As things presently stand, the next general election will be decided by apathy and anger. The financial crisis has brought long-simmering resentments to the boil. While the government is on the receiving end of much of the resulting vitriol, there is an increasing awareness that the Conservative solution bears a startling resemblance to the policies that got us here in the first place. The result could be an election that sets a new low in voter turnout; though that is preferable to an election that bucks the trend of recent years thanks to a surge in support for the BNP.
In an effort to engage the millions of people who were uninspired by the last election- to say nothing of the 4m or so new non-voters who were too young not to bother in 2005- politicians of all parties have turned to the internet. Impressed by the success of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the sheer size of activist groups such as MoveOn.org, they hope that they too can raise funds and mobilise supporters online. They are quickly learning that the internet cannot be treated as just another medium for the message: you cannot 'use' new technologies to catapult people from sofa to voting booth, you can only use them to communicate, and whether people respond depends on what you're saying. So far, the likes of ConservativeHome, LabourList, WebCameron and GoFourth have not been saying anything new. There are many websites out there offering much more to the progressive-minded browser, with newspapers, think-tanks, charities, journals, and bloggers all serving up cutting-edge content.
But the profusion of progressives sites is not without its problems. Political parties run for election; the blogosphere does not, and even if it did, it would probably prove too fractured and fractious to have much of an impact. Disembodied designs need living advocates, and the force of the better argument is even more dilute in the real world than in its virtual counterpart. True, the internet makes it possible to organise petitions and protests on a massive scale, and online activism of this ilk can certainly influence policy-makers. But because there is no relay connecting these single-issue campaigns to the world of electoral politics, politicians feel able to ignore them with relative impunity.
DoSomethingAboutIt.org.uk, a new progressive group, aims to change this situation. The website is at heart a rolling petition, one that enables members to stay connected from campaign to campaign so they can back up their protests with a coordinated electoral response. The organisation aims to work alongside existing think-tanks, charities, pressure groups and discussion forums, combining the expertise, ideas and commitment of political activists with the numerical strength of busy but concerned individuals frustrated by the lack of an electorally viable progressive alternative to a defunct status quo. If enough people join, we can make that progressive alternative electorally viable- empowering progressive MPs and candidates of all political denominations to speak up, and providing tools for progressives all over the country to coordinate their time, resources and votes, constituency by constituency, once an election is called. It's free to sign up, and you can do as much or as little as you want- even just by registering, you are showing politicians that there is a constituency for genuine change in this country, and helping to put a progressive agenda on the political map.
The best cure for apathy is something worth voting for; but we need to act now to choose later. If our leaders won't lead us, we will have to lead them. To do that, we have to organise- fast.
One action you can take
Fill in our survey and tell us the issues that matter to you and the skills you would like to contribute and learn
What are the issues that matter to you? We don't know! That's why we want your views!
That's why I was pleased to see Henry Porter talk frankly about the effects on young people of the economic downturn on Sunday's comment is free. Porter seems to recognise and say explicitly that the major losers in Britain during this financial downturn will be young people.
Youth unemployment, (ages 16-24) now stands at a staggering 16.1%. New Labour's focus on skills and education for all, though admirable, had one vital stumbling block. Skills and education can be wasted if jobs are not there. This is the case all over Europe, young, talented and educated people from southern Italy to Greece know only too well, skills and education on their own are useless. New Labour's faith in the invisible hand of the market has once again proven ill-founded. Although there will be high numbers of graduates in 2009, reports suggest the number of graduate level jobs has dropped by almost half.
Gordon Brown has responded by announcing his national internship programme. A good short-term fix but it will not stop young people's anxiety about stable and long term employment. Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters urged graduates to take lower paid work including bar work or stacking shelves. Well thanks Carl, but I never remember the Government's line after announcing student top up fees being “Go to university, you may end up with a considerable amount of debt and if you don't find graduate employment you can always stack shelves”. The propaganda was a whole lot different; go to university and you well earn more and be a lot more employable. The situation is made a whole lot worse because a living wage is not guaranteed.
Porter goes on to say;
“For the people who are going to pay for the lunatic exuberance of the last decade are not its perpetrators - largely the baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965 - but those born after 1985 and, by the way, several succeeding generations. To put it crudely, my generation has stolen from its children and grandchildren. It is they who will be affected by £20bn per annum shaved off services and for as long as anyone can predict.”
by Joe Cox, Compass Youth NEC Member