Friday, 5 December 2008

On the radio again

Over to Middlesbrough this morning for a half-hour phone-in discussion on BBC Radio Tees with my old sparring partner James Wharton, Conservative PPC for Stockton South. The topic was voter apathy, about which probably as much has been written as any other political issue - without reaching any consensus as to why people don't vote or what can be done to get them to vote.

Most of the callers simply believed politicians can't be trusted and that they never deliver on their promises, so why should people bother to vote. These are easy shots to make because there's more than a glimmer of truth in them, but it doesn't help us to understand how to improve voter turnout.

The point I tried to make was that there are other measures of political involvement and participation and a healthy democracy than simply the numbers of people who turn out to vote every couple of years. I argued that people do get involved in politics when there is an issue which directly affects them and where they hope they can influence the views of decision makers. I argued for more devolution of power, responsibility and decision making so that ordinary residents can get more involved in making decisions about the area they live in. Until people feel engaged with the political process and understand the constraints under which local politicians in particular operate, then we will not see a return to the mass voter turnouts of the post war years.

One of the best moments, though, was when the presenter asked if we had more charismatic leaders, like Barak Obama, would interest in politics increase. James suggested that the Conservatives already had charismatic and forthright leaders, and cited David Davis as an example. I nearly choked on my metaphorical cornflakes. Mind you, the best I could come up with was Lembit Opik!

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