracted to where production costs and taxes are lowest. Without taxes, you cannot have a welfare state.
The European Union is a convenient scapegoat, but not the prime cause of political apathy. We have to look to the power of transnational corporations to axe jobs and cut wages, to the revolving doors between business and politics, to unelected institutions like the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which impose regulations favourable to those who are already wealthy and powerful.
By not voting, we tacitly agree to let them get on with enriching themselves by trashing the environment and disregarding the welfare of people, the great majority of people, who are outside the magic circle.
Pat Dodd Racher