Disengaged, disillusioned: millions opt out in UK
Inside the Paradise Mini-Mart, older residents of Manchester’s notorious Moss Side district are taking a young man to task for his refusal to vote in next month’s British election.
“If we don’t vote we’ll get the Conservatives again,” Clive Sobers, a 52-year-old decorator, tells Badar Waberi, sipping a drink in the small store.
As one of millions of people expected to opt out of the May 7 poll, the 23-year-old Waberi counters that not voting could be a constructive form of protest.
“We can make a change don’t vote,” he says.
Like most people on Moss Side, Sobers supports the opposition Labour Party, even if his expectations are low.
“When they get in the chair they forget all of you,” says the decorator, who has come to top up his phone credit, his hands still covered in paint.
Moss Side has shed its once fearsome gangland reputation, but after the 2010 general election, it made the headlines for a different reason as part of the constituency with the lowest turnout in Britain.
Just 44.3 percent of voters cast their ballots in Manchester Central, compared to a national average of 65.1 percent — in itself, one of the lowest in the last 70 years.
This year, there have been national campaigns urging people to register to vote and a plethora of mobile applications helping unde-
if we cided voters make a apathy persists.
“Everyone’s just given up,” said Emma Rippingham, a 35-year-old carer from Moss Side who popped into the Mini-Mart to buy some tobacco.
“They’ve given up on themselves, given up on the area. They’ve got no faith in anyone any more.”
Like Sobers, however, she intends to vote to try to stop Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s reelection.
Noor Bashir, the 51-year-old shopkeeper, is more positive. He has a Labour poster in the window and is actively encouraging his customers to back the center-left party.
“We have a big cake and when Labour comes into power we will have a little bit,” he says, demonstrating with a chocolate bar. He adds: “Without voting, we lose a lot of things.”
‘I don’t believe them’
Young people are particularly unlikely to vote next month, with a recent survey suggesting just 16 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are certain to cast their ballot.
But many are disillusioned rather than apathetic.
Waberi, for example, is not voting but spends his spare time trying to persuade members of Moss Side’s substantial Somali community to do so.
“I have my own right to not vote because I know that nothing is going to come out of it,” he told AFP.
There is similar cynicism up the road at the University of Manches- ter, where the lush lawns of the campus are a sharp contrast with the bare terraced streets of Moss Side.
Dominic Meagher, a 22-yearold chemistry student, intends to vote but says: “I don’t believe what they’re saying to me is true.”
Many young people are turned off by the tone of the mainstream political debate, and commonly complain that the party leaders do not speak their language.
And while some of their main concerns, such as the state-run National Health Service and university fees, are campaign issues, others such as the environment are almost wholly absent.
‘Not my cup of tea’
Back in Moss Side, some people admit they just don’t care.
“I’ve never voted. It’s just not my cup of tea, really,” says Dale Selby, a 26-year-old scaffolder heading home after work with a warm kebab in his hand.
Local Labour councilor Sameem Ali said such attitudes made her “really angry.”
“If you don’t vote then you don’t have a voice. There are a lot of politicians out there who work to make a difference, and who do make a difference,” she told AFP.
But in a such a safe Labour seat, even rival politicians can barely summon up the energy to act.
“It doesn’t matter what you do in Manchester Central, it’s going to be the same result every time,” said John Reid, who is standing for the centrist Liberal Democrats.