Opinion: Why are Jesmond voters so apathetic?

On Thursday Jesmond voters go to the polls to have their say on the running of Newcastle City Council.

It’s a chance to pass judgement on the performance of councillors and for many even the national Government.

But in previous years the message coming through loud and clear has been “we just don’t care”.

For the last few elections the numbers voting in both Jesmond wards has been poor to say the least. In 2011 turnout in South Jesmond was the lowest in the entire city, at 30.1%. North Jesmond was slightly better, at 30.9%, but still the third lowest in Newcastle.

So less than one in three could be bothered to get out and cast their vote. And who would bet it will be any better this week? Apathy is reigning, despite the fact we are in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

Why might that be? Complacency? Is Jesmond less affected than other areas by the recession? Or are people just totally disillusioned with all forms of authority after the scandals of recent years?

Whatever the reasons, it is not a healthy situation. Clearly councillors need to do more to enthuse the voters and get them into polling stations, but the electorate also needs to take responsibility. It is a chicken and egg scenario. If we show we are prepared to use our voice en masse then councils will be more likely to listen to what we are saying, and put more effort into the whole process.

We all have responsibilities as part of a civil society, and one of the biggest is using your vote.

Even if you only go in and spoil your ballot paper, if you can’t face voting for any one of the candidates standing, that would send a message. And a message does need to be sent other than “do what you like, we just don’t care”.

4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why are Jesmond voters so apathetic?”

  1. Roy Hughes says:

    Could it be that the parties are not campaigning much? I live in the North Jesmond ward, and have not been canvassed or received any election literature. It was only through looking at your site that I even found out who the candidates were.

    As for the referendum on the mayor – no campaigning for either yes or no, and I have no idea what the candidates believe.

    I suggest that what you call apathy is a result of tweedledee and tweedledum politics, where there does not appear to be what George Galloway calls “a wafer of difference between tories liberals and new labour.”

    Roy Hughes

  2. Tony Waterston says:

    Roy has hit the nail on the head with his Galloway quote, and that’s why the Greens are calling for you to vote our way – though we don’t have a candidate in North Jesmond this year. We offer a vision of an environmentally transformed Jesmond with much more community involvement in bringing about change. It’s true that local politics doesn’t get high turnouts and this needs to change. The packed meetings in Gosforth protesting against Green belt building show that voters are worried about their neighbourhood, and the hustings organised by Jesmond local were also very successful.

    We’re thin in the ground so only got round part of south Jesmond (where I am standing) and I can tell you we are all in favour of more democracy but against the mayor proposal – since it would focus on one person rather than a team, and the record of elected mayors is not great outside London –

  3. Dan says:

    Hear hear, Sam. But the “do what you like, we just don’t care” message is a deafening one. On a local level, there’s still too much ideology and party-political bickering for anyone to really inspire me to vote. As it is, I do, but only by default. So what does my meaningless vote really do, except preserve Jesmond’s measly turnout and the idealistic façade that passes for participatory democracy that our current system has come to embody?

    I’m proud to be part of JesmondLocal’s efforts — such as last week’s hustings — but as Roy rightly points out, it’s the candidates’ responsibility to reach out to Jesmond’s 12,000 residents. And perhaps they’re not doing enough — which of course may be a resource issue, and that needs addressing if so.

    I personally would like to see some independent candidates who really want what’s best for Jesmond and the groups who reside there, devoid of party ideology. So an elected mayor in Newcastle would be an interesting experiment – that’s a local vote that could really make a difference, presuming anyone cares enough to cast it.

  4. Chris Boyle says:

    Sam’s quite right about the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario. As Councillors have a duty to stay in touch with their residents, so residents have perhaps some obligation to consider their right to vote. Of course they can choose not to vote if they don’t want to. And I’m not in favour of compulsory voting.

    One interesting development could be to publish the spoilt ballot papers (although this may be problematic where they identify the voter). Some spoilt ballot papers are used as annual ‘letters to their councillor’, some object to the presence (or absence) of a party on the ballot paper, and one was a very skilled reproduction on the ballot paper of Da Vinci’s ‘the scream’ in pastel which must have taken ages. I always think it’s a little strange that all the candidates see these, but not the public.

    Anyway – must dash to see if I’ve got a job next year !

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