Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Shameron, Rochester and the issue of low turnouts

Today, the mighty David Shameron has pleaded with Labour, Lib Dem and Green Party voters in Rochester to back the Conservative candidate in the upcoming by-election (caused by the defection of sitting MP Mark Reckless to UKIP).

Obviously, this is to the prevent the potential bloodbath that's looking more likely if the latest Ashcroft poll is correct which puts UKIP in the lead with 44% while the Tories trail in second place with 32%. He stated:

‘I would say to people who have previously voted Labour, Liberal, Green or anything, that if you want a strong local candidate and don’t want some Ukip boost and all the uncertainty and instability that leads to, then Kelly is the choice.’

What's depressing about this is that if Shameron hadn't led everyone up the garden trail over the issue of the EU, Reckless would probably never have defected in the first place. However, it's not just the issue of the EU any more. It's the total discrediting of the three main parties in general and what has lead to it. While there is certainly no such thing as a perfect government (even Mrs Thatcher was a far cry from that), there is no excuse for the utterly piss poor excuse for governance we've had since approximately 1997. More than ever, substance has been substituted in favour of style leading to a generation of political eunuchs who don't seem to stand for anything in particular other than the colour of the party they represent.

We can see the outcome, not just in the poor state of those who govern but in other areas of political life. BBC Parliament are today broadcasting the coverage of the 1964 election, in which Harold Wilson and the Labour Party defeated Sir Alec Douglas-Holme to end 13 years of Conservative government. The turnout for that election was 77.1%. This was down from the high of 1950 with 83.9% (still the highest turnout since the franchise was extended to both sexes in 1918 and to adults over 21 in 1928) but is still significantly higher than the turnout in the years since 1997. For the record:

-1997-71.4% turnout (despite being the landslide election for Ton Blair)
-2001-59.4% turnout (the lowest since 1918)
-2005-61.4% turnout (first time Labour had won three consecutive elections)
-2010-65.1% turnout (resulted in a hung parliament despite earlier polls predicting Conservative landslide)

If we take the figures of every election since 1918, a worrying trend emerges:

-1974 (February)-78.8
-1974 (October)-72.8

The mean average is approximately 73% although as we can see it never dropped below 71% until 2001 (by which point Tony Blair had lost much of his shine and the Conservatives ran a terrible campaign). While turnout had recovered to 65% by the time of the 2010 election I fear that the current anti-politician climate will erode it again or at the very least prevent a return to the figures of the pre 1997 period.

It's not just the turnout you have to keep in mind. There's also the issue of the percentage of the vote that each party obtains. Now in a system such as ours (first past the post), the popular vote is technically irrelevant since the result is on the basis of seat numbers in the House of Commons (although in 1929, 1951 and February 1974 the winning party had less of the popular vote than the party in second place). In 2005 for example, the Labour Party won with a mere 35.2% of the vote. Is it really feasible to have one party in power on such a low number? I accept that no government or party has received an absolute majority of the vote since the 1931 election (even Thatcher only managed to poll in the low 40s) but 35%?

At least with higher turnouts, the percentages tend to be larger and thus confer a greater degree of legitimacy on whomever the winner is. I fear that as time goes on, if politicians allow themselves to become even more disconnected from the people they are supposed to represent, a great rift will emerge that could one day have violent consequences. I do not wish for anyone to think I believe riots are imminent but there are plenty of other parts of the world where political malaise has lead to dark forces taking advantage difficult situations for their own ends (before anyone jumps in, no I'm not claiming UKIP are said “dark forces).

The unedifying affair of Shameron asking other parties to vote for his candidate not on the basis his policies but on the basis of just trying to keep one party out stinks and is the kind of thing that might actually push people into voting for UKIP. Indeed, the media pressure put on them prior to the European elections this year probably helped cultivate an image of UKIP being bullied by the larger, more well established parties.

It might have worked against the BNP but the BNP were always something of a fringe group and a one man show which could never shake off its past connections to all manner of unpleasant characters. As a result it was very easy to smear and in turn did itself even more damage through infighting, especially since a number of people on the white nationalist side of things seemed to hate him more than they hated the political establishment they were opposed to. UKIP, whether you agree with them or not (and despite the presence of some idiots who make very strange statements) do not have the same image problem and so far hasn't had the internal fractures that the BNP did.

Rather than belittling UKIP, it's voters or trying to make up pacts to outmanoeuvre them, Shameron should perhaps return to sound Conservative principles of governance, even if we do only have 7 months left to go before election day 2015. I suspect a giant blue pig is more likely to fly past my bedroom window than Shameron is to do that.

Has it also not occurred to him that there potentially Labour voters who would rather vote UKIP than Tory? 

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