Sunday, 1 April 2012

London voter turnout and inflatable ballot boxes


This is a piece I wrote recently for the London Review of Books. Voter turnout in the forthcoming London elections is likely to be less than half, the obvious response to this problem is, of course, an inflatable ballot box. Whoever said that politicians were out of touch?

In the event that LRB don't want it... here it is.


Last week is the start of the official campaigns period for the London mayoral election. Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone seem to be trading places on 49%-51% of the vote, which is quite exciting, until you consider that half of the franchise won’t even be voting.

London is notorious for low turnout. Whether it’s because people are too poor or too rich, for one reason or another, in election terms the majority don’t seem to care. This trend is no less apparent when the election is for the devolved position of London mayor, Boris Johnson won the 2008 election with what was considered a ‘high’ turnout, 45% of 5,419,913 eligible voters turned up on polling day. Whichever colour comes out on top on May 3rd, presiding over London for four years, their share of the vote will be less than half the number of people who just don’t give a shit.

This year, London Elects, the body responsible for the election, are tackling voter apathy head-on. Residents of the capital will be treated to a London-wide tour from a giant, inflatable ballot box. You couldn’t write it, and we wait and see whether children will be able to bounce up and down on it, but as far as politics is concerned, only the comical value stops this initiative being deeply depressing. Apathy is neglected as a political viewpoint, even if it is easily written-off as inherently apolitical. If people are given the opportunity to improve the prospects for their futures, and they decline that opportunity, the chances are it’s because they don’t expect their input to have any effect. Springing to mind is the old saying that no matter who you vote for, the government still gets in. It’s not just a socio-economic state of mind, rich or poor, there is a widespread vision of government as either enemy, oaf, or irrelevant.

Inflatable ballot boxes deal with the issue as if voting were something that people lazily neglect, or absent-mindedly forget. The reality is something much more telling, and in an honest, soul-searching mayoral term, the most pressing item on the agenda would be why most people just don’t care. Whatever the London turnout on May 3rd, perhaps a useful statute for the future might be that once things stoop to the level of giant, inflatable ballot boxes, it’s time for something more than just an election.

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