Turns out

9 Jun


Newham’s electorate and turnout at borough-wide elections since 1964 (source: LBN)

Year Electorate Turnout
1964 179,870 29.4%
1968 177,134 25.1%
1971 183,134 29.4%
1974 176,445 22.5%
1978 176,760 31.1%
1982 163,758 31.4%
1986 160,536 34.9%
1990 157,951 36.5%
1994 151,895 37.6%
1998 139,273 28.4%
2002 157,505 25.5%
2006 187,702 34.5%
2010 195,058 52.74%
2014 195,419 40.6%

A few random observations:

Firstly, citizen engagement with local politics remains appalling low. Only once in the history of the borough has turnout exceeded 50% and that was driven by the general election being held on the same day. Even the lure (ahem) of the European elections wasn’t sufficient to get 60% of voters to bother.

Why don’t more people make the effort? This isn’t just a Newham problem. Across London turnout for local elections hovered around the 40% mark. Despite having come a long way from the low point of 22.5% turnout in 1974 there’s a looming crisis of democratic legitimacy.

The lazy answer is that we just need to make voting easier. But it’s already ridiculously easy: polling stations are within walking distance and open for 15 hours; postal votes are available on demand. It has to be about making local politics relevant and engaging people in conversations about things that are important to them and their communities; it has to be about making people feel their vote will count; and it has to be about making local politics more than just getting the vote out once every four years.

Secondly, take a look at the size of the electorate in 2010 and 2014. Thousands of new homes are being built in the borough and there’s been a significant increase in over-crowding. We know the local population is rising rapidly, yet the number of registered voters has grown by less than 400.

Does that strike you as odd?

Then there’s the difference between the size of electorate for local elections and for the European election.

According the results published by Newham, turnout for the Euros was 43.6% based on an electorate of 173,606. That’s almost 22,000 less than for the local election.

People entitled to vote in local government elections are all also entitled to vote in European elections – British citizens, Irish citizens, Commonwealth citizens and EU citizens living in the UK. So where did all those voters go? Were people who wanted to vote in the European election turned away?

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