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Who cares?

Jonathan Schofield on the dismal voter turnout in the city centre at last week’s local elections

Written by . Published on May 10th 2007.

Who cares?

Local elections across the country have an appalling record for bringing out the apathetic in people. Nowhere in the city of Manchester in last weeks elections, for instance, approached a 50% turnout.

The chief reason for this seems a lack of faith in what local government can achieve, in otherwords it’s just not worth the bother voting. This is misplaced as substantial powers remain with local authorities. Alongside these powers the way a local authority projects itself and conducts its business intimately affects the economy, investment and thus the lives of its citizens.

Thus Manchester’s way of doing business in the last couple of decades under a Labour administration has seen a remarkable turnaround in the city’s fortunes, not all of which can be put down to national economic growth. Manchester has over-achieved in comparison with most other English cities because of the administration in place here.

It’s a curious, but a long-known, truism that the well-educated can be the most self-obsessed and careless of their rights.

So it’s depressing when voters can’t be bothered to vote, it’s depressing and self-defeating that they opt out of a say in how the city is run.

Within this, the turnout figures for the elections throw up a surprise. Guess where the biggest no show in the whole city was?

Perhaps the ward of Miles Platting and Newton Heath with its history of disadvantage, bad health and poor educational achievement? Nope. Was it in Beswick with its similar problems? Nope again.

The biggest awol ward was the city centre. How odd? The place which one would imagine filled with better-off apartment owners and flat dwellers, a place of young professionals and students, managed a meagre and gruesome 16% of the electorate on polling day.

No doubt many of those city centre residents who didn’t vote had whinged and whined about the parking proposals, about congestion charging, about noise at night, bin collection and so forth and then just couldn’t be arsed getting involved with the democratic process. It’s a curious, but a long-known, truism that the well-educated can be the most self-obsessed and careless of their rights. But this is still a shocking figure.

There’s no clear reason – we contacted the city council and others – for this low figure. The city centre population might be more transient and thus less engaged locally is one suggestion. But that’s speculation. The truth is that despite all their problems, a ward such as Miles Platting and Newton Heath has a turnout of almost double that of the clever folk in the city centre.

Confidential contacted a number of city centre residents about why they didn’t vote – only one person out of ten had bothered – and the replies were a mixture of shame faced mumbling about they’d not got round to it or bare-faced, just couldn’t be arsed mate, won’t matter anyway.

The irony in all of this of course is that Manchester historically was always at the forefront of campaigns to extend the vote. Anybody having a drink in Opus One at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel on Peter Street is sipping G&Ts where the Peterloo Massacre took place. This area was Peter’s Fields and here on a hot day in August 1819 fifteen people lost their lives whilst protesting about the lack of representation. They were desperate for the vote. Democracy was a matter of life and death for them.

Now it’s a matter of indifference to our young professionals, the apparently better educated. Voting is another thing to avoid as we bleat on about our so-called busy lives. Busy with what exactly? Turning the other cheek it would appear.

What do you think? Are people right not to care about local elections? Was it a surprise the city centre vote was so low?

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25 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

LeeMay 10th 2007.

I was really surprised by the low turnout, but if more people had turned out then the result might have been different for the city centre. This way I fee that my vote counted, so on balance I'm happy!

ancoats girlMay 10th 2007.

I have lived in the city centre for nearly 4 years, and have always voted by postal vote. I have to say though - no candidate has ever come to our building for a chat! In past years, we did at least get letters or leaflets from the candidates, but this year I didn't receive anything. The candidates could do a lot more to generate a relationship with their city centre constituents...

jerry the catMay 10th 2007.

I think voting should be compulsory there is no reason with postal voting that you anyone has an excuse there could be an abstention on the ballot sheet for people who don't want to vote for any particular party, I voted labour although they did not get in where I live.

Paul Buckley - ex-city centre residentMay 10th 2007.

I think the main reason that city centre residents don't go and vote is two-fold: a)the lack of information from the council and b) the lack of information from the candidates/parties.Firstly, the council. There is no excuse for a lack of information from the council. Some previous posts on here state that they didn't receive a polling card. The council needs to sort that problem out for next year and ensure that everyone on the electoral roll gets one, so they know where to vote. Also the council could do more to tell people that they don't need their card to vote, just their name and address. As a resident of the city centre for two years I receieved very little information from the City Council about any of their services. Information sheets in with the Council Tax bill (which always seems to get through Royal Mail, unlike polling cards) was shocking compared to Tameside (where I live now). The council could do more and do it better.As for the candidates - it isn't all their fault. Being a member of the Conservative Party I helped out both Jake Berry (city centre candidate in 2006) and Rob Adlard this time in trying to engage with the electorate and residents. It is a very difficult thing to do when most residents live in gated-communities that aren't accessible to anyone else. Rob managed to get some of the concierges to allow him access to deliver leaflets and knock on peoples doors, but by no means all were willing to let a politician in their buildings. I bet that the same happened for Kath Crotty and Ken Dobson.I now live in Ashton-under-Lyne and our task was very much easier in reaching the residents. We managed to deliever 28,000 leaflets/newsletters between last May and this election day. We knocked on over 2,500 doors - and yet we still lost (by 14). However, the turnout in the ward increased to 38% (still appalling but, at least, an increase on 2006 and the second highest in Tameside). We have shown that if you engage with the electorate they will go out and vote. City centre residents and the City Council needs to find a way of allowing the candidates and parties easier access to residents to get the engagement going.As for the city 'over-acheiving' in comparison to other cities being all down to the Labour-controlled City Council, I have my doubts. Yes, Labour councillors have done a great job in making Manchester a thriving and excellent city in which to live and work (and I hope that I can return to the city centre one day soon to live). However, they have had a remarkable amount of help from national politicians of all hues. The IRA bomb in 1996 gave the people of Manchester a remarkable opportunity to reverse the decline the city centre that had been seen over the previous few decades (M&S threatening to pull out of the city centre to go to the Trafford Centre, closing down of Lewis' and Woolworths in Piccadilly Gardens, the appalling state of the once proud and glorious Oldham Street). This all happened under the Labour councillors, who don't want to take credit/blame for that. However, they worked with the Conservative government of John Major in transforming the city centre and putting idealogical differences to one side for the benefit of the whole city. The Conservatives (and Michael Heseltine in particular) saw the opportunity to arrest the decline in Manchester city centre and make it great once again and also worked with the Labour councillors to do what was best. So perhaps we should be less party political over who is to take credit over the city centre revival and accept that Mancunians and the British all worked together to make our city a fabulous place in which to work, live and play.On a final note, I work in Clayton (very near the Velodrome and Asda) and I wish that the council could do more for the people round there in their everyday lives (and other areas of the city, like Ancoats, Openshaw, Miles Platting, Crumpsall, etc). The City Stadium and Velodrome (although very welcome that they are) are no substitutes for proper regeneration. And God help the area should the Supercasino ever get the go-ahead (but that is another debate I fear)!!!

HowardMay 10th 2007.

Hear, hear Jonathan. It's less than 90 years since ownership of property and a penis were a requirement to qualify for a vote.Shame on the apathetics!

Rob Adlard - Conservative City Centre SpokesmanMay 10th 2007.

Jonathan, you say "Manchester has over-achieved in comparison with most other English cities because of the administration in place here" what part of that isn't saying that the Labour administration here is responsible? I'm saying its not entirely responsible, and the perception you perpetuate by writing that they are contributes to the apathy - Labour spin that you pick up on makes people feel unwilling to change, and unable to see the broader picture - certainly as part of the media, it would be good to challenge this flawed view.

Willy WonkaMay 10th 2007.

mmmm.... does anybody actually know the difference between any of the parties and what they stand for? All much of a muchness for me. Like Jen above I wanted to vote but had absolutely no idea who stood for what. I think democracy is alive and kicking(such as this blog and others similar), come on politicians isn't about time you took advantage of modern communications and brought politics into the 21st Century! I'm pretty sure if people actually know what it is politicians do from day-to-day then we would be able to form an opinion on which to exercise our democratic right. I'm too busy earning money to pay off my ludicrously large city centre mortgage and council tax bill to spend hours and hours trying to establish who to vote for!

townyMay 10th 2007.

If you dont vote .... don't complain .. its as simple as that!

Rob Adlard - Conservative CandidateMay 10th 2007.

Reading through the replies I'd like to extend an invitation to anyone who says they didn't receive election literature from us to help deliver it in their building. Campaigning in the city, and the difficulty compared to the 'burbs' I believe is part of the problem. We aren't able to deliver information into some buildings, sometimes a concierge decides he doesn't want our leaflets in his building because of his personal views, sometimes a management company has a rule that none can be delivered. I canvassed well over 1000 people in the city, but its really hard work when access to buildings is so hard, and the apathy starts before you gain access to a building to speak to people when people actually aren't interested in having a conversation - I realise everyone is busy and its not always the best time.However, the people we did canvass did seem glad, and all said they had never been called upon before by anyone. I believe the assumption that voters will vote one way not another - this is a 'Labour town' New Labour = New Manchester adds to the apathy. How long has Manchester been Labour dominated? They are not responsible for the renaissance in Manchester to the extent supporters such as Jonathan would have us believe. There are transformations going on in regional cities everywhere, Manchester is not alone, is it even going to keep up? The reason Manchester had a step up was because of projects funded by central government for Manchester - the last Conservative government. The ground-breaking regeneration in Hulme by the last Conservative government which pumped vast amounts of money in the the area, effectively inventing the idea that areas could be transformed in this way. Manchester had a 2nd development corporation (where Liverpool only had one I believe) the central Manchester corporation - these were introduced in areas where essentially local government was failing to have an impact. The other factors were the Conservatve government's backing of bids for the Olympic games giving us venus such as the velodrome, and the plans leading to the commonwealth games. Metrolink was also introduced by the conservatives with great ambition, only to be dashed by Labour withdrawing the funding.Now your council wants to introduce what seems to be an ill-concieved confused plan for congestion charging in order to have the opportunity to realise the long overdue dream of an extended light rail system.Jonathan, please don't perpetuate the myth that people don't vote because our Labour council is so fantastic, this is mistaken and is the biggest spin the council uses to cement its position here in Manchester. Why vote if the outcome is just going to remain the same? It doesn't have to be that way.Rob Adlard, Conservative City Centre Spokesman

Jenn-Angel meadowMay 10th 2007.

I didnt vote! WHY? For one I didnt recieve a polling card informing me WHERE to vote. For another I did not recieve any information on WHO I could vote for and what these prosective councillers actual manifetos were and WHAT they stood for.NOR could I find this information out easily-I made calls and trawled the net the week prior but to no avail. SO to sum up I wasn't going to wander about the area hoping to chance upon a place where I could put a cross on a piece of paper for someone I know nothing about.

Simon SmithMay 10th 2007.

It'll never be law to vote. Whoever tried to bring it in as legislation would be terrorfied of getting voted out. Tell me i'm wrong Cllr Karney - I know you're out there )

StephanieMay 10th 2007.

Where I live the turn out was under 30% and for the general election it was only around 35%. As your article said, all kinds of people in this area went through all kinds of hell to get the vote and most of the population can't be bothered to make the effort.Friends of mine queued for hours to vote in the last American Presidential elections and who can forget those amazing pictures of the black South Africans in queues miles long when they were first able to vote.If you didn't vote - don't moan about what we have ended up with.

NeilMay 10th 2007.

It's a national disgrace that so many people in this country (never mind Manchester and the city centre) simply don't bother to vote. We should be like Australia and make it a criminal offence to fail to vote. And to those who think that voting is such a waste of time...I live in Monton in Eccles, an area where everyone said that if they put a donkey up for Labour then it will be elected. Just last week a Tory was elected. Putting aside whether that's a good thing or not, it's clear that apathy made a difference as a well co-ordinated campaign can muster just a few more votes which can make a vital difference.

Stephen NewtonMay 10th 2007.

Even worse, those that did turn out voted for Lib Dem Ken Dobson, who lives a couple of streets down from the City of Manchester Stadium in east Manchester. As Lib Dem campaigner/councillor for that area he opposed the Commonwealth Games (because it only brought in jobs for 'outsiders').Now the Lib Dems argue Urbis should be turned into offices!

aliMay 10th 2007.

I agree wholeheartedly with towny - "If you dont vote .... don't complain .. its as simple as that!"I would add that our flats must be more lucky than some - we had both Conservative and Labour material delivered to us before the election. And shock horror, when I moved to my new flat, I bothered to contact the Council, who made changing my votng details dead easy - and then I even voted. To those bleating on about 'I couldn't find stuff out...' and those that coudn't be arsed - shame on you and GET A GRIP!

Will BurrowsMay 10th 2007.

Comparing the Peterloo massacre to not voting in the local elections is typical of someone completely ignorant of the current political situation. What should be obvious to all is that there are no parties with ideologies left (aside from reactionist parties such as the BNP) and therefore all that the main parties care about is winning votes. This being the case there is nothing to chose between the main parties as they all pander to populist ideas in order to have the chance of actually being able to implement them. If they are elected they promptly forget about these ideas and simply do what they want as they are almost completely unaccountable. In the Early 19th century there were parties with ideals who held true to them when in government and changed life for the better for the under privileged classes. Which party can genuinely claim this nowadays? The reason why no body (including myself) voted is because local government is a bloated, over financed and negligent entity that simply creates jobs for those involved and perpetuates itself through constant and needless budget increases when they should be looking at cutting tax and cost and improving people’s lives in this way. They are also totally faceless and almost totally unaccountable. This is not what people died for!

LouMay 10th 2007.

I also did not recieve a polling card, and only recieved leaflets frm 2 candidates.I actually wanted to vote, but had no polling card and no idea how to get one (and yes I am registered to vote).

jim the gentMay 10th 2007.

I think the problem here is that the center of town has no real community. I live in Whalley Range where our local candidates literelly pop round for tea! Will the city center ever get this community? schools, doctors etc etc. Or is it in the nature of the city center to remain a gated community forever..

JamieMay 10th 2007.

I think its the management approach to government that is repsonsible. The current govt with its use of focus-groups, spin doctors quangos and a track record of ignoring public feeling (anti-war protests etc) have made people feel powerless. It's also just becuase people can see that Manchester is doing so well. There's more motivation to vote in times of hardship.

Jonathan - EditorMay 10th 2007.

I did write that but that wasn't the reason I said people didn't vote - I was using it as a device to show why people should. But don't be too hard on this Labour Administration because what it has done is largely separate from the National Party anyway. It's played the game with business to produce a more positive city: even though like elsewhere this has resulted in little improvement amongst the very poorest. Anyway keep up the good work in Manchester, it's great to see a Tory (or is that word banned now as Socialist was under New Labour)that is really engaged with the city and concerned for its future.

jerry the catMay 10th 2007.

reply for jenn, if she is paying council tax from the address where she lives she would have automatically received a polling card, if not one easy call to the town hall could have sorted it out assuming she lives in Manchester where the town hall staff are super helpful and only too pleased to encourage voting.

JamesMay 10th 2007.

I think it's a mixture of bystander apathy and a deep held (genuine) belief that it just doesn't matter who we vote for or what we say - the council will just do as they like anyway regardless of who's in charge.It stems back to the 60's//70's in my mind, as a country we just don't belive in our leaders. The number of people I know that vote for the "best of a bad selection" is ridiculous - why can't we vote for someone we believe in? Why do the political parties get it so wrong when they talk about policies and plans? In the past there was reason to die to get the vote and I deeply respect those that paved the way for a proper democracy, but does voting really make a difference in the 21st Century?

Jonathan - EditorMay 10th 2007.

Rob, I don't think I said that people don't vote because the Labour Council is so good, I said they don't vote because they can't be bothered. The Council whether it's ridden its luck or whatever still has overseen huge changes.

DavyMay 10th 2007.

I didn't vote. No excuses, apart from I was busy doing something else. What has bothered me for some time though is, if the political parties can canvass their way around the neighbourhood pre-elections, then why can't the polling stations be brought to your front door? (eg ice cream van, mobile library, dodgy video man etc)

Jenn-Angel MeadowMay 10th 2007.

Response to Jerry the cat. I do hope you are not incinuating that I do not pay council tax? The simple fact is that I did not recieve a polling card and did call the council 2 days prior to elections whence I was told it was too late to send me one. On the other hand my other half who lives a little closer to the city centre had a wealth of information from parties as well as personal visits, congrats to Rob Adler an the Labour candidate for the obvious time and effort they put in!Next time though can we have the leaflets and information on line-after all it is the 21st century!?

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