Home > Ferret Report > You’re So Apathetic You Probably Don’t Care That This Is About You

You’re So Apathetic You Probably Don’t Care That This Is About You

Today I hear that Joey Barton, a footballer for some team somewhere (I don’t follow football, I’m sorry), has caused controversy by making a sexist comment on national television.

While on Question Time, Barton went on the offence towards a UKIP MEP who was bragging about how popular her party had become in the European elections. He pointed out that 60% of the UK population never even bothered to turn up to vote in the first place, so it’s not like they really have the majority of the population’s support. He then stated, rather unfortunately, that picking a political party in this country is like walking into a room with four ugly girls and picking the least ugly one to sleep with.

The media are in uproar over this comment, stating that it was sexist and shallow and utterly offensive. Certainly, it was a clumsy analogy, but I am honestly more offended by the way the media have leapt on this guy to shame the way he expressed a view that had a legitimate amount of truth behind it. Perhaps the media should be talking about the point he was making instead of focusing on the way he made that point.

His point was this: the UK, and in fact much of the developed world, has a severe crisis with political apathy. You only need to look at the figures for the recent local and European elections to see this. Only about 30% of the population voted. 60% of the population couldn’t even be bothered. Why is this?

Barton provided a decent, if slightly stupid and sexist, analogy. To remove the sexism, here’s a better analogy Barton could have used:

You’re offered a selection of four sandwiches. However, all of them are massively out of date and have started to grow mould. In addition, the ham’s looking a bit furry and the salad’s gone brown. You must eat one of these sandwiches. So you pick the one with the least mould on it. It’ll still make you sick later, but at least it won’t make you quite as sick as the other three.

There. That’s a more neutral analogy behind political apathy in the UK. No one has any faith in any politicians. No one trusts Parliament. 60% of this country feels that out of all the choice they are offered at elections, not one of those parties represents them, and so they don’t even turn up. And that is absolutely shocking.

Even for those of who did vote, apathy strikes again, and the analogy comes into sharp focus. At my local elections, I voted for Labour not because I strongly agree with their policies and think highly of them, but simply because I’m largely indifferent to them while I hate the other parties – the Tories want to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, the Lib Dems have become a wishy-washy middle party with no real principles and UKIP are the Tories but more racist, sexist and homophobic.

In fact, the only reason I voted at all was because I wanted to dent UKIP’s success. Again, not because I strongly wanted to see Labour in, but simply because they were the least awful choice in a sea of awful choices, and could possibly keep what I saw as absolutely the worst choice out.

The truth of the matter is, people don’t trust politicians. It’s not hard to see where this distrust comes from. Look at everything in 21st century politics:

  • Blair sending us off to a couple of illegal wars despite massive public opposition and failing to be punished for this decision
  • Cameron’s statement that “we’re all in it together” regarding austerity measures and then failing to impose any austerity measures on the rich
  • The expenses scandal which continues to rear its ugly head, most recently with Maria Miller
  • Clegg stating that the Lib Dems would not raise tuition fees if they were elected and then gleefully tripling them as soon as they formed an unwanted political alliance with the Tories
  • Outright asking grassroots movements why the public have such apathy when it comes to voting and then proceeding to dismiss every legitimate survey answer with the political equivalent of #NotAllMen and rambling on about demographics for some reason

We also see it in the aftermath of UKIP’s rise in the recent elections. Many Lib Dem members want Nick Clegg to step down as leader because he’s clearly toxic now, but he’s staunchly refusing despite popular opinion that he should. There’s also a clear desire for the UK to talk about Europe, and Labour are still refusing to give people a referendum on the matter. I initially didn’t want one because I’m pro-EU (although it isn’t perfect), but now I want us to have one because a lot of people do want to have the opportunity to have their say. And also so people can stop banging on about it.

What’s more, we are eternally being treated like children on political issues, with a focus on there always being a right and a wrong answer, with there being two sides that you must choose on every issue. You can never be nuanced, you can never be a mixture of both sides, you can never debate the issue on a sensible, adult level.

Politicians talk in these black and white absolutes all the time, and quite frankly it’s alienating people. I don’t know who to vote for on Europe because the left are staunchly pro-EU with no concessions to change and the right are staunchly anti-EU with a desire to leave the EU at all costs. My view is that we should stay in the EU but fight harder for our interests and discuss with other countries about how to improve the union as a whole, because it is flawed. No party seems to share that view; it’s either “the EU is always right” or the “the EU is always wrong”.

And the media doesn’t help. The whole post-election coverage has been a distraction. There’s a lot of talk about UKIP’s rise, but no talk about the problem with more than half of the population not voting. We’re seeing this again in the desire to ignore Barton’s point and focus on the way he said it instead. Gosh, isn’t it sexist he screwed up his analogy? I guess his opinion no longer matters now!

But then the fact we had a footballer, not known for intelligent political discussion, on a political discussion programme speaks volumes about the problems with media and politics as a whole. The entire thing has become a carnival sideshow, focused on the superficial and the celebrity instead of real issues.

And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want a circus clown in charge of managing government spending. And yet, that’s the only option we seem to have. Is it any wonder why people don’t care and feel that none of this affects them?

So please, UK media, let’s take the focus off a man’s stupid comment and put the focus on the point he was trying to make. Maybe if people can see that their apathy is being properly recognised they’ll start to pay more attention. Just a thought.

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