Low voter turnout and the rise of UKIP

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.

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3 thoughts on “Low voter turnout and the rise of UKIP

  1. As a hard working tax payer for the last 30 years, I am forever amused by these sort of articles and the view of active political supporters like Mr Parton.

    Rather than set each political party against the next, can we not have a degree of common sense. For example,

    1) Post 18s students fees should be free – so long as they pursue a qualification that will help the UK, lead to employment and payment of income tax (to support the next wave of students). If you want three years or more doing something that is purely of interest to you, then pay for it yourself. Likewise, don’t get a loan for three years on the “pop” and not expect to pay it back.

    2) Improve education for all, so everyone has the best chance to achieve their goals (subject to 1 above). Better supported local schools and, above all, more parent support. Don’t blame the teachers, they are there to support the efforts of the parents. Get involved with your kids and know what they are doing at school.

    3) Insist that everyone contributes financially to society. I feel that Mr Parton would like to return to a hands-out-and-claim society but you must remember that the Government is not an entity with unlimited funds and, if the tax payers leave, then all the walls fall down.

    4) Encourage social and ethnic tolerance, support and the “debtor to society” principles. I sweep outside my house and people ask why as “the council should do it”. Well they don’t, austerity measure etc. But that’s no reason why I shouldn’t. Set a good example in everything you do. As my parents did.

    Above all, let’s get away from the opinionated, party centered, blame someone else view. All that does is stir up anger and frustration. All the political parties have their good points and bad points but all I see Party A do in the Commons is disagree with Party B. That’s a waste of time, effort and my taxpayers money. Let’s all move forwards together.

    1. Tony Knight

      I appreciate your response and this is the great thing about political topics – anyone can and should get involved in them!

      Let me begin by stating that the point of WebRootsDemocracy is to get people involved with politics and to change the way people think about it – removing the current political apathy. It is not intended to be an alternative platform that perpetuates the blame culture that exists between separate political parties. I want more people to get involved with voting and that is the core focus of this piece. My main argument is that with less people voting we are allowing smaller, more radical parties to rise to prominence.

      Okay, I think your response is a little off topic but I will try to deal with your argument/suggestions.

      Your first point on higher education has confused me if I am honest. Are you trying to suggest that we should aim for hierarchical structures within academic systems of which you believe have better outcomes. For example, employment potential? Am I correct in thinking this is what you are trying to suggest here?

      If so, I think this is dangerous because you are making a simple assumption that people do degrees for the sake of it. Indeed, this may be the case for a minority but I am a little bit concerned with what you state – ‘If you want three years or more doing something that is purely of interest to you, then pay for it yourself’

      I have several friends who have studied physics, maths and biology that have gone on to have careers completely separate from their academic studies whereas several of my friends who studied History, Geography and Psychology have progressed into jobs in museums and education. Most of my friends continued with their ‘interests’ from college to degree level because they found that they were good at them. I think higher education is an opportunity for an individual to learn much more than what is in the book. I’ll direct you to a TedTalk by a wonderful man called Sir Ken Robinson who argues that we need to alter the way in which we measure intelligence. Education does not have to be restricted, it should embrace opportunities to be creative and to think outside of the box.

      See link here: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

      Your second point is something that I feel extremely passionate about. We currently have an education system in the Western world that focuses on reaching targets and pushing children onto the next stage of education. It is robotic and limited. Once again, teachers in state schools tend to be over-stretched and simply do not have the time to contact individual parents etc. The government (former and current) is lessening the quality of education standards through their unrealistic and demanding targets. I speak from experience having come from a state school and state college. The lucrative jobs with better pay exist within grammar and private schools and therefore teachers can be attracted to moving into these institutions. I completely agree with parents getting more involved with their children’s education but once again, I think this is too simplistic. If you are to look into a region of Britain where education standards and employment opportunities are limited and parents themselves have no qualifications, how do you expect them to help their children? You have to take societal pressures and differences into the equation when dealing with education.

      I don’t understand where you have come across the idea that I support a ‘hands-out-and-claim’ society. I find that insulting and believe that you have fallen into the rhetoric purported by the kind of organisations run by the likes of Rupert Murdoch. There are many ways in which we can get increase income for the government and it is simply a fallacy to believe that higher taxes for the rich will scare them away.

      Building society is something that really needs to be focused on by the next elected government. If people living around you are questioning you for sweeping your drive then that is a shame. Where I live, our street come out together and helps sweep the snow off the road and lay grit. They also take it in turns when putting each other’s bins away.

      Finally, thank you for responding to this piece because that is the purpose. I like to know people enjoy getting involved with political discourse. For myself, being a-political, I tried to give a balanced view on the parties. If you feel that I have done the opposite then that is a shame.

      Vote in the next election!

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