Blogpost: What is the reason for voter apathy in Harlow?
Politics / Fri 13th May 2022 am31 11:15am
THE average voter turnout in Harlow wards for the May 5th local election was just 29%. However this isn’t unusual for local elections. Why, then, are so many who are registered to have their say, so apathetic when it comes to local politics? I put the question to Harlow residents to try to understand this chronic lack of engagement.
Many felt unable to vote due to Partygate and the cost of living crisis, just two of the government scandals currently adversely affecting the British public. The constant ebb and flow of disappointment in those we elect has led to politicians at a national level being perceived as ‘as bad as each other’ and local politicians are, rightly or wrongly, tarred with the same brush as the party they are affiliated with.
This reasoning reveals not only apathy, but a sense of defeat amongst the voting public. Voters feel that the system is rigged against their vote making a difference, and frankly the first-past-the-post system in place for the large majority of UK elections makes this true to a significant degree.
However a defeatist attitude held by the public is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your vote doesn’t matter nothing can change, so don’t bother voting and ensure nothing will change.
Many Harlow residents had not been canvassed or received leaflets from any or more than one party for last week’s local election. Budgets are tight and time is short, however this is a clear message to would-be councillors that they did not connect with the public. Some residents did not even realise the election was happening or what it was for. There is a clear lack of understanding of the roles held by local councillors, and how they affect the daily lives of Harlow residents.
The national media plays a huge, and often unreliable, role in relaying party messages to the public. The fact that politics is only offered as an optional subject in schools, and is otherwise barely taught at all, means that Britons rarely leave school with an understanding of our political system. This ignorance means that we are susceptible to dangerously dishonest media messaging, which in turn breeds radicalisation, extremist and fringe views. The disinterest generally shown by the public in how their lives are being affected by politicians at both a local and national level is without a doubt linked to the absence of political literacy in the majority of the population. Politics is essentially a hobby for most who have an interest in it, and therefore the deeply unfair and antiquated system that dictates life in the UK is never truly challenged.
Councillors need to work harder to educate local voters, to develop and retain their interest in politics. The disparity between younger and older voters who actually cast a ballot is indicative of how political beliefs are entrenched over time, and can be moulded simply by continued exposure to less than balanced media reporting.
Young people are being deprived of the opportunity to learn the facts of politics in schools, away from toxic bias and client journalism and in a safe space where they can debate and discover. Like sport, passion for politics begins at a grassroots level.
By Natalie Hayes
Lessons on our democratic processes and institutions should definitely be compulsory at secondary school level, agreed. I left Mark Hall with zero information around 20 years ago, and it's a dreadful shame if this is still happening. Having said that, while it shouldn't be controversial to teach children how we are governed, I wouldn't want that job. I've not been involved in education in over a decade now, but even with a degree in politics that should equip me to explain the facts without any particular bias, the way British politics has become so polarised makes me concerned that a parent may complain that I'd been unduly partial. Based on some reporting in The Guardian earlier this year, it seems that teachers share that concern, and most don't feel adequately trained to deliver such lessons: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/jan/22/we-are-weakening-democracy-fears-over-lack-of-lessons-in-how-government-works
My reason is simple.......I trust none of them.
Trouble with that approach Mr Grumpy is that only a small percentage of those who can vote, do vote, and of those that do, an even smaller percentage vote for candidates who then control much of what goes on in our lives, of which so many people are grumpy about. In Harlow, just 17% of the total electorate voted Tory and you even get a candidate who said she knew nothing about politics. On the other hand you get people who say "they always vote x" and in one case I spoke to a lady who said she voted how her mother told her to. The Harlow Alliance is trying to break the mould of Parties wedded to Westminster, with Councillors who have aspirations to become MP's and move on to bigger things.