Mark Thomas starts his own think-tank
My new think-tank will cure voter apathy: we will offer prizes and air miles and allow you to swap y
The chairman of the Electoral Commission, Sam Younger, is worried that turnout could fall to less than 50 per cent at the next general election. This would give anarchists the all-important statistic to proclaim victory. The state will immediately collapse, as anarchos proudly declare: "We have a mandate not to govern the country!" Crowds waving black flags will spill on to the streets for a victory celebration, as bailiffs are sent in to Downing Street to evict Blair for squatting. Obviously, the Blair family wouldn't be homeless for long - if the worst came to the worst, they could always stay at one of the Meachers' 12 properties.
Younger claims that voter apathy "may open the door for extremists", apparently unaware that the illegal invasion of a country, the introduction of internment without trial, and selling arms to every human-rights abuser left of al-Qaeda is hardly the work of moderates. Parliament is worried that its moral authority would be undermined, and if it had any I would agree.
Polls are commissioned and think-tanks funded to investigate our apparent apathy. And the conclusions are . . . we don't trust politicians. Well, sprinkle my latte with cinnamon! Not trusted, you say? Money well spent for that insight, say I. That anyone in a coma for the past ten years could have told you that is irrelevant.
"People are not interested in politics," cry the pundits. But what was the anti-war movement, if not political? What the pundits mean is that "people are not interested in the politics we want them to be interested in". Namely, voting for a particular brand. The declining interest in party politics might be linked to the fact that on every major issue from the invasion of Iraq through genetically modified crops to the privatisation of the Tube or safety on the railways, people's strongly held opinions have been ignored by government.
A "Big Conversation"? We are merely waiting for them to say: "We've listened, now fuck off!"
Our vote has been devalued. There is now
little difference between the mainstream political parties. Economically, they all inhabit the same ground, pro-big-business and pro-privatisation. If we can't determine how our utilities, transport and industry are run, how can this be a democracy?
A senior figure in the World Trade Organisation said that, once a country signs up to the WTO, it is committed to a rolling process of privatisation. It is like putting on "a golden straitjacket"; and once the economics are set in stone, political parties converge to inhabit the same ground. That is where we are now.
In spite of this, there are options. First, we can continue to pay shedloads of public money to think-tanks to come up with quick-fix ideas such as voting in supermarkets or on the toilet or introducing free bar snacks at polling stations. Frankly, this looks like easy money, so I am setting up my own think-tank. I haven't got a name for it yet, but it will feature the words "public", "policy", "rope", "money" and "old".
Here are the considered opinions of my think-tank.
If you want the status quo to continue, but an increased turnout, don't bother with easier postal voting or online stuff. Introduce tear-off coupons on the bottom of voting slips that offer discounts on popular brands. Not only would this get my grandmother voting, but she would ensure the rest of the family voted, too, because "you'll not leave those going begging".
Give it a bit more razzmatazz. Get Davina McCall and Patrick Kielty to host the election. There is no factual basis for this proposal, other than that the process couldn't be any more irrelevant than it is already. And the government could raise 25p on every vote texted.
Have fun with it. Introduce prizes and offer air miles for each election voted in! Make sure every election broadcast and debate has a swimwear competition. John Prescott and Ann Widdecombe in their Speedos would increase numbers of viewers just in terms of morbid fascination.
One thing that mistakenly got me to vote in 1997 was Jim Davidson's promise to leave the country should the Tories lose. So, should they lose again, let's enforce his offer with compulsory deportation - preferably to South Africa. Ben Elton to go should Labour lose. Bernard Manning to be deported as a promotional offer.
Or allow people to swap their vote here for a vote in America. That way, they would actually have a say in Britain's foreign policy. Let those interested in agricultural policy swap their vote for shares in Monsanto.
Alternatively, the electoral advances of the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and various independents will continue to reflect the groundswell not of apathy but of anger. Instinctively, people have always mistrusted politicians, but maybe now more than ever they are aware that MPs need us more than we need them.