Nelson Mandela July 18, 1918 – December 5 2013
Whenever people say they ‘don’t vote‘ as if it were a rational choice, and something they can be proud of, I think back to the steady snaking voting queue that elected Nelson Mandela as president in 1994. Twenty million people stood all day in the hot sun to exercise their newly won right to democracy. The voter turn-out was nearly 90%.
At the last Suffolk county council election we in Woodbridge achieved the second highest voter turn-out in the county, a modest 42%. In some Suffolk divisions the turnout was less than 24% – that is 76 out of every 100 registered voters just simply didn’t bother to use their vote. Suffolk is not unusual. Even at the last general election when feelings were running high, national voting turnout was only 65%.
The reasons ? We’ve heard everything from “I never vote in local elections,” to “I don’t vote,” “I might vote for the wrong person“, “Politicians are all the same,” “What’s the point?“, “I was too busy,” “I didn’t remember.” (Not forgetting the flaccid Jeremy Paxman/Russell Brand attitude : designer disengagement. After all, you can only claim the moral highground and snipe unchallenged if you don’t pick a side. What a disgraceful, self-indulgently solipsistic way to look at your own society!)
Surely Mandela’s life shows clearly that if you want to effect any change, apathy and disengagement is no more of an option than bitterness.