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Apathy, corruption and the EU elections

Written by Jameela Raymond on Tuesday, 27 May 2014

34.2% of Britons voted in last week’s European Election. A noticeably low turnout this is a decrease from 2009’s 34.7% and a more significant drop from the 38% in 2004


34.2% of Britons voted in last week’s European Election. A noticeably low turnout this is a decrease from 2009’s 34.7% and a more significant drop from the 38% in 2004. Attempts to understand this falling engagement with democracy have varied for years, but there are reoccurring themes in the most recent explanations: disconnection, frustration and apathy.

Interestingly many on social media have been quick to blame Russell Brand for using his celebrity status to encourage anti-election sentiment among the British public particularly young people. But it is common knowledge that political apathy in the UK preceded Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Brand in 2013, and the turnout in the last few European Elections is testament to this. Instead, in asking, “Why vote? Nothing changes anyway,” Brand articulated the disconnection that many have felt with British politics for years, resulting in part from the unaccountability of those in power.

Frustration has arisen as the public’s trust and faith in our parties and those who lead them has been abused, largely due to the frequent revelations of corruption in politics. When those elected into power abuse their authority, the entire political system suffers and the integrity of democracy is eroded once again.

Exposed scandals over expenses, lobbying, and revolving door issues illustrate the commonplace cross-party corruption that is taking place and confirm the widespread belief among citizens that politicians are not to be trusted. From self-interested legislation and expenses scandals to concerns around the influence of powerful media owners distorting the decision making of UK politicians, there are wide-ranging expectations that politicians will not hesitate to put themselves before the people.

The rhetoric that politics is dirty and unethical is nothing new. But what is being done to cleanse the system in the UK? In recent years we have seen an extremely poor Lobbying Bill pass through Parliament but also some significant steps in the UK’s fight against corruption including commitments to implement a public register of company owners and the first ever joined up government anti-corruption action plan.

But these are just steps and there is a long way to go. Many positive political achievements are often forgotten in the wake of a corruption scandal, and surveys show that trust in government is falling.

According to TI’s most recent Global Corruption Barometer 90% of British people believe that the UK Government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest. From the same report, 66% believe that political parties are extremely corrupt (see Veronika Nováková‘s visualisation to the right).

All political parties must act with urgency to demonstrate to the public that they are cleaning up politics and can be trusted. A good first start would be to put a cap on individual donations to political parties and introduce tougher regulation of lobbying and the revolving door.

In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, it is crucial that we see an active effort from the government to encourage voting and restore faith in democracy and the electoral process. With increased transparency, accountability and space for legitimate political participation, we can have a more involved electorate and improve the reputation of British politics.

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Read 9996 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47
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Jameela Raymond

Jameela is Transparency International UK's Senior Policy Officer. You can follow her on Twitter @jameelaraymond

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