Friday, March 25, 2005


In New Zealand, the question of how dissatisfied left-wing voters can convey their disgust to Labour centres around which minor party to vote for. In Britain, it seems to have a different answer: not voting. With an election imminent, it seems that Labour voters are not even bothering to enrol; voter registration is down nationally, but the drop is overwhelmingly concentrated in safe Labour seats. And the reason is fairly obvious: Iraq. What's sad is that rather than registering a protest vote against Blair over this issue, traditional Labour voters are turning off elections entirely.

Not that this is a particularly new trend. In 2001, spurred by disgust at Blair's continuation of Thatcherite policies, traditional Labour supporters stayed away from the polls in droves. The utter collapse of the Conservative party meant a landslide for Blair, but it was a "landslide" of a mere 10.7 million votes - less than the 14 million which saw John Major hold onto power by his nails in 1992, and less even than the 11.5 million which saw neil Kinnock defeated. Nationally, turnout plummeted from 71% (itself a record low) to 59% - and to as low as 35% in parts of Labour's former industrial heartland.

This is the sign of a democracy in crisis. Turnout could drop below 50% this election, and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Tony Blair. Oh, the politicians will blame "apathy", of course - but it is not apathy, it is disgust. And under the UK's archaic simple plurality ("first past the post") voting system, with its carpet-bagged safe seats, there's no real outlet for it.

What's ironic is that Blair came into office full of Third Way ideas about "democratising democracy" and getting people to vote. Well, I can think of one obvious way he could achieve that: resign.