There may be a shining silver lining to this dull, uninspiring campaign

Share

And so it is over, and, many will say, not a moment too soon after a campaign that seems to have dragged on for months.

And so it is over, and, many will say, not a moment too soon after a campaign that seems to have dragged on for months. Today all that matters for the parties is to get out the vote. This year, however, the task promises to be uncommonly hard, and if the experts are right, turnout at a general election will fall below 70 per cent for the first time since the Second World War.

Winston Churchill was right when he said no one pretends democracy is perfect, but it is precious and, looking around the world, there too many examples of people being killed and imprisoned in their fight for the basic human right of participating in the choice of government. But declining turnout is not necessarily a disaster. Elections are when the people speak; if they choose to stay silent, this could simply be that they are content with their lot. Alternatively, as may be the case in some Labour heartland seats, the silence could indicate surly discontent.

As in most mature democracies, the battleground of politics is an ever more crowded centre. There are major differences between the parties, as this election has shown, but most issues are shades of grey. There are no great clashes of ideology, just choices between different ways to manage a relatively prosperous country. The biggest decision facing our nation ­ whether to cross the Rubicon of the age and join the European single currency ­ will be resolved not in today's vote but in a referendum a year or two hence. Finally, the election result is widely assumed to be a foregone conclusion; rubber-stamping the inevitable is not a clarion call to the voting booth.

That said, however, there is no denying the trivialisation, and thus the inevitable marginalisation, of politics. Peaceful times are not an unmitigated blessing. Football matches may have replaced wars as outlets for nationalism; but, by the same token, substance is all too easily drowned in a celebrity culture's tide. For too many people, the results of the votes on Big Brother are more important than today's poll.

The party machines have made matters worse by their crafting of vacuous soundbites, their obsession with choreographed blandness and their terror of the spontaneous. Spontaneity, however, is the lifeblood of politics ­ which is why the abiding memory of the past month will not be a policy proposal, but that thumping Prescott punch.

In fact, on the occasions they have engaged more conventionally with voters, the leaders of the three main parties have performed well. All the more regrettable, therefore, that Tony Blair refused the challenge to go head-to-head on television. Debates might not have altered the underlying dynamic of the campaign, but they would have provided a jolt of raw political electricity, encouraging more people to vote.

In the event, "dreary" is likely to be history's adjective for campaign 2001. If the predictions are right ­ of a huge Labour majority achieved on one of the smallest turnouts on record ­ there will be much talk of a "democratic deficit", about how unhealthy it is that a party should be able to steamroller legislation through a captive parliament, even though it was supported only by a third or fewer of the electorate. But the fault is not with a Prime Minister who merely uses the tools the system gives him. It lies with those who do not vote and, above all, with a voting system that prizes strong government above truly representative government.

In this sense, at least, a mostly uninspiring campaign has a shining silver lining. By underlining the flaws in the first-past-the-post system and the need to make people feel that their vote counts, it has made the case for proportional representation more powerful than ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence