Voter apathy is currently a problem in the UK. It is not a new problem, as this graph showing an all-time low for general election turnout in 2001 shows, but it is still a current problem.
Perhaps one of the issues is that the number of ways in which voters can connect with both local and national politicians is not well known or publicized. If there seems to be nothing to choose between the mainstream political parties from looking at the newspaper headlines, party leaflets, party political broadcasts or the debates on Question Time, what else is there to do?
I often find myself in the “swing voter” position, and if the national campaigns don’t sway me, I try two things: reading the electoral manifesto of each of the parties, and attending local hustings. Usually, one or both of these things stirs a strong opinion that was previously hidden beneath the surface. What can cause a complication is if the two clash. Do I vote on the basis of the manifesto I like best, bearing in mind that the party is not bound to implement it should they gain power; or do I vote on the basis of the local candidate who best represents my views, bearing in mind their voice may be drowned out at Westminster if it does not correlate with the main thrust of the party they belong to? But at least at this stage I’m engaged, I’m interested, and I’m going to vote on election day.
There is also no need to leave it until election time to meet your local MP. If you want to scrutinize them in person, you can do so by attending their surgery. This is free and open to all constituents. If you have an issue that relates in any way to national or local policy, find a time to go along, talk to your MP about it and see what they say. If they’re convincing, you may decide to vote for them; if they’re no help, you may decide to vote against them; in either scenario, you may decide that more information is needed. Again, it’s about making an initial time investment which quickly repays itself, because you start to care and realize that your vote matters.
What about “wasted votes” in seats were the current MP is not to your liking, but so popular that you know they won’t be unseated by the minor party you’d like to vote for? Should you resort to tactical voting, or not bother voting at all? In my opinion, no, because no vote cast is truly wasted. Each and every one of them is counted and shows trends which will be useful for your candidate’s campaign the next time around. I believe that if everyone – and I mean everyone – voted for the person they wanted to be elected, rather than using their vote as a tactical ploy, or a protest, or not at all, we’d have a significantly different political landscape.
So, although it seems counter-intuitive, the less you currently care about politics, the more important it is that you try getting involved. Best-case scenario: you find change that you want to see happen, and help bring it about. Worst-case scenario: you know that you tried.