Apathy in the UK

Last week's two by-elections included a Labour hold in Stoke-on-Trent Central and a Conservative gain from Labour in Copeland. However, as Christians on the Left member and volunteer Hannah Rich explains, low levels of voter turnout mean the main winner may have been apathy.

Copeland_Result.jpgYou can blame Brexit or nuclear power or the late 1990s or the weather for an equivocal Thursday night for Labour, but that misses the bigger picture. For me, the most important story of this week’s by-elections in Stoke and Copeland wasn’t whether UKIP came close to winning over the people of North Staffordshire, or the magnitude of the swing away from Labour in both constituencies, but the resounding victory claimed by apathy.

We can discuss what difference a change in leadership might have made, or whether the line taken by Labour in the aftermath of the referendum was the right one, but the truth is that not a single party really cut through the tangle of politics and convinced people to get out and vote. In Stoke, as in 2015, there were more people who didn’t show up at the ballot box than there were people who did. In Copeland, marginally over half of the electorate turned out, which still raises questions about how decisively any result can be claimed.CiPol_ShowUp.png

Talk of victory, either for the Conservatives in Copeland or Labour in Stoke doesn’t look quite as impressive, when it breaks down as 23% and 11% of total registered voters respectively. It doesn’t matter how good your campaigning is, or even what party you’re backing, if people don’t think voting is worth it full stop.

Across the party spectrum, we need to give people better reasons to show up and engage in politics. I’d love to see the narrative shift so that using your vote, even if it’s in protest, becomes a natural and routine part of life. Politics shapes pretty much every aspect of daily life and even if you choose not to vote, you can’t opt out of the consequences of election results. Politics is schools and day centres and fire stations; hospitals and ambulances and mental health services. It is dustbins and lampposts and bus shelters; potholes and police cars and park benches.


In the coming years, my hope is that more people get engaged in politics; get angry, get excited and get inspired to get on the pitch or add their voice to those already shouting from the side-lines of the political arena. In the next election, I’d like the biggest swing of them all to be from non-voter to voter, so that apathy doesn’t have the last word once again.

Hannah Rich is a Christians on the Left member based in London. She edits our social media output. Follow her on Twitter @hannahmerich.

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