Yes, it’s election time again! And we all know what that means – a poor turnout caused by voter disillusion and antipathy towards all politicians! The only thing is that, this time, being the London Mayoral elections, this is not necessarily the case.
It appears that Londoners like myself, are going to be flocking to the polling stations in order to elect a mayor. This is likely to be the most closely fought election in recent memory helped by a proportional representation system that, like with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly, allows the London assembly the mayor to be truly chosen by the all the electorate.
And, with the desire by the electorate to elect their chosen candidate as mayor, we are also going to get a higher turnout to choose London assembly members (themselves voted for by the traditional, first-past-the-post system). This can only be good for democracy in the UK in general, particularly considering the usually dismal turnout in recent local elections and even, to a lesser extent, general elections.
What, then, has made people so keen to vote in this election?
One reason that is often overlooked is the one already mentioned – the proportional representation system of voting in the mayor. The principal problem with the traditional method of voting in local and general elections in the UK is that for many their vote simply will not count. If I am a Tory supporter and live in Liverpool I would feel that my vote is wasted as there would be not chance that the Tories will win a seat in Liverpool. Equally, there is no chance that Labour can win a seat in Kensington & Chelsea. As such what would be the point of voting if a Tory supporter in Liverpool, or a Labour supporter in Kensington? There would be simply no point at all. Even more so, if I were a Liberal Democrat supporter, knowing that my party in the last election were securing nearly as many votes as the Tories, but that through the traditional voting system are never likely to go above third place, I would be disillusioned with the political system in this country. In the mayoral election all the votes count and so the winner can truly be said to be representative of the people.
Secondly, the two main candidates are clear characters with differing policies and ideologies. It is true that Brian Paddick is a bit of a damp squib and that the Liberals should have been more ambitious in their selection of a candidate (my local MP, Vince Cable would have been a wonderful choice). It is also true that ‘Red Ken’ has questions to answer regarding the possible fraudulent activities of one or two his employees and that ‘Boris’, as the Labour machine insist on calling him, has demonstrated the kind of pompous and elitist attitude which has made the Tories so unpopular with so many voters. However, it is in these two characters and their flaws that we get a clear difference between the candidates and can engage with them and their policies.
Finally, London’s successes and failures are representative of the country as a whole. It is likely that the turnout at the next general election, however much the antiquated electoral system puts many voters off, will still have a larger turnout. The present Labour administration has hit a point similar to the Conservatives in the late 1990s, where they have been in power so long that people feel they are no longer in touch with the general populace. Equally, the electorate will always want change, no matter how well or badly a government has performed. With the economy in doubt and with a leader who is not performing well in the opinion polls, it is likely that the next election, like that of the 1997 election, will result in a higher turnout and, if the present incumbents do not improve in the opinion polls significantly, another landslide. The only chance to vote right now is in the London Mayoral election and Londoners are seizing on the opportunity to express themselves.
Let’s hope that there is a move towards proportional representation (as was promised by the present administration in their 1997 manifesto) and that all UK voters get the same fever for democracy as Londoners so that all of us can say that we have had a say in our democracy.