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As Tony Benn pointed out during his final contribution to Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, people died for the right t

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Introduction

As Tony Benn pointed out during his final contribution to Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, people died for the right to vote their cause should not be considered "boring". We hope that the "apathetic" tag is a misjudgement of the electorate. Elections don't happen very often, and the outcomes are determined not by Gallup, NOP and MORI, but by us, the voters But we do contend that participation at election time requires all of us to turn out. In this fragmented age, there are few remaining bits of "glue" that bind the nation together. A general election is one of the unifying occasions in which we can all celebrate. Every election determines the future direction of Britain's politics, and that is never boring. If voters treat democracy with contempt, then they themselves deserve contempt. To the TV interviewers, the public give a range of reasons for their reluctance to turn out: "There's no point, it's a foregone conclusion", "My constituency is a safe seat anyway", "Politicians are all the same", "None of them represents me". ...read more.

Middle

Simultaneously, it is possible to see in the willingness of the fuel protesters to take to the streets or motorways further evidence - which some spuriously use to justify the protests - of a disillusionment with conventional politics. Against this unpromising background come all sort of ideas for more fully engaging the electorate in the mainstream political process. But governments - including this one - are hardly blameless. If you double-count spending figures, if you over-present, above all if you regard the parliamentary system (in the Blair administration's case explicitly) as only one, rather than the primary one, of many forms of modern democracy, you do a disservice to what elections are all about. You also incidentally become too reliant on a press, which can bite you as energetically as it once drooled over you. Here, turnout, at least in England and Wales, where there is no lawmaking Parliament to rival Westminster, turnout may actually be significantly higher than in 1997. First the differences between the parties - not only on Europe but also on tax and spending - will be much wider than they were then. ...read more.

Conclusion

Polls may be viewed with suspicion but they do feed public opinion. Of course, polls are not the only factor determining turnout. In the run-up to the 2001 election, many voters questioned in focus groups felt disillusioned that more had not been achieved under Labour but were sure the Tories could do no better. Few could think of any big issues on which the two main parties offered radically different and attractive solutions. Obviously, some people make a decision not to vote because they are not interested in politics, cannot see the outcome will make any difference to their everyday lives and therefore cannot be bothered. According to this research, voter apathy is the least important reason for not voting: only 10% of the Electoral Commission's sample of non-voters said they had not voted because they were "not interested". These investigations are likely to lead us all in the wrong direction. Politicians will have to look a lot closer to home to work out why so many could not be bothered to vote. The apathy of focus group respondents suggests that low turnout in the 2001 election was a consequence of unfulfilled promises from Labour on the big issues they promised to tackle, coupled with a feeling that there was no alternative. ...read more.

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