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Misspent Youth
Mike Worden

Perhaps if Britain had someone to vote against then people would turn up,

Thursday May 2nd saw local elections in 174 authorities in England, I’m telling you this because not many people knew it. Those that did know didn’t bother turning up. Those that did vote were not a fair representation of the country.

The fact is that the youth of this country can’t be bothered to vote. Those that do want to vote find obstacles at every path. The university student who has a lot to gripe about has to endure a long process of filling out forms to vote either at home or at their university. Many just can’t be bothered even to get that far. The working youth of this country don’t have time during the day and are not bothered enough or too tired to go and vote.

If I were being honest, I’d admit I didn’t even realize that the elections were on until a week or so before the local elections began, even now I’m not sure if there was one in my area, I only knew through one being held where I’m living at university. At the beginning of my course in September 1999 I got the form for a postal vote, but unsure when the next elections were coming up it faded from memory. By the time I realised, it was too late. No one contacted me to remind me of the need for me to vote. Maybe this is harsh, I was not at home and my parents may have been out when the candidate phoned or called round to the house. But ever predictable, the local candidate in Lincoln didn’t bother to call round either and we all know what reputation students get: being in all day with nothing better to do than watch daytime TV. So where were all these candidates, had they all suddenly been kidnapped by aliens, fallen down a big whole or vanished of the face of the earth. Unfortunately no, although whether many people would notice is another question. The answer is not as simple as first seems.

Disappointing youth voting figures don’t end at students, Alan Woodward, 28 claims he never has the chance to vote even if he had the time, "I work a nine-to-five day, I don’t know why they don’t let you vote on more than one day, or maybe even a weekend, at least that would give me a chance. As soon as I get home I’m too tired to vote, I just don’t have the motivation." This is just one reason why there was a poor turnout this year. The difficulty in getting people vote is one that the government is finally addressing. Text phone voting that was introduced in Sheffield and Liverpool on Thursday is certainly a step in the right direction. Along with this is the internet which over the last few years has been the center of a new direction of voting, but perhaps the cleverest is the idea of polling booths in common places like supermarkets. These simple ideas may just turn voting figures around "This is definitely the right way forward, it would be much easier to vote if it was not so far out the way, a supermarket sounds like a good idea." admitted Amanda Jones, 24 "the internet I’m not sure of, I have to know that it’s safe before I used it, although it sounds in principle like a good idea."

Although such ideas would help, the core of the problem lies with the political parties themselves. Today’s Britain sees Labour and Conservative parties merging ever closer on their policies. In the general elections last year the Conservatives tried to highlight the fact that they had a radically different policy to Labour, ‘No to Europe’, and we all know where that got them. In France voting figures were higher than expected, thanks to a certain Monsieur Le Pen, perhaps if Britain had someone to vote against then people would turn up, if people are prepared to stand up for what they believe in then maybe something will change. Andrea Moorly, 20 agrees, "I just don’t see the point, I want to vote but they all seem the same, it won’t effect me whatever happens. What this country needs, in their elections is a person who knows the area and wants to help the community. The independent party candidates would be a good example but they just don’t have the support as Labour or Conservative."

Perhaps this is why many local candidates get overwhelmed at the elections, but as ever it’s not as simple as putting Joe Bloggs in as your local councilor. Even if local elections saw a local candidate with the community at heart get in, would they make a difference? The answer ever time would be no. Local councils have little say in how much money to raise or how to spend it, as that has already been decided. Even if they did, the chances are that the community would be divided on how it should get spent. Once more we come across another problem with the idea of local candidates, most that do volunteer themselves are not representatives of the youth. Those that are on the better side of middle age would most likely not get voted in, because as we’ve seen the youth of Britain don’t vote.

Where does the government go from here, well just follow these simple steps to get the whole country interested, not just the parents of the whole country. First make sure as many people can vote as possible, empty church halls don’t attract people like they used to, (maybe set up polling booths in pubs perhaps during the world cup or other big tournaments). Second try and get voting allowed over the Internet, (perhaps advertise it as porn or computer games then maybe that would get a few people to visit the site). Oh but make sure its secure first. Next try and get councilors who represent the public, make sure they not too old, or not too young, he’s got to represent the area, but have a lot of respect with political parties so he can demand more money. And finally make sure they are appetizing to the voters, may I suggest Councillor Idol. An interactive TV show where all the candidates have to show off their talents to the public where they slowly vote you out of the running to leave the best/last candidate standing. Note: this may cause many seemingly talentless people to have long and painful pop careers, so be careful.

© Mike Worden
May 2002

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