In years gone by elections used to matter.
Election night was a time for sitting in front of the TV and radio as results streamed in from around the country. The people who were elected and the platform they stood on would have an effect on the way services were delivered and the spending priorities of authorities and central government. The notion of a politician being rejected at the polls and therefore seeing their manifesto discarded was a powerful influence.
But for a long time now elections have ceased to be relevant. When all that is on offer is the same product in a different coloured wrapping there is frankly no point going out and making use of the electoral franchise. For the main three parties it doesn’t really matter who is returned by the voters, because the same agenda will be ruthlessly pursued and the wishes of the people won’t be allowed to get in the way. Which is why local political campaigning on real issues is all but dead in more and more localities and paper candidates are increasingly the norm.
The result of this should be a rejection of the political class by the electorate, characterised by a refusal to go out and vote. But there has always been a hard core of people who wish to use their vote. However even that number seems to be experiencing a dramatic decline. (Update: As Richard at EU Referendum puts it, ‘The indifferents have it’). Bearing witness to this implosion is BBC News Online’s live text coverage. Just a few of the comments lay bare the accelerating rejection of the political class:
… In Kingston-upon-Hull, reports turnout about to be declared at 18.7%.
… Reports that polling station in Ealing & Hillingdon, west London, had reported hardly anyone voting until parents started collecting children from school. Turnout was remarkably low even then.
… BBC Radio Derby’s Chris Doidge reports candidates in Derby say turnout is well down on last year. Official says postal vote returns down around 5%, indicating it is not just the weather.
… Early indications point to a record low turnout amongst Scotland’s four million voters. Councils will begin counting ballot papers tomorow morning with the battle for control of the country’s biggest cities expected to command most attention.
… Alan Johnson, Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, tells the BBC that he is “very disappointed by the turnout”.
… BBC Nottingham’s Steve Beech reports that turnout in Nottingham’s mayoral referendum was just 10.89% in one ward.
The impact of this? It is likely there will be an increasing awareness among ordinary people that politicians who are imposing decisions on us are doing so with ever less legitimacy. Especially given that despite what appears to be a much improved showing for UKIP where they are standing candidates, they are still not taking seats from the main three parties against the backdrop of a sharply reduced turnout.
… Andrew Sinclair Political Correspondent, BBC East reports that UKIP have come within 40 votes of taking a seat from the Conservatives in Great Yarmouth.
… Darren in Liverpool emails: Some excellent results for UKIP so far, a good number of second places they seem to be making good progress in local elections in recent years, despite a lack of coverage.
While many people may remain blind or ignorant to the fact most of our laws and regulations already lack legitimacy because they originate in the EU – imposed by people we have not elected or accepted and who are beyond democratic accountability – people are more likely to notice and take issue with the lack of legitimacy in their own towns and cities. This is dangerous territory for the political class and the current ‘democratic process’.
Things cannot continue as they are. Change is overdue and the refusal of the electorate to engage in the current process via the ballot box suggests the time may soon be ripe for a new settlement. That really could provide a mix of excitement and drama – and not in the way the political class might hope for. And with that, it’s off to bed to leave the BBC reporters around the country sharing the election news with an ever less interested and rapidly shrinking audience.