Don’t ignore democracy – or it will ignore you

I read this recently in a book about a Nazi massacre, committed in Ukraine, during World War 2. The book was written by a Ukrainian author but because it criticised both the National Socialists and the Communist Party equally, it was banned by the Soviet Union’s censors.

The author clearly knew more about totalitarian regimes than any one person deserved to know. You can understand why someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, lived through Nazi occupation, and then was plunged back into Soviet domination, might hold on to the ideal of democracy more fiercely than those of us in the West who take it so much for granted.

The act of casting a vote to determine the future of a nation never fails to fill me with awe. Elections in many nations around the world – Nigeria just two weeks ago, for instance – see queues miles long as people turn out in their millions.

Yet turnouts here have fallen over time. Between 1922 and 1991 turnout for UK General Elections never fell below 71%. In 2001 it fell to a recent record low – 59.4%. In 2005 it was 61.4% and in 2010 it climbed to 65.1%. More than one in three people cannot be bothered to vote – and that figure only includes those who are registered to vote.

Many different theories abound about why people do not vote. The most popular – that all the parties are the same, or its lazier variant, that they do not keep their promises – are easily dismissed by a simple consideration of the facts. While some policies may be similar, the basic philosophies of the different political parties are wildly different. And by and large parties DO keep their promises. 95% of the coalition agreement has been implemented – which means a huge amount of both Conservative & Liberal Democrat manifestos were implemented over the last five years. Equally Labour’s 2005 manifesto was, for the most part, implemented.

Another reason often given for falling turnouts is the fact that, between 1992 and 2010, none of the results were in doubt. The 1992 General Election had the highest percentage turnout for any election since February 1974. The 2010 General Election had the highest turnout since 1997.

Yet the result of this election, in 3 ½ weeks, is very much in doubt. But I doubt turnout will be much higher than it was in 2010. Sure, some non-voters will turnout for UKIP. Some will turnout for the Greens. Some 2010 non-voters will return to Labour. But most will remain uninspired and sat at home.

So what you might ask. Who cares if these people don’t vote – surely that is their right?

Well I care. In 2012, at the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, people couldn’t be bothered to vote. In Suffolk, despite a massive Tory majority just 2 years earlier at the General Election, when almost a half of those who voted, voted Tory, Labour topped the poll on first preference votes. While nobody would suggest that Labour are an extremist party (well nobody sane, anyway) low turnouts can result in extremists getting elected.

So if you are a party activist, get out there and campaign on the doorsteps for your guy or gal. If you are a candidate, make sure you do everything you can to get every last voter out. And if you are a registered voter? Get your arse down to the polling station and vote.

If you’re not registered, you are the extremists’ favourite type of voter. Stand up and be counted. You have until the end of this week to get registered. Do it. Here.