Mrs Thatcher's airhead revenge

`Only half of those under 24 will vote. Not voting is a fashion statement. It is cool'
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The Independent Online
Tempers are fraying. Things are getting fractious in this interminable campaign. When it's all over, one great relief will be to hear no more idiot vox pops: "They're all the same", "They're not going to do any good for me";"I don't like his smile." But the group who have been the most consistently maddening have been the young - Thatcher's Children - first-time voters.

They are the Don't Vote, Won't Vote, Don't Give a Damns - and they're smug and self-righteous about it too. Thatcher said there is no such thing as society - and large numbers of them appear to agree. They cause a great deal of angst and hand-wringing; what can we do to woo them back? Socially concerned leader writers and columnists have castigated the dismal failure of politicians to seduce them (Piers Merchant excepted). Why are politics not more "relevant" to the young? Why don't politicians address "their" issues? Oh, where have we gone wrong?

Only some 49 per cent of 18-24-year-olds say they are certain to vote, according to MORI, and that is 10 per cent fewer than at this stage during the last election. It is just not hip to vote. Not voting is a fashion statement. Not voting is cool.

Exhibit A: The Face magazine this week features a bank of young people, many of whom will not vote. There is Helen Hunte, make-up artist, who says, "They don't look like me, they don't think like me, so I'm not voting. Labour might have a few bands on their side to make them seem more hip and trendy but it doesn't wash with me." Dave Deacon, body-piercer, says, "I just can't see any real difference one from the other. But then I'd probably vote for the cash-in-hand party." Amber Rose, student: "Politics in this country isn't directed at young people. It's still very much a middle-class system and I'm not sure if I'm going to vote yet." Sandra Horton, computer support analyst: "It doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. I'm not voting this time because I don't know enough about politics." There you have it - airheads and know-nothings.

Exhibit B: Natasha Walter, young Guardian columnist, writes on their leader page this week "Don't Vote, Don't Care". Why not? Because, she says, politicians have failed to address the key issues: poverty, the destructiveness of the motor car, Britain's involvement with the arms trade, equality for women and blacks. How not voting will do anything to help these causes she does not say. She does say, however, that it would be worth voting if we had proportional representation. But how does she think we will get PR except by voting for the only parties promising a referendum on it? Indeed, to all those young who hate the narrow choice on offer, the chance of PR is the one issue that should get them out to vote: next time they could have a rainbow of choices. As for not voting because of poverty, the car and the arms trade, that will not do: you are obliged to vote for even minuscule improvement for those worse off.

Exhibit C: Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, Ecstasy) writes in Loaded magazine this week with real anger on behalf of the "disadvantaged and disaffected". He complains of "all the bollocks talked by essentially well-meaning but fundamentally misguided people along the lines of `It's your duty to vote!' ... I fuckin' loathe and detest the Tories as much as anybody, including the ones in the Labour party ( which these days means just about all of them)." So what's he going to do about it? He asserts his right not to vote until "this democracy modernises itself to become truly representative and not just for the rich playing a load of disparate consumer groups off against each other." But how is democracy going to "modernise itself" unless he votes for it?

Anger I can understand. But anger seems to have addled his brains. To vote is not to commit yourself to anything or anyone - most people hold their nose when they vote. A vote is not a precious gift which you're damned if you are going to bestow on any undeserving bastard; one lot of bastards is always more undeserving than the other. Withholding your vote does not punish those you hate. Not voting is cutting off your nose to spite your face, an act of mindless self-destruction, something Welsh knows all about; it may indeed fit his view of the world. It is a surreal act, achieving nothing except in your own secret universe.

The anger of the dispossessed and the unmentionable poor is an understandable reason for them not to vote - more than 80 per cent of young blacks won't - but that doesn't make it a good reason. Few of us will ever get the chance to vote for a party of our dreams, but there is always the least worst option. It does not endorse the system to vote and it certainly does not send out shock-waves of protest if you don't. So what will happen if many fewer people vote this time? It will only be a minor footnote; the world will move on just the same. It will not force the politicians to delve into the dark night of their souls and ask themselves why they are not more loved.

Irvine Welsh may be wrong but at least he is impassioned. The airhead know-nothings in The Face are the ones that make you despair. Rock the Vote, a clever campaign to persuade the young to get on to the electoral register, succeeded in getting 300,000 young people to sign on by the 20 March deadline. Charles Stewart-Smith, its organiser, has done so well by telling them that voting is an individualistic thing, not a joining thing. They don't like joining anything. What's wrong with them, I ask? He tries to put a positive spin on it: "People often call the young apathetic, but I don't think they are." The evidence? "Well, two-thirds of them have been on some kind of animal rights demonstration." Oh. Wonderful. That's really good to know. We both laugh, otherwise you'd cry.

Who do you blame? Possible culprits include: Thatcher and all her works, a dud education system, dumbed-down yoof culture and dimly patronising TV programmes. I don't, for once, blame the politicians - every time they make the error of appealing to the young, it makes you cringe. And, in any case, the young are like the rest of us - to be persuaded on a raft of issues, not bribed with youth issues such as the Criminal Justice Act, drug laws or student grants. In the end, I blame the young themselves. They will, of course, grow up - but probably not by Thursday.

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