The general election is here, and once again the parties are falling over themselves to promise us the earth. They talk blandly about “fairness”, “opportunity”, “security” and “a better future”, doing their best to avoid saying anything meaningful.
But a whopping 83% of the UK general public do not trust politicians, according to a 2009 poll. Just 13% think that they tell the truth. MPs came bottom of the list of least trusted occupations – even lower than journalists and lawyers! This is hardly surprising. If anything, it’s hard to work out what the 13% who do still trust politicians are thinking – have they ever paid attention to an election campaign?
Everyone knows that parties make promises in their manifestos that they have no intention of keeping. For example, when first elected 13 years ago, Labour promised to end child poverty by 2010. Today 4m children in Britain are living in poverty – more than in any other European country. It’s not hard to find other examples of politicians lying through their teeth, from local councillors trying to inflate their own importance, to the massive pack of lies Tony Blair came out with to justify the invasion of Iraq. Events of 2009 further underlined how untrustworthy our rulers are, as many of them were revealed to be fiddling their expenses – despite earning £64,766 a year – and using various other sleazy tricks, such as employing members of their own families. Meanwhile many of the rest of have to scrape by on a minimum wage of £5.80 an hour.
Despite superficial differences in their rhetoric, in reality life under any of the parties will feature the same things – cuts to public services, attacks on pensions, over-crowded classrooms, job losses, poor housing, under-equipped hospitals, poor public transport, and more war. Before the economic crisis, politicians were coming out with wild claims about the end of the cycle of boom and bust – an idea few of them would defend today. Then when the banks went into meltdown, they threw billions of pounds at them. The official cost of the bank bailout is a staggering £850 billion. That’s a bill we will be forced to pay through cuts in public spending, no matter which party wins the election. Labour cuts will hurt as much as Tory cuts or Liberal Democrat cuts or Scottish or Welsh nationalist cuts.
But now it’s election time and politicians want our vote, so they’re desperate to convince us that they care what we think. Like spam emailers or nuisance callers trying to sell us car insurance we don’t need, they turn up on our doorsteps, push their leaflets through our letterboxes, and appear every night on our TVs. Of course once they get into parliament they won’t give us another thought for the next five years. But at the moment, they’re all over us like a rash.
Voting means accepting this rotten set-up, pretending that we have a meaningful say in how things are run. The fact is that politicians couldn’t really change anything even if they wanted to, because of the way the political system is set up. The main aim of parliament is to keep things going the way they always have, so that a rich few at the top have all the power and the vast majority of us have none.
Not voting or spoiling your ballot paper is a symbol of wanting something better. The millions and millions of us who won’t vote will be doing so because we don’t believe the lies the politicians come out with, because we recognise that they’re a part of our problems, not the answer to them, and because we want a better world.
Instead of voting for some politician’s empty promises to solve our problems, we’ll be talking to the people around us – our friends, families, neighbours and workmates – about what we can actually do to solve our problems ourselves. We believe that real change comes through direct action, solidarity and campaigning.