Text für LK Englisch
Voting's too good for 'em
The public cavil1 endlessly at politicians while wallowing2 in wilful3 ignorance and bitter prejudice
The Guardian, Friday June 4 2004
By Polly Toynbee
Politics is a curious business. Democracy is sacred and we go to war to bring its beneficence to benighted4
peoples. We celebrate as every decade it spreads further across a globe where now a majority of humans live
under its benign5 glow.
How odd then that democracy's high priests and priestesses, the politicians, are treated with almost
universal contempt. Democracy is holy, politics is lowly. "The people" are noble, while those they elect
But sometimes when you go out there on the street to watch democracy in action, the nobility of "the
people" is a lot less striking than the patience and tolerance of their servants, the politicians. It is
salutary to be reminded how much sheer pig-headed ignorance, nastiness, mean-spiritedness and rudeness
politicians encounter every day. Trying to squeeze votes out of people who can't be bothered to inform
themselves of the most basic facts is wearying work. "Don't care, never vote, you're all the same, just
in it for yourselves, what's in it for me and when are you going to fix my drainpipe?" Faced with some
of that grudge, ordinary mortals might give "the people" a stinging earful6, but of course no politician
Calling Labour HQ to find who (if anyone) was out pressing the flesh7 for next week's Euro elections, I
was offered Jack Straw Jack (British Foreign Secretary)
on a swing around Canterbury, Deal, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. It was not a red-carpet outing - the train
offering just one sandwich and no water for him and his hungry entourage8.
Out there at one end of Deal high street a flotilla of Labour grandees was waiting; cheering them up is
the main success of this otherwise fairly unfruitful expedition. In this constituency with a 5,000 Labour
majority, working our way down the main street, what do we find? It's an odd business, approaching total
strangers with a jovial handshake, the sort of behaviour that marks out politicians as abnormal beings.
Outside Marks & Spencer (British department store), Straw stands on a milk crate to give a rousing hymn of
praise9 for all that Europe has done for Deal. (If only he did more of that and less brandishing red
lines and fighting the EU on the beaches - but that's another story.) Today he tells how, since D-day,
the EU has brought peace and prosperity to all, how it is the engine of democracy from Spain to Estonia.
See how its free trade delivers jobs? Remember how air travel cost an arm and a leg? Thank the EU for
cheap fares, freeing up competition. "Don't let the Tories throw it away!"
So what does he get back from this desultory10 crowd? "You stand there talking about all the wonderful
things in Europe, but when are you going to do something for us here at home?" Daft, irrelevant, or
what? The man is indignant that he gets less benefit because he's got £16,000 in the bank. Next up,
an angry man: "Why am I paying £77 a month on council tax, worked all my life and got nothing for it?"
Because it's a Tory council that put it up 9.7% this year, but he's still going to vote Tory anyway.
"Why isn't the police station here open full time?" calls the next man. Not one voice takes up the
Local MP Gwyn Prosser works the crowd, picking up complaints. "Why hasn't the council fixed my fence?"
says a man who claims he always voted Labour, but now he's going to vote BNP (British National Party -
rightists). Why? "Well, Europe. I don't agree with one big state, not at all. England for the English."
His MP takes him on: "Vote for that xenophobic, fascist party?" Turns out he's a liar. Labour records
show he never voted at all last time and he has never been Labour. But the people are always right,
free to lie through their teeth, unlike their leaders.
Next man up tells me: "They give asylum seekers £160 a week for a single bloke." No they don't, says
the MP, but no one believes him. Prod them a bit and most here are anti-European. "Europe" has become
a euphemism for "asylum", as Michael Howard (leader of the Conservative Party) well knows, bleeding the
two together wickedly. In vain, the MP quotes latest asylum figures: a year ago 70 a day claimed asylum
in Dover, now it is less than seven. But no one believes figures, they just know. Except they don't. In
a haze, many confuse the EU constitution and the euro; many think they're voting on these next week.
But then a group of sixth-form girls bear down on him for the only good debate of the day. Angry about
Iraq, voices are raised and fingers prod the air: "You bombed all those people just to capture one man.
Why? If we had bombs falling on us we'd be, like, oh-my-God, as if it was the end of the world. Yet we
do it to them!"
On the street you get views never heard on television: "I was all for Iraq at first, but not any more."
Why not? "It's the shocking way they behave. Disgusting! They needed Saddam to keep them in order. They
deserved him. You don't see Iraqis working to put their country back together, just hanging around the
streets." Her husband adds: "In their nightgowns, too!"
There follows a long and incomprehensibly meaningless visit to a part-EU funded business centre, where
the foreign secretary listens for half an hour to the marketing plans of a new firm making plastic and
cardboard novelty covers, decorated in Scooby Doo or Man Utd designs, for wall switches for kids'
bedrooms. Shortly afterwards, he vanishes briefly, I assume for a comfort break, but it turns out he's
taking a call on his mobile from Colin Powell (Am. Secretary of State) about the progress of the UN
resolution on Iraq. But he's back to thank them for a couple of free Blackburn Rovers light-switch
That's a day in the life of democracy, not much sublime and a lot of ridiculous. A busy foreign secretary
in the middle of a war goes out to listen to complaints about fences and persuade the wretchedly
indifferent to vote pro-European. Politicians are the people who do democracy, day in, day out. And
day in, day out they are kicked in the teeth for it. Too often we commentators sit in lofty judgment,
saying Labour should do this or that, raise their game, lift their sights, be ambitious, be brave. But
we are accountable to no one, just perusing11 polls, while they have to navigate seas of actual voters who
may make scant sense, who vote on whim or through habit with prejudices unmitigated12 by fact, impervious13
Politicians are despised partly for their virtues - their willingness to listen and explain anything
to anyone, however rude. Their need for votes smacks of a salesman's craven sucking-up, when often
voters deserve a good wigging (scolding ). What about the democratic responsibilities that go with
rights? Ask not what your country can do for you ... Stop whingeing, start thinking. Get informed.
Make an effort. The country's future is in your hands, not politicians'. At least get out there and
goddamn vote, which quite a few said they wouldn't. One small step towards making citizens take
democracy more seriously would be to oblige them all to vote.
The Guardian of June 4, 2005
1. to cavil - herumnörgeln
2. to wallow - sich wälten, schwelgen in
3. wilful - halsstarrig, stur
4. benighted - gottverlassen
5. benign - gutartig, liebevoll
6. to give sb. a stinging earful - jdm. ein paar Takte sagen
7. to press the flesh - Hände schütteln
8. entourage - Gefolge
9. rousing hymn - mitreißendes Loblied
10. desultory - planlos
11. to peruse - prüfen, durchlesen
12. unmitigated - ungemildert
13. impervious - unempfänglich
Read all the questions first, then answer them in the given order.
Use your own words as far as is appropriate.
1. Explain the meaning of the quotation "Democracy is holy, politics is lowly" in the second paragraph.
2. How does the author of the text look upon politicians?
3. What differences are there between Jack Straw's notion of Europe and that of ordinary European citizens?
4. As to the writer's intention, examine her language and the tone she uses throughout the text.
5. Analyse the meaning of the title.
Choose o n e of the following topics. Write about 250 to 300 words.
1. Write a letter to your representative in the European Parliament
telling him/her about your ideas what a united Europe should be about.
2. Discuss J.F. Kennedy's remark: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your
3. Discuss Clement Atlees' quotation: "Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only
effective if you can stop people talking."