Apathy wins as two-thirds of voters don’t turn out


[Or was it contempt for politics?] The telly will be all Nigel-News-Network but the real under-reported story is how so few of us bothered to vote

I’m looking at the latest version of the BBC’s website here (strange given my last blogpost) and it shows just under 34% of eligible voters turned out to vote.

Greens fall short

Dr Rupert Read and Peter Cranie missed out by the narrowest of margins in their bids for European seats in East Anglia and the North West respectively. To say I’m gutted for both is an understatement. For political plurality across the UK (and for Rupert, in East Anglia in particular) the results are devastating for all those that campaigned so hard. Ditto for the Labour activists that worked their socks off in Cambridge too. Congratulations to Vicky Ford and Richard Howitt on their re-elections. They were both very good hard working MEPs in the last parliament and I have no doubt they will serve East Anglia well in this one.

It’s not all bad news for The Greens. In Cambridge, Rupert polled 7,381 – more than the 5,700 total for The Greens in the local council elections. Also, according to the BBC here, The Greens polled ***over one million votes*** across the country. That’s an astonishing achievement in itself. If I were high up in the Green Party, I’d be plastering those numbers all over campaign literature and websites.


N0 – just gutted for The Greens as much as I’m depressed at the swing towards UKIP – though not surprised about the latter. The media megaphone combined with the multiple failures of the mainstream political parties (not just in the UK but Europe-wide) over the past 15 years created this. This is where Ed Miliband’s campaign strategy went badly wrong in my opinion. Recall Tony Blair (who I’m no fan of) here:

Yet Miliband chose not to take the fight to the opposition. (See my critique here). Unlike Blair in the above-mentioned clip, I never got the sense from Labour front-benchers of any anger, passion or plan about what to do with European-level problems. And the voters responded accordingly: most stayed at home.

Farage plays a blinder

Make no bones about it, Nigel Farage played a very strong hand very well. Years of fawning media coverage until the very end – by which time none of the media shots against him could land. Part of it is due to the political game journalists and mainstream politicians have been playing for years. The game is where politicians try to stick to the ‘line to take’ and the journalists try to get the politicians to deviate from it.

What Farage has been much better at doing in response to criticism/bad events is conceding the key point in a blunt but jovial manner and leaving journalists with nothing else left to ask. Mainstream politicians with their years of media training (and remember I’ve done some of this training myself) have struggled to respond. What strikes me at the moment is that there is no one in the mainstream political parties who has the calibre, competency, credibility and confidence to take on Farage. Nick Clegg in my view had all bar the credibility. His record as deputy PM shoots his credibility to pieces in the eyes of the British public.

Where do we start with combating apathy [or rather, contempt for our political system and political parties]?

Not with politicians making acceptance speeches saying their election on a less-than-35% turnout sends a strong message about backing a Westminster party leader. Which is what the Labour’s new MEP Theresa Griffin said in her woeful speech. When another party scores the same number of MEPs as yours – and on such a low turnout in one of your strongholds, strong messages in favour of your side have not been sent. To pretend otherwise makes you look deluded and more out of touch than people already think politicians are. Maybe that’s one of the messages behind the low turnout. Even though many may share the values of the mainstream political parties, they resent being treated like fools. Is the electorate smarter than mainstream political hacks inside the party machinery think it is? (I’m not talking about those that do the door-to-door canvassing or community activism).

The problem facing the mainstream parties is that they are likely to interpret the problem as UKIP rather than one of political disengagement. It helps explain why none of their tactics in this election worked. As I mentioned in previous blogposts, many of those that did turnout chose to give the mainstream politicians a kicking. For many that voted, this they have just delivered. The problem as I see it isn’t policy-specific. More it’s to do with the structures, systems and processes of political parties that don’t allow for people at the grass roots to influence policies. At the same time, with the burden of face-to-face activism falling on a smaller group of people, no wonder so many are complaining that political parties aren’t engaging with them.

“But isn’t voter engagement a two-way thing? Shouldn’t we as citizens make more of an effort to reach out to those standing for election?”

This is where I have some sympathy with the local party activists who say the electorate gets the parties it deserves. Citizens can’t just sit there and expect to be spoon-fed politics. But how do you turn things around in an atmosphere where politics is toxic?

I can’t help but think that political parties need to come together to agree some basics at a local level. The problem is that relations between local parties – especially after a bitterly-contested campaign in some wards locally isn’t great – may not be conducive to a cross-party voter-engagement drive. But something’s got to give. Puffles standing for election again is not the solution. Between now and the general election it needs something more energised, imaginative and radical than what we have all come up with recently – myself included.

I’ve blogged about this before:

If you have ideas of your own, feel free to tweet them to @Puffles2010 or post them in the comments box below.


3 thoughts on “Apathy wins as two-thirds of voters don’t turn out

  1. It frustrates me how many people don’t vote. I had to bite my tongue tonight talking to an older colleague, who commented off-hand that he “didn’t have time for politics” anymore, and therefore didn’t vote. If you don’t have time for politics, surely the best thing you can do is vote – after all, you’re voting for someone else to bother about politics on your behalf?

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