‘A leader is a dealer in hope’, said Napoleon. Ed Miliband doesn’t give fill me with hope. Neither does David Cameron. And one of those two men is going to lead this country in a few short weeks. The second tier of parties is no better. Few people are inspired and motivated by Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or Natalie Bennett. In fact, it is hard to point to a comparable time in British political history when the key figures have been so soporific.
Whatever your political standpoint, it’s irrefutable that this general election matters. The direction in which this country goes, politically, economically, socially and culturally is going to be massively impacted by the outcome. There are huge decisions waiting for whoever walks into Downing Street on the 8th of May, decisions like how to address the deficit and national debt, how to deal with a housing crisis, immigration policy, eradicating poverty and setting foreign policy. I defy you to find someone completely unaffected by the next government.
And yet in spite of this people simply don’t vote in this country. In 2010, 65% of eligible voters voted. That means that for whatever reason, 35% of people decided to stand on the sidelines and reject their democratic right. In the upcoming election, it’s widely predicted that as few as 60% of people will take part. It hasn’t always been this way. In 1950, some 84% of those who could voted. Between 1950 and 2010, the number of people who elected not to vote more than doubled. It is because of this that we have to ask ourselves what it is that changed in those 60 years?
It’s too simplistic to say it’s just the leaders – even if the 1950 election featured Churchill and Clement Attlee, as compared to Gordon Brown and David Cameron. It’s arguable that there is less political ground between the two parties now than there was then. This is visible in areas like economic policy, where both the Conservatives and Labour cling to Austerity. Whilst academics argue that two fairly centrist parties is a natural evolution for a developed democracy, many would-be voters are enraged by what is widely termed as ‘a lack of choice’, rendering voting redundant. Additionally, many would-be voters are worried that a vote for the party of their choice is actually a vote for a coalition that they don’t necessarily support. Beyond this, some people are just repelled by the cesspit that is election politics.
I don’t have the answers. Not by a longshot. But Britain stands together at the crossroads of history, and we need a person to cross with. Someone worth getting excited about. Someone who represents a party that is more than just a left or right shift of what we have come to know as the norm. Where is Britain’s Obama?