Even in this era of intense news management and political spin, a public figure will still occasionally (and often inadvertantly) let a few morsels of truth slip out.
For the past two decades or so, and by every standard that can be accurately measured, participation in the established political process has been in steady decline. Voter turnout is consistently lower than it was in the 1970’s and membership of the main political parties is but a fraction of what it was in the 1950’s.
Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a hubbub of worry among the political classes with attendant brow-furrowing and hand-wringing over what should be done about it. Some of the more foolishly optimistic (or perhaps just ill-advised) politicos have launched themselves into toe-curlingly embarrassing campaigns to ‘get down with the kidz’ only to hurtle smack, dab into a wall of indifference. The less exhibitionist among them have been uttering dark murmurings about ‘compulsory voting’.
In the fullness of time, and as the disillusion spreads like sea-fog, I expect that those murmurings will become a demanding roar. In the meantime, the first member of the cabinet, former Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, has added his somewhat more audible murmur to the compulsion lobby.
I am not going to use this article to examine the arguments about compulsory voting, except to say that I am against it. More interesting to me (for the moment at least) is Mr. Hoon’s choice of words:
Mr Hoon said: “My fear is that as the older, more regular voters die, we will be left with a significant number of people for whom voting is neither a habit, nor a duty…”
Is that how Mr. Hoon thinks of voting? As a ‘habit’? As a ‘duty’? Where is the call to democratic arms? Where is the sizzle of enfranchised excitement? Where are the glamourous invocations of citizen empowerment? All long gone is the inescapable truth. Instead we are left with habit and duty.
If I were being charitable, I might suggest that Mr. Hoon chose his words for convenience rather than accuracy and that it would be unfair to second guess him on this basis. But I actually think that Mr. Hoon was being honest. Furthermore, I am prepared to extend to him the rare honour of actually speaking for the nation, or at least that ‘significant’ chunk of it for whom voting has become a sullen and thankless obligation, rather like slopping out the bedpan of an infirm and elderly relative while trying not to succumb to the guilt upon contemplation of the unspoken resolution that it would be better for everyone if they would just quickly and peacefully die.
Small wonder it is why young people don’t vote anymore.