Disillusionment and the General Election 2017

Polling Station. Credit: Secretlondon123 (Soruce: Flickr)

By Liam Davies

Election Day is strikingly close and it’ll be here quicker than we can comprehend, but despite living in an overwhelmingly political period sure to feature prominently in history books to come, some people won’t share responsibility for crafting our imminent to extended future. Everyone in the UK possesses a democratic right to vote by way of Section 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and its qualifying provisions, yet a notable percentage will once more fail to exercise this long fought for privilege this year, as with any general election.

The Guardian only days ago reported that this time round, 2.3 million people have registered to vote since the election was called. Psephologists could prescribe you a whole range of instruments to explain voting behavior such as Rational Choice Theory or the Party Identification or Sociological Models. But what of those who won’t be and their accompanying rationales?

Cardiff University’s Dr Stuart Fox has divulged some insights very recently here, a first point of note being that some simply wouldn’t know who to vote for. Fox confidently asserts that there is undoubtedly a link between this lack of knowledge and consequent unwillingness to vote. Next up, Survation and the BBC have identified another reason for not marking an ‘x’ on the ballot: that being the lack of trust in politicians and political parties. Fox informs the BBC that “people have lost faith in politicians and don’t know who to trust or what to believe,” this lack of faith also spilling over to include even some of those who do turnout. The proportion of those not willing to issue their trust indicates that this is not solely an issue about voting or not voting but a more general phenomena of the public’s low regard for our elected representatives.

The top reasons of those who didn’t vote in the General Election 2015 included: not believing that their vote will make any difference, belief parties and candidates are all the same, a lack of interest in politics, and not having enough information or knowledge to choose. These, of course, are reasons easily identifiable by the average person. A First Past the Post electoral system guarantees a mass of wasted votes. And what if you live in a constituency that acts as a party’s stronghold? No point voting if the favouring of the majority will just drown out your voice.

A widely shared view is that the younger demographic won’t be visiting polling stations. Take Emma Hartley (Head of Campaigns and Corporate Communications at the Electoral Commission) for example on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme only a week ago, stating how younger people sit at the apex of those disenfranchised. This may be true, but surely contestable. It’d be a damn laborious chore to hunt out a youngster on your Facebook feed not repeatedly imploring you to register and vote over the past weeks. Even those you’d consider as having no interest in politics and no political knowledge apparently feel the self-elected obligation to remind you that you must vote as it’s your duty to. On May 25th, BBC Three reported that 453,000 young people signed up to vote on final day of registration alone. I’d say the voices from those aged 18 and slightly higher on June 8th 2017 are sure to fall far from the definition of “disenfranchised.”

Can we sort out the turnout figure pandemic? 2001 saw a somewhat negative spike in turnout when it dipped to 59%. In the 1950s the figure rested at over 80. A fundamental way to alleviate disillusionment would be to follow in the footsteps of jurisdictions such as Australia, who have long-implemented compulsory voting laws. How about more grassroots campaigns from political parties? Farage won support in the 2015 election after tirelessly visiting many places, one example being small businesses in the Valleys, stripping himself of any cameras or political team to scurry in his shadow – merely conversing with members of the general public in places like chippies on a personal level to win their backing.

With a Government and Politics A-Level on the CV, I will obviously be biased in jumping on the bandwagon of telling you to vote if you’re one of those outlined above who, for whatever reason, will simply neglect to give the election attention. Unsure about anything or feel you don’t know much? Get reading! Immerse yourself in political literature and what you need to know; make sure sources are trustworthy, reliable and valid. So that doesn’t include the odd Facebook comment that hits high on the like count or anything published by the Daily Mail or the Sun. Sources may purport not to be partisan, yet their output can easily be infused with ‘loaded’ language; at the end of the day, our political identifications all fall somewhere on the spectrum. Manifestos are a great starting point (the realities of their contained promises becoming true however is another thing entirely. Corbyn, I’m looking at you). Of course, it would be only rightfully discerning for an author’s personal beliefs to spoil an impartial piece but please god, do not be one of these extremely ill-informed, uneducated young people setting the most ignorantly toxic and frankly stupid statuses or Tweets demonstrating a clear lack of understanding for political and economic terms. Hint hint: privatisation. Social media is great at disseminating all things politics, but it’s rarely pure. It’s certainly guaranteed to make you laugh though wherever your political leanings lie, even if you do venture to hilarious pages such as “Strong and Stable memes for Tory teens.”

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017’s passing, which granted the Prime Minister the power to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave the EU and start the two-year negotiation process for withdrawal as laid down by Article 50(2) TEU sees the latter now underway. I’ll leave you with that reminder and pair it with the Green Party as they launched their campaign in London. Skip past them ostentatiously waving their manifesto with frightening grins imprinted on their faces and cut to Caroline Lucas, who declared in an ostensibly honest manner, “I can’t remember a time in my own lifetime where the future has felt more uncertain.” Many can definitely empathise. If we can do anything to mitigate this continued eventuality, it sure won’t include not voting on Election Day. Apathy, mistrust or feelings of worthless contribution surely can’t be an answer anymore. Whether it’s a protest vote or a spoilt ballot, participation is key.