The big story of these local elections isn't in the numbers. It's in a single number, in fact. Politicians and newspapers can reel off endless stats detailing huge Labour gains and catastrophic coalition losses to their hearts' content, but there's only one figure that really matters today.

It's the number thirty-two, and that's the percentage of the population who actually turned out to vote in yesterday's local elections. It is striking that at a time of seemingly perpetual national crisis, less than a third of the citizens of one of the world's oldest democracies wanted to have their say.

Ed Miliband has said the elections show that Labour are "winning back people's trust". David Cameron blamed a "difficult national backdrop". Typically, they are both so insulated within the cocoon of party politics that they spectacularly miss the bigger picture. The population didn't shun or endorse anyone: they gave mainstream politics the cold shoulder.

These elections show that the majority of the population simply feel that there's nobody worth voting for. As a result, no one really won in these elections, but our democracy was the biggest loser.

Comments

All very reasonable as far as it goes, Nick, but what is the solution? I hear nobody suggesting that there is a plausible alternative to representative democracy that has any real prospect of supplying the freedom of conscience, rule by law and political/economic liberty we enjoy in UK, EU and USA. I see many around the world who are frantic for what we have.  So, either you join a political party and change it from within or you launch a new one and campaign to win support. Apathy is a symptom of disengagement, but it offers no alternative government, no new set of values. In the end one has to get engaged. Cynicism is not a philosophy of government - and we do need government...or are you advocating a modern Durruti Column (see Spanish Civil War lecture!)   

One of the reasons certain people in my demographic do not vote is that 'there is nobody who represents me' or 'nobody to relate to'. For instance you'd be hard pressed to find a young, African or female politician, let alone a young, African female politician. From these kind of communities, somebody should be identified or put themselves forward as a potential peson to bring change, as well as being somebody people could relate to and therefore trust a bit more.. This will never happen if people sit around complaining, that's why after sitting in on Paul's lecture I was tempted to think about being a councillor...

I think the answer also lies in education. I have no idea why citizenship is not made compulsory in all schools (not PSHE or other cousins of citizenship). We teach how to get the morning after pill so what about something as important as this? Children should be taught the history of struggles around the world for suffrage, potential power for change they can make when older, and be taught the variety of voting systems for different tiers of government out there and how they work, as there can be confusion with how supplementary voting works.

Sorry for the lack of brevity.

Nick has indentified the most pressing problem; Tim has indentified a solution (or two). Compulsory voting is more common than you might think. How about it here - with an option on the ballot paper for 'none of the above?'

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/jul/04/voterapathy.uk

 

http://blogs.kentonline.co.uk/author/Paul%20Francis.aspx

 

I think the French election has just made this point perfectly: the turnout was 80%. The winners held parties in the streets and the losers cried. Can you imagine that happening here?

Part of the reason for that has to be that, unlike here, the French people were given a real, definitive choice. Holland and Sarkozy have different styles, different policies and ultimately different beliefs: they're like chalk and cheese. They both showed some guts and conviction to stick by their promises if nothing else.

Our politicians are more like different shades of mud. Beyond the superficial sniping over who Cameron has to dinner and which group Diane Abbott's managed to offend this time, on the core economic and social issues British voters are given very little choice. The main parties all look the same, act the same, sound the same and between the lines they're all really saying the same thing. If it weren't for the colours I doubt most people would be able to tell the difference.

Maybe if all they stopped scrambling over one another in the rush to find the 'middle ground' which offends no-one but pleases no-one either people might feel they had a choice. Does anyone really think that Labour believe in deficit reduction? Right up until the 2010 election Ed Balls was telling anyone who would listen how wrong the policy was, yet look at him now. And is Cameron really anti grammar schools? Yeah right...

They're just saying what they think people want to hear and those very same people see right through that. Winnie's right that people don't think politicians represent them. Like the London Mayoral Elections, I think most people see general elections as a choice between dumb and dumber, so they just end up voting for the lesser of two evils depending on their political persuasion. It's hardly surprising confidence is so low.

Labour will crow but nobody's listening anymore