Sense of civic pride pointlessly misused

In an age of hype, hypocrisy isn't something over which politicians have a Monopoly. Ian Collins pours scorn on sham participation.

In an age of hype, hypocrisy isn't something over which politicians have a monopoly. Ian Collins pours scorn on sham participation.

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Poll excitement is now at fever pitch with voters up and down the land all set to sweep the board if their local favourites triumph. The die of destiny is very nearly cast!

But it's not the looming council elections over which we're in such a sweat. On Thursday chances are that barely a third of us will even bother to cast our ballots.

No, more and more are hell bent on the spoils of the community chest and hoping that as we play the latest participative game dreamt up by a commercial marketing department we won't go straight to jail.

Monopoly - so long beloved of would-be hoteliers in the smartest London addresses - has gone global in a bid to end our boredom with old-fashioned board games.

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When Australians were offered the chance to vote on-line for Ozzie replacements to Park Lane, Bond Street and the rest, 16 million joined in.

Just possibly, with compulsory elections Down Under, some bemused wallabies thought they had no choice. But never was a sense of civic pride misused for something more pointless.

I was suddenly reminded that so much of Australia is in fact desert. Sand seems to have seeped into the collective imagination.

Now it's oozing over here. As the marketing ploy sweeps the UK - Vote, Vote! Buy, buy! - word is that Glasgow is topping the poll for the 22 cities, towns and villages fans want to see printed on a new board. (Angry Scottish Nationalists may yet take the company to court to win a game of their own.)

Salvaging Yorkshire honour, Sheffield is holding firm in second place. And third spot goes to LINCOLN! Yippee and yee-ha and what a lot of…phooey.

Clearly the good folk of Norwich - and Seething and Great Snoring and Ten Mile Bottom - have far better things to do with their time.

But I first realised Britain was badly on the slide when more of us voted to evict exhibitionist misfits from a rubbishy exercise in “reality” TV than participated in a round of elections for the European Parliament.

No Taxation Without Representation was a great democratic slogan. Now perhaps it should be No Vexation Without Voting. Don't criticise if you won't join in.

Maybe the very worst legacy of Blairism is not that so many of us have lost faith in New Labour. We have been put off politics altogether.

Besides all the spin there are the spurious exercises in public participation - invitations to help shape local health priorities, for instance. As if we didn't all want hospitals that make us well rather than ill!

Now, while Cromer opts for a new onslaught on cancer, Bognor might go for botox and Liphook for liposuction. Tattoos could be big in Tatton, as could piercing in Lancing.

There is nothing more sham than a false choice. Except false hope, maybe.

As television companies try to recover from the exposure of money-grubbing greed in fixed and faked phone-in competitions on premium lines, we should surely be more wary of the point at which commercialism and consumerism become cheating.

Rather than retreating further into infantilism as we're treated like the most gullible of children, let's try the awfully big adventure of adulthood. Reclaim power over yourself.

Loss of power and its replacement by propaganda and marketing is of course the curse of local government over past decades, with centralisation to Whitehall under Labour and Conservative administrations alike.

Waveney's leader has just sent us very glossy leaflet promising to listen to local views and then to act upon them. Well, that drew a belly laugh in Southwold I can tell you.

Our excellent town council is so routinely overruled by the local masters in Lowestoft that members have considered recommending the opposite of what they actually want in the sure hope that the district council will then deliver the desired reverse.

Huge local opposition to two of the most monstrous planning applications ever to hit Southwold - for a 1970s Costa del Sol-style apartment block on the site of the old petrol station, and another block of flats on top of the pier - has just been swept aside.

Now protests are pouring in over a development plan for a road-blocking, landscape-blighting toy railway. Our loathing is so overwhelming that Waveney could just love it.

Cynicism from those in power, prompting resigned apathy from the powerless, has put the demon in democracy.

But then, in an age of hype, hypocrisy isn't something over which politicians have a Monopoly.