BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: In Depth: Conferences: Liberal Democrats
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

banner Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Why vote?
The way to save democracy from apathy and disillusionment, felt most keenly by the young, has been discovered by MP Lembit Opik.

The way to get their attention, he says, is to dress politics up like Big Brother.

When asked by a Liberal Democrat student how on earth she could motivate her fellows to vote, the Lib Dems' Northern Ireland spokesman said: "Explain to them it's like Big Brother.

"There's 24 people who live in this big house and they are called the cabinet, and there's 24 other people who want to live in that big house and you get to vote on which ones will stay there."

He was speaking on the Lib Dems conference fringe at Bournemouth during the Hansard Society's debate on voter apathy - which, luckily, was well attended.

The light-hearted debate had a serious edge and joking aside the Mr Opik pointed out that as people's standard of living was relatively decent in the UK and serious discontent was relatively unknown turnout would never be total.

Turning to Northern Ireland he said that in the province, everybody was politically engaged and everyone was well informed but "if the price we pay to get everyone to vote is the Troubles then I'd rather see lower turnouts."

Warming to his theme, he said that when people are really dissatisfied they act: "People really enjoyed voting in the 1997 election because they were getting rid of something they really hated."

The way politicians could re-connect was to listen to the voters, respond to their concerns and "prove that you have listened."

"It's not rocket science," he said, while adding an even more radical thought that politicians could gain the public's respect by admitting it when they are wrong.

But for fellow panel member Simon Carr, sketch writer for the Independent, there was no other phrase to describe the relationship between the public and their elected representatives but "disillusion and alienation".

Politicians just weren't like other people, he said, all they were concerned with was acquiring power.

"They have more in common with each other than the voters, and ministers have more in common with ministers than with MPs. and the prime minister has nothing in common with anyone except other prime ministers", he said.

Chipping into the debate, the new Lib Dem peer Baroness Northover said that politicians couldn't help but seem removed from the voters as their lifestyle in Westminster left them completely detached from their families, disconnecting them from everyday realities.

Proportional representation might help people feel that their vote would actually count more and combat the feeling in the population that "politics is really boring," she ventured.

But just as everything began to seem a bit gloomy Lembit Opik spoke up, saying "politics isn't doing too badly in the UK, people aren't too concerned by what's going on." After all, he said, "nobody here is being executed for their beliefs."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Liberal Democrats stories are at the foot of the page.


Links to more Liberal Democrats stories