Comment: Why was local election turnout so low this year?
The big questions from the election is why did so few people vote? Turnout was only 1,679 in South Jesmond, compared with nearly 4,000 in 2010. We don’t know the reasons, but this a problem nationally, though the turnout is particularly low in South Jesmond – perhaps because there are so many students here. From observation of the media and comments I have heard, I’d say there are three reasons:
1. Lack of awareness: nationally, the news focus was on the London mayor. Do local people, particularly the young, know much about the local council? Do they know who their councillors are and what they do? From talking to medical students, the answer is no.
But perhaps the council does not make it easy.
2. Cynicism about politics and politicians: I was shocked to read a report of a young Newcastle woman who, asked about the election, said –”I’m not being ageist, but don’t ask me, ask those old people over there, they’re still into that kind of thing.” This is extremely disturbing, and a contrast to France, where 80% voted in the recent presidential election. Recent political scandals make cynicism understandable, but to me, this can only be changed by voting.
3. No big issues: on the doorstep, many people often say that they don’t have particular concerns about their neighbourhood. Of course some groups do have concerns – residents near Osborne Road don’t like the noise and heavy drinking, the elderly and those without cars want a better bus service, permanent residents don’t like houses in multiple occupation, and park users want to see better maintenance. Bin collections also feature. But overall we don’t find big concerns being expressed. That probably reflects the overall high income levels of this community. Issues tend to be about what people DON’T want rather than what they do want – they are against library charges, against closing the post office, and against building on the green belt.
Can we increase support and democratic interest in changes for the better? I believe we can. The council is very keen to involve more local people and groups in decision making around their community. This includes areas where cuts might be made. But I see this as a great opportunity for residents to become genuinely involved in local decisions. This will require new methods such as social media, the web and video interviews. There needs to be a reaching-out to young people and marginalised groups to help them to take part and contribute. Let’s see this happening before the next local election in two years.
Tony Waterston stood as Green Party candidate in South Jesmond at the last local election