OPINION: Will you be voting on Thursday? If not, why not? – Simon Carter

Fed up to the back teeth with politics and politicians? Has days, weeks, months, years of wall-to-wall Brexit coverage left you absolutely sick of the sight of May, Corbyn, Johnson, Rees-Mogg and co?

By Simon Carter
Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 5:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 5:13 pm
Can you bothered to turn out on Thursday? Picture: Malcolm Wells
Can you bothered to turn out on Thursday? Picture: Malcolm Wells

Do you lie awake at night wondering what Robert Peston used to talk about on TV before to June 23, 2016? Or asking yourself whatever happened to David Cameron, or the £350m a week promised to the NHS?

Will democracy EVER the same again? Can the Tories EVER expect to be taken seriously given their handling of the Brexit negotiations? Is Nigel Farage REALLY the only man who can save us from going to hell in a handcart?

Questions, questions, so many questions. But who knows the answers and, deep down, can we ever trust our elected politicians to provide us with any answers?

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Sick to death of the Brexit debate?

Possibly, possibly not. But this week those on the electoral roll will get another chance to vote. For – drum roll please – this Thursday, May 2, sees the annual local elections taking place.

Please, ladies and gentlemen, contain your excitement.

I know many of you don’t really care about local elections, but you should. In some ways, you should care more about them than a Brexit referendum or even a general election. If your local community really matters to you, you have to care more.

However, I know a lot of you don’t because I know the turnouts at last year’s Portsmouth City Council elections. Last May, Eastney and Craneswater boasted the highest turnout in the 14 seats up for grabs with just 42 per cent. Lowest was 19.7 per cent in Charles Dickens, one of seven with a turnout of less than 30 per cent.

Charles Dickens's Portsmouth birthplace. In the ward which bears his name, only 19.7 per cent of voters bothered to turn out last year.

The story had been replicated two years earlier, with Eastney and Craneswater again highest of 14 seats with a 39.3 per cent turnout. Again, half the seats – seven – recorded a turnout of less than 30 per cent. There is a word for that, and it’s ‘apathy’.

Compare those percentages to the 2017 general election, when the Portsmouth North turnout was 66.1 per cent and Portsmouth South 63.9 per cent. Those figures helped boost the overall national turnout to 68.8 per cent – the highest for a general election since 1997.

Indeed, the five times the UK was asked to go to the polls to elect a prime minister from 79-97 inclusive, all saw a turnout of more than 71 per cent. In contrast, none of the five since Tony Blair’s landslide has reached 70 per cent – the 2017 figure being the highest of this millennium. The 2016 EU Referendum turnout was 72.2 per cent, and most of those voters had no idea at the time what a Backstop was ...

The stats clearly show the electorate is not as politically-charged as it once was. A quick glance at the Portsmouth figures for the February 1974 general election, for example, show turnouts of 79.8 per cent (South) and 75.8 per cent (North).

Local apathy, therefore, is only mirrored by the national picture.

Everyone should hate the word ‘apathy’. Better to be angry about something than apathetic. At least being angry shows you care. Apathy is just another word for ‘can’t be bothered’, and if we’re ever struck down by that sort of inertia then we do have a serious problem.

We should all be bothered about local politics, even if the sight of Theresa May on TV sends us sprinting to a darkened room to lie down. Because local politics features local people who care about their local communities.

It is too easy to complain about anything these days in this social media-driven angst and woe-filled society in which we live. Those willing to stand for election in their council wards deserve nothing but praise, therefore, even if that is the last thing they want. They just want to improve their own communities. Unsung heroes, whether you believe in the policies they promote or not.

All those standing on Thursday in Portsmouth wards and those in surrounding towns are happy to put their heads above the parapet, believing they can make a difference. In 2019, with the country politically in the state it is in, they are to be applauded. And they are deserving of your vote.

Really, I don’t care whether you are Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, Ukip, Monster Raving Loony or British National Party. Your political views are your political views. But I do care that you cast your vote this Thursday. Paradoxically, the miserable, farcical state of our national politics should make you care more about the local stuff.

The ‘local stuff’ includes the issues that matter in our day-to-day lives. In Portsmouth, for example, parking zones, pollution, wheelie bins, park facilities, zebra crossings. Nothing major, in the grand scheme of life, but all little things that matter. Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn can’t do too much about the minutiae of Portsea Island life, but your local councillor can hopefully help.

I’m sure you’ve seen the national surveys that have asked people to name those professions they trust least. If the results were a football league table, estate agents, journalists and politicians can generally be found in the relegation zone. If the same poll were taken today, no doubt politicians would be in the same position as Huddersfield Town are in the Premier League. Rock bottom.

But in the same way that journalists on local newspapers are a different breed to those at The Sun or the Sunday Sport – yes, we are – so your local councillor doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with those who have turned our once proud nation into a global laughing stock.

If voting in a general election shows you care about national politics, so it follows voting in the local elections shows you care about local politics.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but we should always be more concerned about our local areas, our local communities, than ones up country. Shouldn’t we? I’m more concerned about the area of Portsmouth I live in than an area of Stoke-on-Trent or Barnsley that means diddly squat to me.

If you all feel that way – and you should – then you need to get out and vote this Thursday, and in much higher numbers than in recent years. I repeat – whoever you vote for, healthy turnouts in local elections are a good sign that people care about their communities.

You might think Brexit has shown our politicians in the worst possible light, but the minute local people stop caring about their own communities is when we REALLY have a problem ...