Electoral Apathy

Elections – How Apathetic will the Public be?

Well it’s that time of the electoral cycle again when people will start receiving leaflets and emails urging them to be responsible citizens and fulfil their duties by taking part in the democratic process and Vote in Local Elections.

Admittedly the urging will in the vast majority of cases be from candidates, including many sitting Councillors, and political parties who electors haven’t heard from since the last election.

But is that a good reason for people to be apathetic?

In simple terms, “Yes it is”

The problem is that Local Elections suffer in the majority of cases from an even greater level of public apathy than that we see at a General Election.

What should of even greater concern is that there will be many seats across the country that will see the political parties unable to contest because of their lack of candidates depriving some people of the opportunity to vote for a party of their choice.

Which of course begs the question of just how many people automatically vote for a political party out of habit irrespective of the candidate?

Just think for a moment about the number of MPs who are known to have ripped the taxpayer of with their expenses yet still got re-selected and re-elected.

If political parties can’t inspire enough honest candidates to stand then why should people vote?

Of course at the local level there are those who stand as Independent Candidates and fair play to them.

Another problem and complaint that is constantly used to explains voter apathy is the refrain that “they are all the same.”

How many candidates will on their leaflets claim that they want to make the ‘Council’ more accountable and open to the people and I would stake my life on them all saying that they want to be Councillors to ‘improve the lives of ordinary people’ or some such promise.

The issue is how many times can you say that and then when in a position to do it simply forget it do something else and still expect people to believe you.

I once got reprimanded by a political party of who I was a member for saying light heartedly that I thought what politicians do is ask people why they wan, promise during an election campaign to deliver it and then spend the next four years explaining why they can’t deliver.

On reflection it may not have been to far from the mark.

Of course my problem is that I still instinctively and philosophically believe in democracy but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise that the connection between the public and elected representatives of the past has been eroded.

It is simply in my opinion a fact that until the connection between the Councillors, the Council and the Public are formed again then the level of apathy will just continue to increase.

Perhaps in areas where a political party dominates, the so called ‘safe seats’ that is exactly why the dominant political party wants?

I’m always amazed that in the run up to a Local Election we see candidates out and about meeting the electorate and loudly proclaiming that they are talking to people to find out what their neighbours, friends and the public think.

Surely six weeks before polling day is a bit late after already having published their manifesto to be finding out what the public need and think?

The same applies to surveys.

Political parties have four years between elections to carry out surveys.

The connection between the council and the public it represents has been lost. If you don’t know what people want and more importantly need, then you aren’t representing them.

The reality of course is that huge numbers of people, apart from wanting to have their bins emptied, grass verges cut, roads repaired and police on the streets have, because of the behaviour of Westminster Politicians, very little interest in politics.

Politicians are often, and I have no doubt we’ll hear it again between now and May 4, seen bemoaning the lack of interest and apathy of the public.

Well it is a problem that they, and in reality by really engaging with people and inspiring them to go out and vote for them that they can solve.

There will once again be talk of making voting compulsory as is the law in other countries but is that the way forward and if it is should there be a box marked up as ‘None of the Above’ for those who feel none of the candidates are worthy of their vote?

Is it only me that thinks such a box may well have the most votes?

My view may be considered simplistic but if we really believe in the democratic process it also includes having the right to choose not to vote and that is equally as important as choosing to vote.

I certainly would object to being forced, let’s call it what it is, being bullied into voting which I think would be as bad as those who simply put an ‘X’ in the same political box election after election out of habit rather than having looked at what is being offered by the candidates.

On May 4 I will go and vote in the local election for the candidate I see and know works in and for my community all the year round and hopefully he will win.

Following the election there will however still be problems, and they are problems that all political parties need to sort out.

Perhaps the answer is some hybrid form of proportional representation and first past the post electoral sytem so that everyone feels their vote will count?

But that’s another issue.