By Nathan Parton.
Walk down most streets in Britain and ask any citizen what they think of a politician or a political party and you’re likely to be met with a direct response – ‘They don’t understand what it is like’ or ‘their world is different to ours.’ This kind of rhetoric is becoming increasingly normal in Britain.
Irritation and dissatisfaction has elevated to a level that the public are now deciding to not vote at local, general and European elections. Having read Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution,’ I can empathise and agree with several actions that he wants to take in order to challenge the Establishment, however, his position on not voting, which he initially argued in favour of during an interview with Jeremy Paxman in 2013 worries me somewhat. Neglecting your right to vote does little in reshaping politics other than potentially harming your interests in allowing smaller parties rise to prominence.
For almost 30 years the public of Britain have voted for two parties who have ‘moved more central’ according to Tony Blair in his autobiography. Within the British political system, what we would deem left (Labour) and right (Conservative) no longer exists in its traditional form. Nick Clegg’s dishonesty and betrayal of the students has seriously damaged the reputation of the Lib Dems even further. The public are therefore left in a position where they can vote for three parties that have continued to be poor in the representation of their interests. It is for this reason that UKIP are gaining increasing support from voters who would traditionally vote for the Tory’s, Labour or the Lib Dems.
Let me refer to our most recent example in the Rochester and Strood by-election where former Tory MP Mark Reckless won the seat for UKIP after defecting. Winning a majority with just over 2,000 more votes more than Tory MP Kelly Tolhurst, Mark Reckless achieved 16,867 votes. If we compare these election results to the 2010 elections where Conservatives won with 23,604, Labour were runners-up with 13,651 and Lib Dems finished third with 7,800 votes, we can see a shift in voters priorities. In 2014, UKIP won with 16,867, Tory’s were runner’s-up with 13,947, Labour finished third with 6,713 and Lib Dems finished 5th (behind the Green Party) with 349 votes.
Thus, from this by-election we have witnessed a direct response from the people of Rochester and Strood and a distribution of voters. While this particular example had a high turnout at the polls, it illustrates the importance for people in other constituencies to vote and prevent a party that they would not necessarily support rising to prominence.
In the 1950 general election, 83.9% of the population turned out to vote Labour’s Clement Atlee into government with 13,226,176 votes, a level never reached again. Between 1945 and 2000 voter turnout maintained a level between 71 and 78.8% with two occasions reaching over 80%. However, in our most recent elections, voter turnout has been 59.4% (2001), 61.4% (2005) and most recently 65.1% in 2010.
My point then, is through neglecting your opportunity to vote, you are essentially allowing the distribution of votes to shift from the central parties to lesser, radical parties such as UKIP. UKIP have won two seats and have a realistic chance of winning more seats in 2015’s general election. These low turnouts and public discontent with the political elite have paved way for right wing parties such as BNP and Britain First to move up the system over the last decade.
The public of Britain have an opportunity to do something about this.
My greatest criticism of political parties is in their failure to reach out to sectors of our community and increase levels of voter turnouts at elections. Specifically the youth who are increasingly becoming less interested in voting because of their belief that their vote means nothing in terms of the greater picture, ‘things will still be the same’ – this kind of rhetoric. We are, in my opinion, at danger of allowing a duplicitous, damaging political party to rise to a level where their influence extends to regional and local levels.
UKIP’s support is coming from areas of the UK where ethnic communities are high and employment potential is limited. They also reach out to former Tory and Labour voters who are angered by the current parties. Indeed, if you vote for the same political parties that have dominated British politics for the last 50 years or more, you’re unlikely to challenge the system. However, if you don’t vote and allow for UKIP to even out the election poll then you are essentially allowing a right-wing party to gain a position of authority. Politics will change, with growing discontent and anger within society, we can start to change things after the 2015 election.
Nathan Parton has a BA in East Mediterranean History and an MA in International Relations. He was born in Germany and has lived in the UK since 2000.