Apathy in the U.K.

Meet the new boss.

The two signal political events of 2016, at least in the English-speaking world, were the often-paired British vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. With six years’ worth of hindsight, I think it’s pretty clear that both votes were disasters. Ever since, much ink has been spilled trying to understand why and how they happened.

I’ve read more books on Trump than I can count, and I think I can say I have a general understanding of the Trump phenomenon. A bunch of different factors, including some long-term and others more immediate, played into his election, and continue to keep his name in the news. America is in a bad place, with political polarization leading to a dangerous level of extremism, including violence and the more-or-less open disavowal of democracy and the rule of law by one of the country’s two main parties.

I haven’t read as much about what’s been going on in the U.K., which is probably why I’m having trouble understanding what’s happening over there. In many if not most ways Britain is in even worse shape than the U.S. Economically I think this is certainly the case, and it may be politically as well. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, “Britain’s Guilty Men and Women,” Tom McTague points a finger at the country’s leadership and its ruling party: “For the past 12 years, Britain has been led by a succession of Conservative prime ministers — each, like Russian dolls, somehow smaller than the last — who have contrived to leave the country in a worse state than it was when they took over.”

To this list has now been added one Rishi Sunak, a very rich guy who used to work for Goldman Sachs and who voters apparently trust to be able to manage the economy. Because that’s something rich people just understand.

Given how bad things have gone in the U.K. over the course of the last six years, what I can’t figure out is why the Tories haven’t sunk to basement-level polling numbers. On some level I “get” the Trump voter, but the Tory voter is a beast I know nothing about. In my review of The Lost Decade 2010-2020 by Polly Toynbee and David Walker (one of the few books I’ve read on the subject) what stood out for me was the level of voter apathy and the effect of a generational split. And I suppose the forces that are driving anger in America — social inequality and the rage machine of social media — are also at play. I’ve heard the British news ecosystem is bad, but as bad as it is in the U.S.? This I don’t know.

I just find it remarkable that after over a decade of misgovernance, incompetence, and outright failure the Conservative Party has any defenders left at all. The shock of 2016 was one thing, but at least in 2020 the U.S. tried to correct course (for how long we still don’t know). Why are the Brits still digging?


14 thoughts on “Apathy in the U.K.

  1. I detest all Tory voters. I’m not sure what you mean by the British news ecosystem being bad, there are right leaning and left leaning newspapers for sure, but on the whole TV news tries to be impartial though sometimes fails. The generation divide (old people vote Tory young ones vote labour) is more a north south divide, more well off retirees live down south and are wanting to keep their triple lock pensions brought in by a Tory govt (which is now under threat from this Tory lot). In the less well off north there are plenty of us oldies who wouldn’t vote Tory ever. Of course that changed somewhat for Boris and his ‘levelling up’ promise, but a) the promise never happened, and b) he’s gone. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again. Or at least I hope not. I don’t think it’s apathy so much as disillusionment and hopelessness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Is there nothing like Fox News in the U.K.? That would be a big plus. You have the BBC, which might help normalize things. But I’ve heard the major newspapers are all right-wing.

      I can sort of understand the Brexit vote, but are there many people who voted Brexit who still think it was a good idea? And if there aren’t, I don’t see why this hasn’t blown up the Tories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No Fox type news channels, well maybe GBTV as Farage works for them now, but it isn’t as mainstream as Fox. BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are the biggest. The major newspapers are split The Times right leaning, Observer and Guardian left, it’s the tabloids like The Sun, The Express and The Daily Mail that are right wing, wouldn’t wipe my bum with those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I thought re: TV. Though the question increasingly is how much impact TV has these days, especially with rise of Internet “news” sources. As for print, the thing about the Guardian anyway is that it loses a huge amount of money. Does it have much of a reach? The tabloids are the tabloids, but they probably reach a much bigger audience.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You may not know much about what’s going on, but you have the gist of it. Social media, and news outlets, now allow people to live in their own reality tunnel, with any information that threatens their understanding conveniently filtered out. I find it bizarre hearing US political commentators saying how the Brits have a resilient democracy that threw out Johnson and Truss. There’s nothing more to this than choosing a different colour of boot to kick you in the face. We don’t need a Fox news or ONN channel because most of the media is innately conservative in the first place. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer…


    • I think U.S. commentators were just impressed that the Tories could ditch the people at the top, while the Republicans seemingly have no way of doing anything about Trump. But you’re right that it doesn’t actually change anything.

      The thing about the forces driving the anger and dysfunction is that I see all of them as only getting worse. Was thinking of writing something about how bad Twitter is going to get now that Musk is in charge. I mean, it was bad before, but now the guy who owns it is someone who posts conspiracy shit with sexual innuendoes that would amuse a 14-year-old.


      • I saw that. Cancelled Spotify over Joe Rogan. Easy to do the same with Twitter. Why should we provide them with content? Musk’s idea of free speech is the ability for the rich to slander with impunity. To control public opinion via a forum. Interested to see if some kind of coordinated rage quit could be organized…


      • Spot on about Musk. It’s like religious freedom being freedom for a particular brand of Christian nationalism but not for anybody else. I don’t think Twitter’s in any danger of being canceled though. People may just turn away from it, like Facebook. I no longer know anyone on Facebook. It’s not even a word I hear anymore. Only problem is if the next thing to come along is even worse.

        Liked by 1 person

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