Apathy launches Local Democracy Week

17 Oct 02
Both young and old British citizens have little interest in local politics, with more than half failing to vote in this year's council elections, a survey published to coincide with Local Democracy Week has revealed.

18 October 2002

The Electoral Commission found that nine out of ten 18–24-year-olds and 53% of the over-55s did not vote in the May local elections. A third of the youngsters surveyed reported that voting was a waste of time.

The overall turnout for the May elections was just 32.8%. Only 7 million voted out of the 21.8 million people who were registered.

The theme of this year's Local Democracy week was 'the communicating council'. But the commission found significant 'information deficits'. Seven out of ten of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about local candidates, and three-fifths said they would vote if they had more information.

The commission urged councils to move away from simply promoting registration to providing information on why voting matters.

Around 200 councils took part in Local Democracy week, which was officially launched on October 14. Authorities held a number of events, including a consultation roadshow in Westminster and a youth congress in Cardiff. 'Councils recognise the vital importance of good communications,' countered Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, vice chair of the Local Government Association. 'It is equally important to encourage the public to communicate with councils.'

But a real acid test of local democracy was due on October 17, with elections for directly elected mayors of Stoke on Trent City Council, the London Borough of Hackney, Mansfield District Council and Bedford Borough Council. Ministers will be watching turnouts carefully.

The field of candidates included the first sitting MP, George Stevenson, and campaigning journalist Paul Foot. Labour looked likely to secure at least three of the four boroughs with Apu Bagchi, a councillor and former ceremonial mayor, favourite in Bedford; Stevenson in Stoke; Lorna Carter, deputy leader of Mansfield; and Jules Pipe, a councillor in Hackney.

But if a monkey can win in Hartlepool, surprises were not being ruled out. Foot was garnering support for the Socialist Alliance in Hackney, while Mike Wolfe, who ran the original trigger referendum in Stoke, had strong backing.


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