YP Letters: Low voter turnout is just a symptom of wider malaise

From: Michael Meadowcroft, Former Liberal MP, Waterloo Lane, Bramley, Leeds.

What can be done to boost civic engagement in cities like Leeds?

AS campaigning for the local elections begins, and the likely low turnout is scrutinised amid some calls for compulsory voting, there is a much wider general political malaise which makes many electors feel that voting changes nothing.

Unless and until the legitimacy of those elected on small minorities of the electorate is challenged, those in office will continue to govern as if all was well. One important change would be to move to an electoral system which ensures that each vote is much more influential than under first-past-the-post.

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An additional cause of the pathetically low votes in city council elections is the awareness that Leeds City Council now has very few powers and is a shadow of its former self.

In 1948 Leeds was responsible for gas, electricity, water, ambulances, police, fire services, all public primary and secondary education, all further education, a large part of higher education, a major hospital, part of social security and for public road transport services.

Today all these have been removed from local democratic control. In addition councils had access to the Public Works Loan Board for capital finance and, until recently, there was a Rate Equalisation Grant which recognised the varying financial capacities of councils to charge local rates that voters could be persuaded to support at the ballot box.

Today, none of this applies and local authorities even have to be “allowed” to raise rates to provide basic care services. We even have the nonsense of a national “potholes fund” rather than local provision.

The answer is certainly not to make voting compulsory. That would merely be an artificial covering-up of the problem and would demonstrate the failure of candidates and political parties to inspire the voters. And it doesn’t work.

There is no way that the thousands of electors who still did not vote could be brought before the courts, and any organised boycott defeats the system. Just look at what happened over the poll tax which, though compulsory, was successfully avoided by many thousands.

And who can recall anyone who failed to complete the compulsory census form ever being prosecuted?

We need those currently disillusioned to get involved to transform the political party to which they most feel an affinity and to help create a politics which will bring the voters to 
the polls.