Page last updated at 04:54 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 05:54 UK

Can Liverpool Riverside improve its voting turnout?

By Katie Dawson
BBC News

Liverpool generic
Liverpool's waterfront is part of the Riverside constituency

Liverpool Riverside has experienced the lowest voter turnout on polling day for the past two general elections.

Will 6 May see a repeat performance or can parliamentary candidates persuade people to get out and vote?

Voter apathy is a nationwide problem, but more so in part of Liverpool where fewer people exercise their democratic right than any other area in England.

For the past two general elections, Liverpool Riverside has had the lowest turnout figures; in 2005 only 41.5% of voters in the constituency voted, compared to the national average of 61.4%.

Ladbrokes is offering odds of 2/1 that the same will happen again.

People have contempt for all the political parties. Those who do vote, vote overwhelmingly Labour
Professor Jon Tonge, Liverpool University

The constituency is the bookmaker's second favourite to achieve the lowest turnout in the UK, with Glasgow above it with odds of 7/4.

Riverside covers a diverse area, including the city centre waterfront and the Toxteth suburb, which saw rioting sparked by tensions between the police and the community during the reign of Margaret Thatcher.

It has been a strong Labour seat for a number of decades. Louise Ellman became the MP in 1997 and has held that seat ever since.

Professor Jon Tonge, head of politics at Liverpool University, said the biggest reason for the low turnout was that people felt "disaffected by politics full stop".

"The constituency contains an area where there were some of the most serious riots in England in the early 80s and in some ways, that constituency has never really recovered from that," he said.

"People have contempt for all the political parties. Those who do vote, vote overwhelmingly Labour."

Louise Ellman
Louise Ellman has held Liverpool Riverside since 1997

The constituency contains two universities and has a large student population.

With most students who intend to vote being registered in their home towns, this also affects the turnout.

"Traditionally, they (students) have voted very little in Riverside," said Ms Ellman, who is defending her seat.

"They may have voted in their home towns but not in Riverside and that has brought the turnout figures down."

Another issue is poverty.

Professor Tonge said Riverside was generally a deprived area with a "pocket of affluence" in the city's waterfront.

Ms Ellman added: "Often people feel they are so deprived they do not think anything will make a difference and they feel alienated from politics."

The constituency is also home to a number of ethnic minorities, particularly a large black community and a Chinese community.

Conservative candidate Kegang Wu said many of these communities traditionally did not vote.

Kegang Wu
Tory candidate Kegang Wu has met Riverside's ethnic communities

Mr Wu, who has met some of these communities, said: "I am hoping that I can encourage the ethnic minorities to come out and vote."

He said one in three Chinese voters did not registered to vote and suspected it might be similar in other ethnic minority communities.

Parliamentary candidates are well aware of their constituency's reputation and have been trying to tackle the problem during their campaigning.

Liberal Demorcrat candidate Richard Marbrow said he saw his share of the votes double between 2001 and 2005 and believes more people will vote in this general election.

"I think people are more enthusiastic in this election, particularly young people," he said.

"There is a great sense of political engagement out there.

"I think turnout will go up in Liverpool Riverside this time and I think it might even lift itself off the bottom of the table."

Riverside has gained and lost areas since the boundary changes but it remains to be seen if this will make any difference to voter turnout in this general election.

• Candidates standing for Liverpool Riverside are: Green: Tom Crone; Labour: Louise Ellman; UK Independence Party: Pat Gaskell; Liberal Democrat: Richard Marbrow; British National Party: Peter Stafford; Conservative: Kegang Wu.



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