Make voting compulsory—and promote thoughtfulnessby / December 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Let’s start with some practical changes in Britain. I would make it compulsory for people to vote in general elections. If you live in a society, that’s part of the deal, along with paying your taxes. Compulsory voting would be conditional, of course, upon there being a box on the ballot paper marked “None of the above.” To require citizens to make the minimal effort of going to a polling station every few years seems to me the least that anyone could be expected to do.
I’d put limits on the length of time an MP can represent a constituency. Two terms in parliament is quite enough to see what someone has to offer. They can have a third term, maybe, if they’re a member of the cabinet or shadow cabinet, or chair of an important parliamentary committee. If you allied that with the requirement to have had a proper job before going into politics, you might start to see a political class which is representative of the country as a whole. We don’t have that now: the present system requires you to strike an attitude at 18 or 19 and never to deviate as you make your way up the greasy pole. The system rewards cases of arrested development. No thoughtful person can indefinitely justify things they thought when they were a teenager. I want parliament to be made up of representatives who think about things, instead of slavishly obeying the whips. While we’re at it, we could turn the Palace of Westminster into a museum and invent a new parliament, probably somewhere outside London.
Politics apart, I’d make every young person learn to cook, so they’re free of the tyranny of the food industry. Governments will take on the tobacco industry but lack the guts to tackle a business cramming so much sugar and salt into foods that they’re creating an obesity epidemic before our eyes. The argument that consumption of junk food is a personal freedom simply doesn’t cut it. Injecting any kind of drug into your arm is a personal freedom. So is not wearing a crash helmet or a seat belt. All behaviour is a matter of personal choice. Society is entitled to put some restrictions on what people do to themselves, because society has to pay the costs for the consequences of their actions.
As for the world, there are far too many of us crammed onto this planet, and some sort of sensible family planning is urgently needed. Education of women is, famously, the solution. But I’m not sure we have the time to wait.
At home, the very obvious decline in everyday manners is one of the early consequences of overcrowding. Just look at what happens on public transport or the pavements at the height of the annual tourist invasion. We are powerless to act because we too are, or have been, tourists. But we have to disabuse ourselves of the idea that tourism, of itself, is a good thing.
And, instead of the self-absorbed obsession with mindfulness, what about promoting thoughtfulness? Concern for others instead of concern for oneself. It came to me the other day, watching an old and clearly infirm lady standing up on a swaying Tube train while two children sprawled on seats, their indifferent mothers sitting between the two of them. Two children occupying seats while an old lady stood!
I begin to sound like a retired colonel from Stratford-upon-Avon. But I don’t think the world has gone to hell in a handcart. It’s still a beautiful and precious place. It’s just that we have not learned how to manage the consequences of affluence.