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Things We Don't Say About Voter Engagement

06/04/2015 15:35 BST | Updated 06/06/2015 10:59 BST

The Sort of Person Spending Their Time Reading Articles On 'Voter Engagement' Is Not the Sort Of Person Who Should Be.

The two least trusted groups in society, according to the general public, are politicians, and journalists. So when journalists instruct members of the public to choose from an unimpressive selection of politicians, it should not come as a great surprise if they decide against doing so.

Journalists can also fall into the trap of using confusing jargon without realising, since these things come naturally to those relatively up-to-speed with current affairs. Some of the most common search terms during the seven-way leaders' debate, which attracted seven million viewers, were "What is a referendum?" and "What is austerity?"

We can sometimes forget that being engaged in politics requires an established level of understanding that many haven't reached. Although some non-voters are well-informed, many don't follow the news, can't tell who the prime minister is, and can never be reached by articles like this.

That having been said...

People Who Do Not Vote Come Up With Stupid Reasons.

A golden rule in politics is to never insult your electorate. So in the face of certain encounters politicians tend to look awkwardly at their feet, reciting sound bites before heading back to the car hoping they've turned the microphone off.

According to research, the most common excuses for not voting are: "My vote won't make a difference", "They are all the same", "I'm not interested in politics", "I don't know enough to choose", "The parties don't represent my views" and "I don't believe parliament is important."

Some of these can be resolved very easily (I don't know enough; do a Google search), whereas others can be more tricky to argue against.

Underlining all this is a degree of ignorance. Undeniably, the schools system should do more to educate youngsters about democracy, our parliament, and why these things actually matter. Non-voters too have a responsibility to seek information for themselves.

But none of this is helped by sneering at those who don't know as much as they could, and by politicians too wary of making headlines to argue their own beliefs in the face of ignorance. They have a responsibility to lead, not appease.

However...

It Is True That Your Vote (Alone) Will Not Make A Difference.

More accurately, your vote alone will make more or less of a difference depending on where, and when, you live. Take my own constituency - Brent Central.

In 2010 the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Teather took the newly-created seat by a wafer-thin majority of 1,345 votes (44.2% to Labour's 41.2%). But things have changed over the last five years.

A member of parliament for 12 years, Sarah Teather, who has campaigned strongly on local issues, is standing down. Having entered into a coalition with the Tories, Liberal Democrat support across the country has also collapsed in on itself.

Recent polling by Lord Ashcroft put Labour in the lead with 54% of the vote, ahead of the Lib Dems in second place with 19%. Unless the local Lib Dem branch invokes the spirit of Istanbul, which is unlikely given recent developments, Labour has a sure win.

How could you possibly tell somebody living in my constituency who is completely disengaged - reluctant to even show up on the day - that their vote will "make a difference"?

But this was inevitable, because...

First Past The Point Is A System Which Suppresses The Voice Of The Electorate.

The beauty of First Past the Post is that it has, until recently, produced stable majority governments. But it has also inadvertently allowed the two main parties to coerce voters into staying loyal in order to keep 'the other lot' out of power.

Both Labour and the Tories have perhaps subconsciously realised they needn't bother trying to deliver any sort of vision of hope for the future - fear does the trick just fine.

"Vote SNP, get David Cameron."

"Vote Ukip, get Ed Miliband."

Both of these statements are true, and both only go so far as to scare potential deserters into flocking back home.

Scottish Labour is the perfect example of a party who took its electorate for granted until it was too late. By sheer co-incidence of the electoral buzz generated by the independence referendum, the SNP sucked thousands of disillusioned voters into their ranks by capitalising on Labour's complacency.

Now, rightly or wrongly, many Scottish voters feel they finally have a reason to vote. The same applies to Ukippers disillusioned by the 'liberal' policies of the Conservative Party. It's also telling that both sets of supporters often complain of a mass media-establishment conspiracy to smear their respective leaders. No. That feeling is just fear 'the other lot' will get into power.

Although, who knows, with less than five weeks to gomaybe there's still hope?