The country got terribly excited about Brexit. Turnout at the 2019 General Election was 67.3% across the UK, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from 2017 (68.8%) but still the second-highest turnout since 1997. It is, however, still not a huge amount.
Turnouts for local elections are even lower, generally between 30% and 40% – the lowest by far in Western Europe. Quite a few people I have spoken to this year say they are not bothering to vote.
Why the apathy about local government democracy?
There are a number of reasons according to electoral reform organisations:
- Britain is seen as highly centralised with most important decisions made in London.
- The First Past the Post voting system ensures some councils remain in the same political hands. People feel they cannot make a difference by casting their vote.
- Many people see results as a foregone conclusion, so they don’t vote, making the foregone conclusion correct. Many wards are uncontested – this has happened locally in the past, when co-option has been used or only one candidate stands – and voters thereby become disenfranchised. Bude and Stratton have lots of candidates to choose from this year which makes a refreshing change.
- Covid hasn’t helped this year – 26% of people say they are less likely to go to the polling stations to vote for the May elections because of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
- Just 21% of 18-24 year olds say they are ‘very likely’ to vote this May, compared to 58% of the wider population. Young people are often disengaged from a political system that is not seen to represent them, driving an intergenerational social divide, according to LSE research.
As my old Dad always used to say, “if you don’t vote, don’t complain”, while adding that working people died for the right to vote. He’s right of course. Don’t plead ignorance, or vote for the sake of it. Make your vote count – whoever you choose to vote for.
The answer is to spend just a little time looking at your candidate list, and checking them out (most have social media pages) to see who best represents the interests you hold dear at local level.