Through malls across the world, free market enthusiasts cry, "Fewer restrictions! More choice!", yet in chill cabinets in those malls, we're still faced with a selection of Coke, Pepsi or Fanta. Politics in the UK is similar: you're a Coke or a Pepsi person, though from time to time Fanta makes a nice change.
The very idea that this election offers voters the chance to choose their government is so far from the truth as to be wholly absurd. Like Pepsi and Coke, there's little to distinguish them. They're both fizzy sugar-packed, nutrient-free caffeine boosts that leave a bitter taste in your mouth and make your teeth furry. And, as Coke and Pepsi are diuretics, sucking water from your veins while claiming to rehydrate, the Labour and Conservative parties are sucking the last inch of soul from our politics while promising us a new improved Britain.
No choice, no point
"New Labour" and the Tories are so close that Labour won the last election by picking up the Tory Wet vote. On issues of policy, they are extensively indistinguishable. On issues of public interest, they skip back and forth across the dance floor of popular opinion, each trying to outmanoeuvre the other, while the tabloid dancemaster calls the steps. The whole Labour shebang has become a circus act. Tony attempts to walk the tightrope between effective politics and the lowest common denominator, tumbling from time to time into a bucket of mob rule. Jack Straw puts on a Punch and Judy show, while New Labour fillies canter around the ring in an attempt to look busy and secure a safer seat. Time to bring on the clowns! It's John Prescott, a man incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence, let alone oversee the most wide-ranging, integrated departmental rubbish bin -- "Let's put all the things we can't be bothered with into a big sack and give them to Two Jags to play with." Well, if a monkey can eventually churn out Shakespeare on a typewriter...
And in an attempt to inject some fresh material into this jaded format, the Millbank media machine provides fancy dress costumes to brighten up the lamest attempts to fix things. No press release escapes without its obligatory proclamation of "New Initiative", "Better Deal", "Holistic seamless services". What a load of bollocks. Do they really think we can't see past these emperor's new clothes to the pitiful amounts of money being given too late to our most precious public services? It'll take more than a few fancy brochures to fix eighteen years of Tory destruction. Now isn't the time to bring in the cowboy builders with a roll of elastoplast.
Talking of which, playground politics is all too visible on the other side of the House. Wasted afternoons spent in silly point-scoring, while the backbenchers whoop with delight at the childish insults being parried to and fro. Are they trying to impress us? Do they think this mindless battle to get the last insult in will command respect for them across the country? How do they think they appear to a student nurse, cleaning up after a sick patient in filthy neo-mediaeval surroundings, trying to provide first-class care on a third-class wage? Disgusting. So why aren't politicians talking about what really matters? Why have the Tories resorted to the inflammatory subjects of race, immigrants and the Euro in a desperate attempt to galvanize White Van Man into action at the polling station?
Because sorting out this horrible mess of a country is beyond them all. It's a downward spiral. All the money in the world can't fix Thatcher's legacy in five years. So, in order to fix things -- if they even want to -- Labour have to ensure a second term in government. As a result, they can't frighten White Van Man into ditching them after one term. So they can't do anything too radical. So it'll take even longer to fix things -- they'll need at least a third term. Which means that in the second term, they can't be too radical. Meanwhile, Charles Kennedy and his Lib Dem garden gnomes sit in the corner and glumly mutter, "I told you so," before going back to fish in their suburban water features.
So why bother voting?
The Guardian has a name for me. (It's good to know.) Apparently, I'm an apathachik. My God, they've got it so wrong. Charlotte Raven rants on about how rebellious she'll be by staying at home, and verbosely misses the point. We've seen from America, and The Kids at home today, that staying at home is interpreted by all parties as apathy. Both Tony and William have expounded at length on their desire to bring their message to the masses. If only we'd listen. "Sit down, children, while I tell you how important I am". Yet every day I hear people of all ages chatting on the bus -- they aren't voting because there's no discernible difference. Politics is a stitch-up. It isn't that no one cares -- it's that there's nothing to care about. And while this continues, both apathy and disillusionment will spread and the mindless point-scoring in the House will continue.
Look at the politicians who have retained popularity: Mo Mowlam, Martin Bell -- even Ann Widdecombe to an extent. They're perceived to be partly independent of this farcical schoolyard. But imagine if, rather than 50% of people not voting, 50% of people spoilt their ballot papers instead. What an indictment of politics that would be. A 50% vote of no confidence in every party and our whole political system.
To sum up: I believe that not voting is shamefully disrespectful to our grandmothers who struggled for suffrage. It's wrong not to use your ballot paper. In my view, if you don't make the effort to vote, even if it's not for any one party, then you should not be entitled to an opinion, or complain when you disagree with government policy. But spoiling your ballot paper is wholly valid. It certainly doesn't say, "I don't care". It's far from apathetic. It says, "I care, you're all rubbish, and I'm angry. Give me a real choice." It acknowledges the farce that British politics has become.
Comrades, go spoil their fun.