Posted by Jake on Monday, September 07, 2015 with No comments | Labels: Article, Austerity, Big Society, budget cuts, elections, Graphs, inequality, Labour, politicians, the government
In the run up to the Labour Leadership Election, a greater mystery than Jeremy Corbyn's unfathomable popularity was the leap in public declarations of loyalty to the Labour Party. On the day applications to vote for the new Labour leader closed, on 12th August 2015, the Labour Press Team tweeted:
The Labour List blog stated 400,000 additional people had signed up in time for the leadership election:Verification process continues, but total figs of those who applied for a vote: Affiliated: 189,703, Registered: 121,295, Members: 299,755— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) August 12, 2015
"Labour had roughly 200,000 members by election day in May , meaning that membership, which now stands at 300,000, has risen by 50% in just three months. In that time, 120,000 people have paid £3 to become registered supporters and 190,000 have signed up to vote through their trade union. That means of the 600,000 eligible to vote, 400,000 have signed up to do so over the summer months."
In an attempt to de-rail him, Left-ish politicians and commentators tried to ridicule Corbyn's candidacy. When that didn't work they turned their attention to denigrating the entire election process, claiming the cohort of newly registered voters was packed with mischief makers from the far left and right. They presumed British apathy meant the idea that 400,000 people genuinely wanted to step forward and help decide the Labour Party's future direction was impossible.
Are the British really so very apathetic? After the 2015 General Election the BBC reported only 66.1% of registered voters had turned out to vote. This compares with turnouts in general elections before 1997 hovering around 75%.
As a result the Conservatives won the 2015 election with the votes of fewer than one quarter of registered voters! [Tories got 36.9% of the vote, therefore 36.9% x 66.1% = 24.4% of all registered voters].
These figures don't even include about 7 million eligible people who, according to the Electoral Commission, weren't registered to vote in 2015. The graph below from the Electoral Commission shows since 1998 the number registered to vote has rapidly fallen behind the number of people of over 16 (the age when one should register to vote).
The fall in voter registration and turnout was surpassed by the fall in membership of political parties. Between the 1970s and 2013 membership of political parties as a percentage of eligible voters fell:
- Conservative: 3.1% down to 0.3%
- Labour: 1.7% down to 0.4%
- Liberal/LibDem 0.5% down to 0.1%
A report by the UK Parliament in January 2015 stated that:
“Membership of the three main political parties is at a historic low: less than 1% of the UK electorate is now a member of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Party, compared to 3.8% in 1983.”
Do these dismal figures prove we Britons have become apathetic?
Actually, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) suggests not. This report provides many examples of us increasingly engaging in community, charity and other civic activities. The report states:
- 50 per cent of British adults – over 20 million people – volunteer formally or informally at least once a month
- Amongst the supposedly most apathetic – those who do not vote in general elections – 37 per cent were members of, or active in, a charity, community group, public body or campaigning organisation
Another report, "The Citizen's Audit of Britain" done in 2005, found over a twelve-month period:
- 62 per cent donated money to a political or campaigning organisation,
- 30 per cent helped raise money for a political or campaigning organisation,
- 31 per cent boycotted a product
- 25 per cent contacted a public official.
The increase in participation comparing the 1970s with the 2000s shows, according to the JRRF report [NOTE: in the graph below multiples below 1 mean a decrease]:
Apathy? In this same period when Britain was turning away from politicians:
- Proportion of population that took part in a demonstration rose from 6 per cent in 1974 to 13 per cent in 2000.
- The proportion that signed a petition rose from 23 per cent to 81 per cent.
- Friends of the Earth grew from 1,000 members in 1971 to 119,000 in 2002;
- Greenpeace grew from 30,000 in 1981 to 221,000 in 2002.
- National Trust grew from 278,000 in 1971 to 3,000,000 in 2002
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds grew from 98,000 to 1,200,000 in the same period
The reason for chronic low voter turnout isn't that we can't be bothered. It is because so many think nobody is worth voting for.
The Tories have little to gloat about. Membership of the Conservative Party virtually halved during David Cameron's leadership. Not a problem financially, as in 2014 they received 38 times as much money from donations as they did from membership fees.
Faced with three candidates they found impossible, voters in the Labour Leadership Election took Sherlock Holmes' advice: Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
However improbable Corbyn may be, the Parliamentary Labour Party needs to ditch the notion that he is a mistake. The Labour Party must understand why Corbyn rose so high, whether he wins the leadership or not. Understanding that will show them the way to return to government.