Britain deserves more than stunts and soundbites

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Apathy is the clear and present danger of this election ­ a danger increased by the possibly illusory idea that the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Apathy is the clear and present danger of this election ­ a danger increased by the possibly illusory idea that the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

We can safely ignore the attempts by some senior ministers to suggest that the pitiful turn-outs in local and European elections ­ not to mention Westminster by- elections ­ during this parliament stem from popular contentment. It stems much more from a disaffection with mainstream politics and from a popular sense that individual votes have little influence outside a handful of key marginals. The result has been that Labour's much-vaunted landslide in 1997 was based on only three in every 10 electors voting Labour. If nothing else that is ample reason for the humility Tony Blair urged on his Cabinet this week.

We will wait with interest to see whether the campaigns ­ particularly the Government's ­ are really geared to increasing this perilously low level of participation. One way of doing so would be to engage in proper debate about the country's future rather than in a carefully managed series of soundbites and photo opportunities calculated to dumb down politics. There were some mildly hopeful signs yesterday, especially in the Prime Minister's avowed intent to fight to regain the public's trust. But we are not confident that this election will be conducted on a more adult plane than the last.

So we urge voters to take matters into their own hands. For unlike in 1997 there are real differences between the parties, notably on Europe and on the size and role of the state. Anyone with any feeling about Britain's future will have only themselves to blame if they stay at home on 7 June and dislike the outcome.

For our part, The Independent will report on the election campaign with the same authority and objectivity that has distinguished our coverage in every election since the newspaper's launch in 1986. Unattached to any party, The Independent is uniquely qualified to report ­ without bias ­ the first British general election of the new millennium.

We shall report with intelligence and impartiality throughout. This is a promise ­ unlike many you will hear over the next month ­ that will be kept.

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