Apathy is perpetuated by those who prey on it

Nobody is listening

When Clare Solomon was elected ULU President in March 2010 the website counterfire.org proclaimed it a “Mandate for resistance” and told us that Ms Solomon planned “to use her victory as a springboard for a mass anti-cuts campaign”

However the figures told a different story to one of ‘mandates’ and ‘mass’. The University of London Union represents over 120,000 students and fewer than 750 of them voted for Ms Solomon. That’s less than 0.6% of those eligible to vote.

This pitiful result wasn’t a one off. In its celebratory missive counterfire identified four other recently elected members of a left wing “awkward squad”; Michael Chessum at UCL (540 votes out of about 20,000 UCLU members, or 3% of eligible voters), Louis Hartnoll at UAL (396 votes out of about 28,000 students, or 1%), Ashok Kumar at LSE (805 votes out of 9,900, or a relatively respectable 8% of eligible voters) and James Haywood at Goldsmiths (figures not available despite requests). These are the people who have the gall to question the democratic mandate of the coalition government (17.5 million votes from an electorate of 46 million, or 38%).

The consequence of student apathy towards these elections is that their representatives, elected by a bare handful of them, do not actually represent their views. A London Student poll, for example, found that two thirds of students opposed violent protest but the ‘awkward squad’ simply ignored this view. Chessum and Kumar signed a declaration supporting the Millbank rioters. Solomon refused to condemn them. Haywood, arrested at the scene, said “The occupation of Tory HQ was completely justified” Should we be surprised that people elected by a minority of students reflect a minority opinion?

But why is it that only left wing extremists seek to skip into the void left by apathy? They devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to these campaigns as they are the only elections they have any chance of ever winning. At the last general election parties to the left of Labour got less than 70,000 votes, not enough to fill Wembley Stadium. The British electorate is not interested in anything as left wing as what the ‘awkward squad’ and their like have to offer. Neither are students.

Sadly the presence of the ‘awkward squad’ encourages student apathy. Lots of students get motivated about an issue like tuition fees that directly effects them but they start to turn off when the ‘awkward squad’ types start prattling on about overthrowing capitalism. As the left wing journalist Nick Cohen wrote recently, “The pattern of British protest is set. Good causes draw hundreds of thousands of people into left-wing politics. After a brief period of exhilaration, they find themselves harangued by pinched-faced, spit-flecked demagogues who insist they must embrace violence and hate. They realise that the far-left is not interested in the issue at hand but only wants to entice new blood into its various cults so it can exploit their energies and empty their bank accounts. Disgusted and demoralised, they drift away”

So we end up in a downward spiral; minority interest, ‘awkward squad’ leaders furthering their own agendas put people off participating which makes it easier for them to get elected and push their agendas. It’s a disappointing prospect, but most students wont care.

London Student, 28/02/2011

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