A campaign that aspires to an extra 1.2 million young voters next year

LOYV

I welcome any initiative that looks to improve voter engagement, especially amongst the young, and so I was pleased to have discovered The League Of Young Voters. Their aim of trying to get an extra 1.2 million young people voting by the end of next year is one I am happy to endorse.

I have to say, on a sour note, that I do not like the ‘Find Your Perfect Match‘. Aside from being out of date (the preamble begin thus: Elections for the European Parliament are on the 22nd May – match your views against the parties involved to help you choose who to vote for) I find that these sort of tests quite unsatisfying. I vote Labour less based on any individual policy but rather because of their underlying ethos. I imagine this is true of many voters and the parties they align themselves with.

I think fewer questions designed to tease out what appeals to a voter would work better. Some of the questions in the test work for a political obsessive like me, but I can imagine a few scratched heads from others. Questions based on policy rather than principles work only if you have a good grasp of policy and what drives it. The casual observer is not going to understand much beyond headlines.

Anyway, I know little about the organisation or who is behind it, but if engagement and turnout is increased then that can only be a good thing.

They are on Twitter, and there is a European counterpart.

Think your vote doesn’t count? Think again

It often falls to me to persuade people that voting matters. At times I also have to convince that their vote can change things. Of course, there are wards in Southend-on-Sea where nothing short of a political earthquake will change the status quo, although these are diminishing in number.

Increasingly, owing to rise in the number of candidates standing as well as a desire for change, we are seeing contests where the gap between success and failure is shrinking. In these places every vote does count – the ‘nothing changes around here’ argument is provably untrue.

In the 2012 election seven wards had majorities of less than a hundred. In four the majorities were less than sixty – thirty voters switching could have turned these around.

The following is a list of all wards with majorities of less than a hundred since 2002.

ward year majority winner runner-up
Kursaal 2004 4 Labour Conservative
Kursaal 2008 6 Conservative Labour
Blenheim Park 2008 16 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Westborough 2010 17 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Luke’s 2007 17 Conservative Labour
Kursaal 2010 24 Conservative Labour
Westborough 2002 27 Labour Independent
Southchurch 2011 29 Conservative Independent
Westborough 2012 38 Independent Labour
St Laurence 2002 47 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Southchurch 2012 51 Conservative Independent
Blenheim Park 2003 53 Liberal Democrat Conservative
West Leigh 2014 55 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Milton 2012 58 Labour Conservative
Blenheim Park 2011 58 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Blenheim Park 2012 59 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Luke’s 2003 65 Labour Conservative
Prittlewell 2008 72 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Prittlewell 2012 73 Liberal Democrat Conservative
West Shoebury 2012 73 Conservative UKIP
Belfairs 2012 73 Independent Conservative
Milton 2003 90 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Prittlewell 2007 96 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Laurence 2011 98 Conservative Liberal Democrat

Blenheim Park holds the distinction of most appearances in this list. Four times out of a maximum of ten. Kursaal, Westborough and Prittlewell appear three times. Eleven different wards are in this list – from a total of seventeen in the borough.  Of the six that do not appear only three have seen no change in presentation since 2002 (Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and Victoria).

Surreal and stupefying, discourse in Southend-on-Sea

The continuing conversation I am having with residents in Southend-on-Sea occasionally throws up the surreal and the stupefying.

I will start with the stupefying, and I can find no better adjective for this particular piece of information. A conversation with a nurse elicited the fact that she failed to take a blood sample from someone (at their home) because she was unable to find a parking space. That stress is a by-product of the hunt to find a place to park is not news, but this is the first time I have heard of a medical procedure being abandoned because of parking policies put in place by the council (and, to be fair, by the large numbers of cars competing for too few places).

The problem, it seemed, arose from a parking scheme that allowed no visitor parking, and the neighbouring streets being full of those displaced once the scheme was implemented. (Parking schemes often ‘fix’ a problem for residents in a particular street, but the knock on effect is usually a much worse problem in neighbouring streets. Parking schemes almost always merely shift a problem rather than solve it.)

If a special permit does not exist for health workers then I will inquire about having one set up. It worries me somewhat, and I only hope that the example told to me was a one-off. The parking problem in Southend-on-Sea is bad for one’s health, if this example is anything to go by.

Conversations about insect numbers found on country walks are few and far between in my experience. I enjoyed one of these rare moments recently, and it did remind me of recent campaigns about the plight of the bumble bee. I was asked whether I counted the number of insect encounters on my last perambulation through rustic surroundings; I confessed not. I do, though, take a keen interest in the insect world and often seek inspiration from the tireless and selfless activities of ants. Socialists and social insects are a good match.

I am not sure which category (surreal or stupefying) conversations about the relevance and importance of voting are, and whilst abstention is part and parcel of the democratic process I cannot help but feel that we politicians are collectively failing the electorate. Mind you, it could be the other way around; are local politics and politicians being subject to any rigorous scrutiny if only a quarter of the electorate vote?

Jobs and disability, the cuts to benefits, policing – all hot topics at the moment, as is that old chestnut development. Pot hole conversations, pot hole conversations, and more pot hole conversations also feature.

The earnestness of being important

Jack Monroe has tackled the issue of voter apathy on her blog here. She sets out eloquently why abstention should not be an option, and I would like to add to her thoughts.

She begins with the issue of voter registration, mandatory at present but rarely enforced. The Government is moving us away from household registration to IER (individual electoral registration) as a means to combat voter fraud. I am unconvinced that IER will stop fraud, and I am convinced IER will see under-registration grow. Figures vary as to how many are not registered at present, but my experience suggests that in some areas it is approaching chronic. Aside from the issues affecting credit ratings and identity, under-registration undermines our legal system.

Juries are made up of twelve people, peers of those under examination. These twelve are drawn from the electoral role, and drawn randomly. The concept of ‘peers’ is important here; we are entitled to be judged by people like us, not experts or Government placemen. If the electoral register is missing a significant number of our peers then the integrity of this system is questioned. A cross-section of society ceases to be a cross-section if an underclass is excluded.

Also turnout, which is bandied about as a means of legitimising the winners in any election, is judged by counting those who vote and calculating this as a percentage of those registered. Shock was expressed in 2001 when the General Election turnout dipped to just below 60%. This did not factor in those who were not registered. It could have been under 50% had these been counted. Abstention is unrecognised if the abstainer does not register.

Voting is important. Those of us who thought Thatcher’s interpretation of society was woefully wide of the mark believe that society is as much about engagement as anything. We have the right to vote, I think we have a responsibility to vote as well. I would encourage all to vote – yes even those who would vote against me and my colleagues.

It is almost as if the cannot-be-bothered see the act of sitting on their hands on polling day as a way of distancing themselves from the result. I would not let them off so lightly. When we get repressive governments and councils this is as much a fault of the apathetic as it is of those who cast the crosses for repression.

By voting the voter recognises that compromises have to be made. Almost every vote is a compromise – which two people agree on everything? Compromise shows unselfishness. This in itself embraces the concept of society as the sum of us all, a giant step towards socialism. Sacrificing some of your own wants for a greater good makes the world a better place.

So, for a better world – vote!