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And the winner is… nobody 7 May 2011

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Ponderings.
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Despite the widespread re-arrangement of political seats throughout the United Kingdom as a result of the local and national elections; despite the astounding achievement of a Scottish National Party majority, in a system deliberately-created to prevent such an outcome; despite the (to my mind) intellectually-incomprehensible rejection of a very modest attempt at electoral reform; despite all this and more, the strongest impression left on this writer, is that the strongest player now remains the strongest player at the start: apathy.

Low voter turnout is a well-known phenomenon in British, and wider Western, politics. Even as the repercussions of the “Arab Spring” are still developing, with mass expressions of dissatisfaction from the population changing the political map, the majority of those eligible to vote in the UK elections once again failed to show up. On the referendum for electoral reform the “unexpectedly high turnout” was still only 42%. Under those circumstances it doesn’t really matter what proportion of those who voted responded for a Yes or No. A clear majority, 58% voted for the Apathy Party, so to speak.

Nearly 6 people in every 10 couldn’t be bothered, didn’t understand, didn’t think it would be worth their while, or couldn’t use their vote.

I don’t really ‘do’ politics. Not really. I like to think I have some sort of understanding of the parties’ policies, and I distrust them all enough not to ally myself totally with any particular one of them. If asked I can give an answer for where I stand and what I’d like to see. (In this context that answer isn’t really an issue, and I suspect most of my readers know anyway). I understand that politics is in part the quintessentially English practise of the art of compromise. A failure to understand that seems to lie at the heart of the Liberal Democrat drubbing this week: it appears that many do not understand that a minority partner in a coalition cannot dictate the overall shape of policies but only seek to divert the worst and co-operate to bring about the best.

I am not a party political animal, and at many levels I don’t do ‘conviction’ politics. But I am a Christian and a Minister – which means I do ‘do’ conviction. I hold a set of principles of faith and conduct that underpin and inform my praxis. They are open to re-interpretation and change over time, but they are there, a mix of absolutes and preferences.

In the political sphere I cannot tell which proportions of the ‘apathy vote’ are based on a general contentment with the status quo, or a general dissillusionment and feeling of lack of empowerment among the electorate. I can only observe that in the arena of public faith and spirituality that there is a similar, but probably far greater level of apathy. Many, if not most who claim to be agnostic (which correctly applied means that we lack the evidence to form a conclusion) are actually meaning that finding an answer, one way or another, is not important enough to make the effort. The apathy I encounter seems to be one of generally benign and blithe presumptions. That of course there is some sort of divine and afterlife and all will be well, universally and irrespective of anything… unless someone has been ‘truly evil’ (which is never defined). Either that or an attitude is that what matters is that we remember those who’ve left us and that way they’ll never really be dead. (Whatever that means).

It would be well for those of us of faith conviction, whichever it is, to remember the parallels with political conviction. To ask ourselves what actually matters, and in doing so, by the lives we live, to encourage others to ask the questions.

A political institution will keep itself upright for as long as there are sufficinet believers to buy into it and support it, or at least to not actively oppose it. The same applies to faith institutions. Political and faith convictions may likewise apply to individuals, even if the institution crumbles to dust or is overthrown in turmoil – but deprived of structure they lose any real clout, and the road back to influence is long and hard.

The question that remains foremost in my mind, with regards to both politcs and faith, is how long will the inactions of the Apathy Party allow both to continue blithely onwards before they both collapse? Because if, or when, they do, it’s not apathy that will create anything in their places, but those minorities with the strongest voices of conviction and the willingness to act. We would do well to look at what those “successor voices” might be, and whether we really want those to be in control. And if we don’t, we need as a nation, as a culture and as individuals, to stop sleepwalking, to turn off the auto-pilot, and damned well get off our backsides and do something!

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