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.”

choice. But

‘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.

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