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Towards the end of his Telegraph podcast Anthony King mentions the figure for don't know/won't vote as 25%.

The current Conservative effort at involving people in their local communites, and advocating devolution of power from Westiminster to local gov't, is surely as good an idea for drawing some of that 25% back into party politics as any other?

Writing in the Telegraph earlier this week, David Cameron said:

But social responsibility means each and every one of us playing a part. Today, I will be visiting the United Estates of Wythenshawe initiative in Manchester. Led by Greg Davis, who spoke at our party's spring forum last year, it is an inspiring example of how individuals can make a difference in their communities.

Most of all, Greg says he didn't look to the officials in the town hall – he looked to the "real" community

leaders who commanded respect in the neighbourhood, and could get things done.

I am proud to say that some of these real community leaders are now getting stuck into politics – as Conservative council candidates. Last night three Wythenshawe people were chosen as our candidates for the local elections.

So the dividing lines are clear: an old-fashioned Labour approach which is top-down, short-term and centralising, or a modern Conservative approach which is bottom-up, long-term and trusts in local action.

Ten years of state control have failed our children and our society. The turning point will come with a new Conservative government committed to the ideal of social responsibility.

Why has the column on the right hand side of the browser window vanished? You know, the one that used to detail which posters had commented most recently on what threads.

'Recent comments' is still showing for me, Dull question.

If these figures are accurate they are fairly appalling. Have any of the polling organisations produced any research on why the 'won't vote' percentage has gone up so much does anybody know?

I remember reading, in some politco's biography I think, that the decline in party membership, and presumably political engagement, was tied to increased centralisation of power under Mrs T.

Do the voting figures for post-devolution Scotland/Wales show any marked change in turnout for local/national elections?

Elections are about a wide range of issues and not single issues. In order to make a choice voters want to vote for ideologies. True socialists can't vote for Blair and for the last few years the tories have been populist racists. Now with Cameron we have a man who won't support individual choice in an area like education. the lines have blurred and we are not sure we can trust the choices put before us. stay at home voters are not necessarily apathetic, rather they are trying to make a point.

I don't buy the apathy argument. I think its more likely that people are so confused that they are not able to express exactly what it is that keeps them at home. With all these sophists at the top the ordinary voter is embarrassed at not being able to find the words. "oh, i'm not interested in politics" is an easy way out.

The book I was thinking of was Simon Jenkins' Big Bang Localism, now available online. as a PDF download.

From the book, p.44:

The greatest loss was from local politics. The decline in participation through membership of political parties was phenomenal. A million Tories simply evaporated. The most serious losses were of suburban and county activists for whom executive power on local councils was a quid pro quo for loyalty at national elections.Visiting a group of Hampshire Tories at the time, I found them bitterly marginalised by the Thatcher and Major governments. They were no longer trusted to fix their rates or spend them responsibly. Thatcher had abandoned a celebrated tenet of her hero,Hayek,that,“Nowhere has democracy worked well without a great measure of local self-government... it provides a school of political training for the people at large as much as for their future leaders.”

All over Britain the Tory Party’s “little platoons”packed their bags
and went home.

@Caroline - I can see your point about Old Labour voters feeling unable to support Blair, and voters being put off by the populist campaigns of Hague and Howard, but when did Cameron come out against individual choice in education?

Dave Bartlett might be interested to know that in the Principality around 70% of people aged under 35 did not vote in the 2003 election to the Welsh Assembly. This percentage reached 80% in the younger age groups. Therefore, we have a Welsh Assembly that was created on less than 25% of the vote being elected by less than 35% of the total population. To be honest I think I might join with the majority this year. Here is my own public (but private reasoning) for not voting: http://dragonsfire.welshblogs.co.uk/2007/02/stop_the_rubbish_but_get_more.html

"It does show a large increase in voters 'churning' between voting, not knowing and not voting. Ben Page has kindly agreed to look into that increase"

There's no need. It's because ordinary people have concerns that the chattering classes are not interested in and that senior Conservatives are not willing to engage with.

(start rant)
If in fact they are willing to engage at all. Last Saturday a Labour MEP had a letter published in the Independent which required a response; said response, published on Monday, was not from any Tory official, MP, or MEP, it had to be from ordinary citizen muggins. And not the first occasion either.
(end rant)

@Dave Barlett
The current Conservative effort at involving people in their local communites, and advocating devolution of power from Westiminster to local gov't, is surely as good an idea for drawing some of that 25% back into party politics as any other?

Well its nice to have the problem acknowledged at last. I have been making this criticism of CCHQ all year to a withering return of fire calling me all sorts of names.

Localism is an important new Conservative idea but it is just another sound bite at present. What does it mean?

Giving more power to local councils is not sexy and I've spent years on a good one. For people whose services have rotted under Lambeth, Hackney, Liverpool & Sheffield etc. it must be anathema.

Potentially its a winning idea but it needs to be made concrete and it needs to put power directly in the hands of the voters
Education vouchers
Health vouchers
Referenda on social issues
Locally (directly) elected Chief Constables
Locally (directly) elected Planning Officer

Something that will get the media talking and people talking politics in the pubs again

Not Blu-Labour but new government

@Neil Welton
Those numbers certainly aren't the story I had expected. I thought Plaid Cymru had become a real in force in welsh politics and assumed that would have resulted in more engagement, as there would be both a diversity of opinion and fewer 'safe seats'.

Whilst the swing voter has remained constant at 10% for the last 20 years the worrying trend is the don't know, DK, won't vote, which averages 14%, but has been rising since 1983. One assumes this is a post Maggie Thatcher phenomena.
One wonders whether the upwards trend has continued from 2001 to date, as the graph shows a very definite upswing in the first 4 years of NuLab's government. This of course gives the lie to the propaganda and spin about NuLab being popular and representative. In their first 4 years of government the don'ts went from 17% to 24%, which is quite a loss of support.
The other side of this graph and statistical representation would be the overall percentile of people voting in national and local elections over the same period. I suspect we will find a similar upward trend line. Demonstrating unequivocally the boredom of politics, but more dangerously, the fact that the the elctorate have become detached from the process of democracy.
Perhaps we need to adopt the Australian model and make voting mandatory, failure equals fine, the process being too valuable to lose and marginalise.

"Localism is an important new Conservative idea but it is just another sound bite at present. What does it mean?"

The Conservatives are looking for votes, so I suspect it means whatever you can sell to CCHQ as necessary. :-)

But if you take the EU (theorectical!) idea that power should be as close to the people as possible I'd say it should mean that pretty much anything except foreign policy, defense and perhaps VAT and corporaton tax, should be decided at a local gov't level. But common EU regulation probably means I'm way off the do-able.

What it means to CCHQ has perhaps been indicated by their backing the Sustainable Communities Bill. During the last Conference Caroline Spelman advocated abolishing gov't quangos and returning their powers to local gov't (can't find the link). I think we're all curious to see what else emerges from these various policy groups.

"Locally (directly) elected Chief Constables"

Mr Cameron was on The Politics Show last week. He was advocating "why not replace the Police Authorities with a single elected Police Commissioner, not a police chief, he wouldn't or she wouldn't run the police, but they would be the chief focus for public accountability."

Thank you Dave. Good point. Worth noting that Plaid Cymru are currently the second largest party in the Welsh Assembly after Labour. They also have more seats than the Conservatives. So in a way they are a force to be reckoned with even though their voter base is, in overall terms, quite small. This is one of the problems with having a Welsh Assembly that was only established with 25% of the people's consent. Not only that but the overwhelming majority of these Welsh Assembly members speak Welsh. So you also have a Welsh speaking minority (25%) forcing the children of the English speaking majority (75%) to have Welsh lessons in their own English schools. So much for freedom and personal choice.

Isn’t' the point that our political class focus entirely on chasing the 'floating voter' who is only captured by pollsters if they express a view on who they will vote for. It has been mentioned frequently that pollsters ignore the don't knows or won't vote when comparing between the parties which in turn makes the focus on the 'floating voter' narrower over time. We have a possibility that at the next election we could end up with less than 50% of the electorate bothering to vote, which inevitably raises questions over validity.

People of all ages are still engaged in politics (witness the popularity of groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace etc.) but are choosing not to engage with political parties.

Why this is so would appear at first glance to be obvious, our elected representatives are not listening to the majority of peoples concerns. How you get that to happen is a different process.

"Potentially its a winning idea but it needs to be made concrete and it needs to put power directly in the hands of the voters"

When Cameron was on the Today programme last week he made, I thought, a really good point - gov't isn't the only answer. In the 'social responsibility' he's always banging on about power DOESN'T need to be put into the hands of the voters, rather the voters need to take action themselves when they see the need within their local communites rather than writing to The Council, or The Government and so putting power into THEIR hands. (I hope that makes sense.)

Don't threaten, fine or imprison me - just give me something positive to vote for.

Alex - to which letter are you referring? The only letter from an MEP I can see in Saturday's Independent was from Roger Helmer, very much a CONSERVATIVE MEP. He was responding to a Labour MEP (Richard Corbett).

Traditional working class Labour voters are not enamoured by New Labour and I suspect a lot of traditional Tories lament much of Cameron's modernising rhetoric. The great ideological clashes aren't there any more, nobody says anything to really inspire voters (although Cameron's recent speech will probably raise a lot of nods).

@Dave Bartlett
(I hope that makes sense)

I understand it but it doesn't make sense.

Ordinary people (though not, of course, you or I) are, on average, idle, lazy, lustful and stupid. Telling them to be good without any institutional or tax based reward/disincentive is the politics of the Sunday school.
People want choice and control they don't want to have to do anything.
The people who do want to do something are, almost by definition, never to be allowed to do anything - for the sake of the rest of us.
Have you actually been involved in any community activity!

@Dave Bartlett
Govt isn't the only answer

Govt is almost never the answer but government needs to set the rules and govts of the last three decades have been setting the rules according to an absurd and now increasingly discredited Liberal dogma.
It is not possible to rewind the clock or re-establish 1950s morality but it is possible to unwind some of the excesses of Liberal social policy. Removing some of the incentives and establishing new ones will be at least as effective as putting in new disincentives.

All those of us who bang on doors canvassing support will know that we have seen a noticeable increase in people saying that they won't be voting. Most of those I have encountered usually follow that up by saying "because you're all the same". This is a perception that becomes harder and harder to argue against as all three parties try to move into that same mythical "centre ground".

The electorate are aching for a return to conviction politics and turnouts have always been highest when that was what was on offer for them. The more we all sink into the principle free morass of focus group politics the more we confuse and turn off the average voter.We are, cross party, in serious danger of proving correct that old anarchist saying: "Don't vote because whoever you vote for a self serving, lieing politician wins".


Perhaps we need to adopt the Australian model and make voting mandatory
If there was an abstain option then that would be fair enough although of the 3 main parties Labour has the most reluctant voters who are far less likely to turnout if they think Labour will win anyway or if they just can't be bothered, forcing people to vote for a specific party or candidate either risks that they will simply vote for the candidates who pledge to abolish compulsory voting or they vote for the first option on the list regardless of who they are.

I don't see why people are getting so worked up about this poll, it shows all 3 main parties on a similar level that most polls have been showing them since the Spring, it's now a mid-term situation in a third term Labour government. Bored political pundits trying to drag some news out where really there isn't much.

"Alex - to which letter are you referring?"

Oops - I am a week out. The original letter was published on the 10th, my reply on the 12th. Roger Helmer's was published the following Saturday, the 17th.

Nice though it was to see Mr Helmer's, the fact remains that I responded the same weekend (and that despite recuperating from an operation two days earlier). And the fact also remains that in the vast majority of cases, there is no response at all.

I personally - and I am not boasting, just making a point - have over the last ten years had letters attacking the Left read out on the BBC many times, and published in the Times, Independent, Economist, Sun and even on one occasion the Guardian. It's not hard, you just have to make an effort, and of course understand the issues and principles you're starting from. Unfortunately most Conservative MPs and MEPs do not seem able to.

I don't think it's apathy so much as frustration and disgust, and the lowering turnouts could be interpreted as voters consciously deciding to go on strike.

Yet Another Anon "I don't see why people are getting so worked up about this poll"

Because it is vitally important that the people take an interest in their governance.In a democracy political power owes its entire legitimacy to elections expressing will of the majority of the people and without that expression there is no legitimacy. The ever declining turnouts and increasing voter disengagement are alarming signs of a sickness deep in the nation's body politic. We all ought to care about that a very great deal indeed.

Nope, I'm sorry I don't buy most of the arguments. The reason people are staying at home mirrors the general trend in not partcipating in a whole range of things in society. Put bluntly they couldn't care less and are bone idle. In order to justify this irresponsible behaviour people try to blame others rather than accept what they are like,


The ever declining turnouts and increasing voter disengagement are alarming signs of a sickness deep in the nation's body politic.
Turnout's been up and down over the years, low in the inter-war years, rising sharply in the 1940's and into the 1950's, falling off after, turnout was on an upward trend in the 1980's through to 1992, in 1997 turnout still wasn't that bad, there was a sharp drop in 2001 but even allowing for the effects of postal voting I doubt there would have been a further fall in 2005, it is up to every party and every candidate to enthuse their own supporters and people likely to vote for them and if people who would vote for another party don't vote instead surely this is still positive - nobody and no one party can be responsible for overall turnout.

YAA - You have of course unknowingly proved my point, made on another thread, that turnouts improve when the parties offer the electorate principle led policies and something to believe in. Matt Wright I can't believe that you genuinely mean that, if the people don't vote it is because the political parties haven't given them a reason to. After all more then enough of them managed to vote for Big Brother and that cost them money as well as effort.

People don't participatesimply because they feel powerless.It is deeply offensive to call people bone idle.Communities need the decision making processto be brought closer to them.Micro management by quangos,westminster village and those who think they know best is a socialist creed.We should banish it and promise a truly localist agenda which empowers people.

Such an approach will promote involvement and underpin accountability and excellence in service provision.

Put bluntly they couldn't care less and are bone idle. In order to justify this irresponsible behaviour people try to blame others rather than accept what they are like,

Always good to hear from the apparatchiks. In fact it seems the Anarchists have the best slogan If voting achieved anything they's ban it

The fact is Democracy has been hi-jacked by cliques and interest groups. Even now the influence-peddlers are buying up people around Cameron; the whole deal is to diminish the importance of one man one vote by short-circuiting democratic process.

The last time the public had any real control over the political parties was 1974 and since then increasing concentration of power in London and Brussels has made local govt pointless.

I still recall local shopkeepers running an Urban District Council and being able to walk into the council offices; but then came the Metropolitan District Council and before long grass was growing in the streets and the paintwork on public buildings looked like East Germany and still does.

So instead of a Council you get 3 Wards and can elect one Councillor a year for 3 out of 4 years and they sit on a Council of 90 covering 500.000 people.

It is pointless. The Officials run the place and corruptly too....with everlasting suspensions and gagged resignations on a fairly frequent basis coupled with NAO and Audit Commission reports and all sorts of chicanery.

People just want to escape and move away....what Lenin called Voting with their feet I certainly don't want the "local" council given more power, it is too corrupt. I don't bother voting for Councillors as I think they are useless. I think it would be better top fire the councillors and elect the officers

I don't know if the centralisation of the past 30 years can be reversed. The local economies have been destroyed and local businesses are gone with most people working for the NHS or Schools or Colleges and they are not allowed to stand as Councillors anyway.

Not all voters are idle, of course not. I think there is of course an issue about people feeling powerless and I am a great advocate of real localism of powers. It is frankly mad that community councils have no power and very little money to do things when they often know best what is needed on the ground in their patch and would spend it more wisely and efficiently (usually). However I do think that turnout has other components as mentioned in my earlier post. In part at the moment a lot of people feel that there is no major upheaval that would make voting critical and secondly there are growing elements in society that are just not partcipating in communities and not voting is part of that issue. I do think that such people prefer to look for others to blame rather than to engage in society. Parts of the media don't help in that they want to fill the papers everyday with exaggerated and simplified generalisations. Hence the comments on some doors that -"you're all on the make"; "councillors are all bent"; "its back-handers isn't it" (said with a knowing sort of ignorance)


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