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“Stewed prunes tonight. Your favourite.”

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.

23 comments to “Stewed prunes tonight. Your favourite.”

  • Findlay Dunachie

    Yes, Hoon’s proposal to make voting compulsory is quite outrageous, especially as he does not make clear the real reason for it – that he thinks the duller, more apathetic section of the population consists of potential Labour voters.

    There is, of course, a good reason for many people thinking that voting is not a very urgent matter – Labour (or New Labour) has realised that Thatcherism is a good thing and has occupied the Conservative position, leaving the Tories wondering what the hell they can do about it.

    A very little introspection on my part revealed that I wasn’t very exercised about our General Election result. Extrapolating this a bit, it was perfectly possible to undersand why such an attitude might lead to others simply not bothering to vote.

    I am sure I’m not the only one to have been more anxious about the result of the US Presidential Election that of our own General Election some months later.

  • RPW

    Hoon isn’t Defence Secretary any more, he was moved to the Leader of the House of Commons (what exactly does that mean??) job in the post-election reshuffle.

    But yes – compulsory voting is the trademark of the failed politician (“we can’t inspire you to vote for us, so we’re going to force you to”). If it comes in, the ballot paper at the very least should have a “None of the above” line…

  • Pete_London

    Oh joy, yet more laws to defy. The day cannot be far off when the average, reasonable Briton cannot go from sunrise to sunset without breaking one or more NuLab diktat.

    My only hope of ever staying at liberty in this country is that the van which will one day take me to chokey runs out of carbon credits.

  • RPW,

    You are quite correct. Hoon is now Leader of the Commons. Article amended acordingly.

  • Julian Taylor

    Pete_london, haha

    I can see Our Little Tone’s future reasoning being that since the only people who don’t question his judgement are kindergarten-age children why not extend the franchise to allow 5 year olds to vote?

  • John K

    The only good thing about this is that the appalling Buff Hoon is no longer able to fuck up the Ministry of Defence. At least as Leader of the House, which I think is a glorified administrative position, no-one will die because of his spazmoid imbecility. But here we get the measure of the man: fewer people are voting in elections; perhaps this means they are disillusioned with the democratic system as it purports to exist in this country. Solution? Make voting compulsory. Result? Everybody is now happy with the democratic system as it purports to exist in this country.

    Hoon is another NuLabor academic lawyer along the lines of Bozo Byers, someone who could not hack it in the real world, and therefore became a politician so he could tell us all how best to wipe our own arses, even though he can’t find his with both hands.

    Do you realise we’ve got at least another 4 years of this garbage to look forward to? They won’t even let us have magic mushrooms any more to take the pain away.

  • Michael Taylor

    Mr Hoon’s demand that we formation-march down to the polling booth to fulfil our obeisance to the political parties reveals his contempt for the electorate. And his hypocracy: after all, it’s not as if the current electoral contempt doesn’t richly reward both unworthy major parties. They already enjoy – and how – the remarkable privileges of power. Now they want to be – no, demand to be – loved as well.

    With both major parties having exhausted their political, ideological and ethical capital, there’s a need to accelerate the discovery of the new politics.

    And as with everything else, competition is the way to make that discovery. In this particular case, simply mandating that the electorate is given the chance to vote for “none of the above”, and that if “none of the above” wins the election, it is reheld until the electorate is presented with a candidate it can vote for, would represent a way of fostering choice.

    As it is, the very last thing the dreadful relics “competing” for our vote want is genuine voter participation.

  • zmollusc

    This has doubtless been said before, but i think the lack of enthusiasm for voting is down to the realisation that the result doesn’t affect how the country is run.
    We don’t get to vote on whether we stay in the EU, or what campaigns our armed forces are sent on, or what our immigration policy should be, or what priorities our police should have. Instead we get to choose which suit occupies No.10 and makes decisions in our name which feather his own nest and repay the favours that got him in that position.
    Yes, different ‘leaders’ would make different decisions, but there is no way to tell what decisions they will make, or what mad policies they will implement before giving them the reins for 4 years (yes, i have heard of manifestos, election pledges and the tooth fairy).

  • As I am sure some of you know voting is compulsory in Australia. In my own opinion I am sure that no one would vote at all if it was not. However when people are forced to vote, generally the apathetic youth vote for parties they do not believe in.

    Maybe that would mean that labour would get in again.

  • GCooper

    While agreeing with much that has been said about this atrocious proposal, my instinct is that zmollusc gets closest to the truth about why people don’t vote.

    It’s because we aren’t allowed to get our grubby little hands within a yard of any lever worth touching.

    The sooner Hoon and his tame troup of performing Marxist lawyers are dangling from cranes (they get some things right in Iran) the better.

  • John R

    Voting is NOT compulsory in Australia. It is only compulsory to attend the polling station and have your name crossed off the voting list. You are then issued with a ballot paper which you can place unmarked in the box. Many people (so-called “informal votes”) do this.

  • Oh God, don’t give my own gummint ideas…

    We had yet another empty, pork-laden CanaDUH Day celebration. Only good thing about it for me is, I had my booth out on the green and raked in almost $500 sketching faces.

  • If we’re not going to the polling stations it’s because we’re deeply unimpressed with the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem offerings. Forcing us into the booth won’t diminish our antipathy – it may actually deepen it.

    So a bitter electorate may vote but not for the ‘big’ three at all. Force the vote and I think we’ll see BNP, Veritas, the Greens and so on doing very well out of the deal.

    Then, instead of being a country of the apathetic, we’ll be a country of crackpot and extremist political parties.

    Well done New Labour. Still awesomely useless.

    GM

  • Matt

    Compulsory voting? Good luck to them, I expect we’ll just end up with millions of spoiled ballots, forcing a reform.

  • Verity

    G Cooper – Dangling from cranes! I hadn’t thought of that! Twisting in the wind … Mmmmmm …. cranes ….

    Gary Monro, above, has a good point. It’s Labour and the Conservatives who are turning people off and if people are forced to vote, I think they’ll vote for UKIP, Veritas, Respect and the BNP out of spite. Great plan, Hoon, old chap! Keep up the good work!

  • During his time as Defence Secretary, Hoon was universally referred to in military chatrooms as TCH.

    T stood for That
    H stood for Hoon

    What the c stood for, I’ll leave you to guess.

  • Bernie

    This is one measure I’d actually like to see get through though I don’t think it will. Obviously it is ridiculous to enforce the right to vote but it will make it necessary to have none of the above and/or abstain put on the list of candidates. I’m sure NOTA would get a few majorities which would lead to interesting election night TV if nothing else.

  • Julian Taylor

    Peter,

    I’d heard that from a number of other sources yet was not going to mention it on here. The other famous Hoon story is about him being presented with a disarmed Kalashnikov in Iraq and jokingly saying to the Brigadier who gave it to him, “Can we start the new round of defence cuts with you then”, then pointing the rifle at him. Not the most intelligent thing to do, even with a disabled rifle …

  • Pete_London

    Bernie

    Regarding NOTA above appearing on the ballot paper, Steve Sutton has it about right:

    At least Hoon does want there to be an option on ballot paper labelled “None of These”. Even this, however, is dangerous when politicians get hold of it. If I were to take advantage of the facility to vote “None of These”, I should like it to be interpreted as:

    “I do not want any of these (or anyone else for that matter) legislating on my behalf. There are more than enough laws already. I think we should stick with the old ones and give making new laws a rest for a few years.”

    In practice, when the likes of Hoon get to put such a box on a ballot paper, it will be interpreted as:

    “I do not mind which one of these (or anyone else) legislates on my behalf. Just pass all the laws you like; I don’t mind.”

    It would serve a more practical purpose if the only option stated ‘LABOUR’. For once we’d see honesty in government and the bovine masses may finally wake up to what is happening in their name.

    Julian Taylor

    Thirty seconds later and I’m still slapping myself about the head over that. Such stories can be apocryphal of course, but we know already that in ‘buff’ Hoon we had the Alan Partridge of politics in charge of the Armed Services. That story has the whiff of truth and I only hope that the Brigadier gave him a dressing down for such towering idiocy.

  • Steve M

    Just wondering about the mechanics of compulsory voting. No doubt a huge enforcment organisation (OfPoll?) will be ceated, and paid for by us all. But how will they know if you’ve voted? Electoral Registers are rubbish, depending on someone in each dwelling sending back a form each year, so the illiterate, the lazy, the disorganised and the bolshie don’t get their names on the list. That won’t do… what else could we use? Ah.. the National ID Card database… and we can get OfPoll to drop some of it’s enormous budget into the black hole that is the ever-growing cost of this farrago. See.. joined-up government.

  • Verity

    There’s a nascent comment here about the vivid and prolific new world of postal voting, but I can’t quite get my head around it.

  • Compulsory voting?! Next thing you know, they’ll be making paying your taxes compulsory!

  • Findlay Dunachie

    I can’t help making the last comment (though no one will read it), having made the first.

    With the media almost barely able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time, Hoon’s nonsense will have been forgotten.

    With the successful (?) Olympic bid, the Live8 cacophany, the marches protesting (against what?) with the trashings in Bannockburn (English yobbos revenge?) and Stirling (mistaken for Sterling?), the G8 (never named), Africa (minus any Africans), Climate Change (US as saboteur) and finally, the London bombings (don’t blame the Muslims) what hope is that anyone will remember . . . er . . . compulsory voting?

    My suggestion: make voting compulsory, but attach no penalties for failing to do so.

    Isn’t that what the French do with EU legislation?