Saturday, 7 May 2016

People don't vote, because the system offers no solutions

Limited attraction:
"Did not vote" the biggest winner by far
In our tribal, divisive electoral system it's no surprise that the biggest group of all is completely absent. In London on Thursday, 54% did not vote; in Scotland the figure was 44% and in Wales 56%. In English local elections the figures are similar or worse. And these figures are for registered voters. They do not include the hundreds of thousands of (generally young) people of voting age who do not make it onto the electoral roll.

Meanwhile, two election stories are dominating the news cycle. One is the failed Conservative "dog whistle" campaign against Sadiq Khan; the other is the "state of the parties" - who's up, who's down and can Labour win the next General Election under Jeremy Corbyn (or anyone else). Actually, they're the same story. Politics in the media is all about big-name politicians and the parties they belong to, rather than improving the quality of people's lives.

No wonder that a young person I met felt too uninformed about the issues and the candidates to cast a meaningful vote. They reasoned that they would unfairly dilute the votes of people who did know what they were talking about. Such faith in ones fellow citizens is admirable in one sense but almost certainly misplaced. Most people vote for party, not policy. Non-voters are left powerless and dispossessed, because they don't identify with any of the tribes.

In tribal politics, innovation is avoided for its risk of alienating core supporters. So the economy remains broken and unfair, the education system is dragged back to the nineteenth century and the NHS is starved of resources in the interests of tax cuts, because no party dares propose radical change. But radical political and economic change is precisely what we all (and especially young people) need.

Transformative policies, such as a viable basic income and truly affordable housing, will allow lives to be shaped by people's creativity rather than by debt and insecurity. The party system won't deliver them, but a new, values-based politics designed to engage those absent voters potentially could.

Picture: secretlondon123 (originally posted to Flickr as Polling station) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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