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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
Apathy - why was the election snubbed?
Turnout at the general election dropped to an 80-year low with around 60 per cent of the electorate bothering to cast their vote.
Among the lowest was Liverpool Riverside where it stood at 34.1per cent of the electorate. Across the country 18-25 year olds were most apathetic, poll evidence suggests.
Non-participation is yet to reach the high levels of the American political system which saw only 51% of the electorate vote in last year's presidential elections. But the turnout in Britain did fall dramatically from 1997 when it was 74 per cent.
Why did so many people stay at home? Are people simply not interested in politics? Have politicans failed to engage with them? Or did everyone think the result was a foregone conclusion?
We will be discussing the implications of the UK election this Sunday in a special Talking Point phone-in programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and on BBC News Online at 1500 BST (1400 GMT). If you would like to take part, please include a telephone number with your comments where we may contact you.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The apathy "vote" increased 12 per cent - a figure any political party would give it's right hand for - because of it's honesty. Most votes cast receive no share of power in a first past the post system.
Bruce Dawson, Oldham, UK
I'm 22 and I voted, but I recently moved to a Lib Dem marginal seat so knew my vote counted for something. If I'd been at my previous address where Labour have a majority of around 20,000 as a Lib Dem supporter I probably wouldn't have bothered. I'm not politically unaware but having I know that if I'd voted in my former constituency, my vote wouldn't have counted for anything at all. So why bother? We need a system of PR - why should my vote count for more in the South West than in the North East?
All the unemployed should be banned from voting. Employees should be graded into three categories with wealth creators getting say 20 votes, small businessmen getting two votes and ordinary people earning under say £20,000 a year should get one. Democracy has failed and only the elite and the markets can give us an ordered society. Fortunately the two main parties agree even if they keep it quiet.
It just goes to show how politics is really a big sham when Labour get a huge majority by just (in real terms) getting a vote of 24 per cent of the whole population.
Voting for people you don't believe in is like selling all of your beliefs, values and moral convictions down the river. Apathy won because people are sick of "Career Politcians" who don't give a damn for anybody except themselves. Anyone who believes otherwise is living with the fairies.
Andy, Lincs, England
I am not surprised that the young do not take to the idea of voting. We exlude them from so much when they are teenagers, regarding them as some problematic horde of strife. They can have sex and smoke at 16, drive at 17, and yet we think them incapable of weighing the arguments and then putting a cross in a box until they are 18. Perhaps the under-eighteens should refuse to pay tax until they get the vote?
Whatever one thinks of Blair, Hague or any other politician, they all have a view on how they would like Britain to be, and did something about it, unlike the armchair critics. What have the non-voters done, apart from bleat? If you don't like any of the candidates, then you should stand for election yourself. Put up, or shut up.
If banks trust the public internet enough to allow online transactions, why can't we have an online voting system with a low enough fraud risk? Libraries provide access for those without a computer.
People don't see the point. My age group grew up under Thatcher, and so were walking on air in '97. All we got was more of the same rubbish. Basically you need to reconnect with people.
S Rush, Herne Bay, Ipswich
Part of why so few people are bothering to vote is the lack of real debate in UK politics. Rather than politicians continuing to present just the approved phrases, we should be seeing them debating the big issues. I for one was disappointed that Tony Blair did not agree to televised debates.
In many safe constituencies there is genuinely little point in voting. In marginals, tactical voting is increasing. The election is only fought in the key marginals. With the current voting system, the apathetic have got it right. There is little point to your vote.
At work, I know that almost every member of a 50-strong staff force is Tory, but not one of them voted. I am sure this story can be found all over the place.
"Apathy" may be the wrong word. I have always exercised my electoral right, but this time round I had to really wrestle with my conscience to convince myself it was worthwhile - not because it was regarded as a foregone conclusion - which could induce apathy, but because of the "choices" on offer, i.e. none.
Those people who have failed to vote have forfeited the right to complain about anything the Government does during the next Parliament.
Nick Toye, UK
People are fed up with the pointless one-upmanship which goes on during the election - in 2001, people aren't interested in the petty bickering of politicians - people lead much more complicated lives and they expect their government to have grown up too.
I believe that most people thought it was a foregone conclusion. This is the reason for the low turnout. If Hague had been a credible alternative, people would have gone to the polling booths believing their vote could really change the result of the election.
If God had intended us to vote, he would have given us candidates.
Paul Bristow, Paris, France
I think it would be a good idea to introduce compulsory voting - citizens should take part in how the country is run.
I am working in Thailand at the moment and could not vote, I believe that had email voting system have been implemented, I and a lot of other ex-pats would have made the effort. Australia has an effective and rig-proof system that the UK could adapt.
Why should anyone vote? Big business runs the country - everyone knows that fact. Regardless who gets into power, under the current system nothing will significantly change. Democracy in the UK is a myth - hopefully one day we'll see a revolution here.
I am appalled that people can take democracy so much for granted that they can't even be bothered to go and vote. There are millions of people all over the world who do not have the right to vote, or worse, are imprisoned and persecuted for their political beliefs. Such a right should never be taken so much for granted.
Bridget Peel, Nampula, Mozambique
I voted - by writing "none of these" on the ballot paper. I always voted Labour in the past, and did not like having a choice of three right wing candidates and the Lib Dems. I was disappointed there was no green candidate in my seat.
I've always been smug with my American friends since moving here from Scotland. I suppose I'll eat some humble pie now, knowing that democracy in the UK is as dead as it is in the USA.
I think the lack of enthusiasm for this election shows sharply the problem with the current electoral system. The endless publication of opinion polls doesn't help either, giving the impression of inevitability and dissuading people from supporting minority parties.
If your pet dog is attacked by a Rottweiler, you'd fight strongly to defend it, but when its niggled by a mouse why bother?
Graham Wilson, UK
Working as a junior doctor in the NHS in the present climate I was looking forward to casting my vote. I'd allocated a time in my 70 hour plus week of nights, but then assumed I wasn't registered to vote where I live and work as I didn't receive a polling card. Although I'm 25, and therefore in the apathetic age group, it wasn't apathy that kept me from voting.
If people thought their vote would make a difference, then the turnout would be higher.
The government's excuse for low turnout is "contentment" - that people are so happy with their lot that they see no need to vote. This hypothesis is fairly easily tested. If it is true, the proportion of people voting will be lowest in leafy suburbs where things are going well, while it will be high in areas of deprivation.
Time for a reality check, I think.
I think the low turnout may simply reflect the fact that in the light of such poor opposition, everyone knew Labour would win again regardless.
Although I voted, the overwhelming urge was not to bother. One aspect of politics that I have grown weary of is the constant 'point scoring' from all parties. MPs like Anne Widdecombe do not endear me to politics in any way. If the displays of arrogance were dumped, I might be in a position of wanting to listen to what these people have to say, rather than feeling like I'm watching kids bickering in a playground.
Nothing changes: no matter who is voted in nothing improves. Politicians don't govern the country, civil servants do and we can't vote them in or out, so what's the point?
Chris, Sussex England
What is clear is that the government of this country is being elected by fewer and fewer people. In 'safe' constituencies there is very little point in voting and turnout is low.
Generally young people have more important things to worry about than how the government is run because most young people assume they will get what they aspire to irrespective of how the country is run.
I think that there is a cross party contentious that elections are won by keeping politics out. The fuel protests show that the public is still interested in politics, but also shows that they no longer see elections as a significant part of the political process.
As can be seen from the results most of the people who can be bothered to vote, vote the same at every election. I feel it is likely that future elections will return similar results even with increasingly low turnouts.
With so few people staying at home and not voting maybe we should have 49 per cent fewer politicians¿
The turnout is a huge blow for the project of democratic renewal of the inner cities. The Asian youth of Oldham, Leeds and Bradford did not vote neither did the African, Caribbean youth of London, Birmingham Liverpool or Manchester. We are building up a hornets' nest of malignant discontent in such areas, it is vital that the project of democratic renewal and engagement starts in earnest backed by serious political commitment.
I'm fed up with people saying that they didn't vote because they wanted to protest. Not voting is not making a protest it's just an excuse not to turn up. If people want to make a protest they should spoil their paper, at least then the numbers of those wanting to make a protest could be counted.
I believe laziness is a big factor, both mental and physical. People can't be bothered to think about the issues, so they say it makes no difference. Even if they do have an opinion they can't be bothered to go out of the door to make the cross. Even voting while watching TV would be too much effort for some people.
Major Hamilton Moore, London, ENGLAND
I did vote because it is a duty, but I will never agree to the euro. Italy is already in the euro and it will be the complete disaster. The UK can still be out of it and carry on well.
Candidates appear too remote from the voters. They appear for two weeks once every five years, and we're supposed to vote for them because a few central parties battle it out in the media? If people want to get votes, they should be fighting their corner for much longer.
People did not vote because politicians do not represent their constituencies, they obey the party machine. The current system ignores issues of concern to real people and none of the main parties gives a damn about anything long-term - they are only interested in their own jobs. Hence Labour goes to the polls after four years when they told us they had plans for five. We will now get what Tony wants to deliver and he will deliver not for the greater good but to secure his own future.
Paul Nagle, Preston, England
I didn't vote as a positive show of no confidence in any of the political parties. In my opinion, politicians are in it for themselves and can't even tell the truth to those who voted for them. They just tell us what they want us to hear and then show complete contempt for the public by thinking we are stupid enough to believe them.
While I agree that apathy has perhaps played some part in the low turnout, I believe that people have simply been using their right to abstain. A massive 41% vote for "none of the above".
Politicians today are behaving in much the same way as they always have. I don't believe people have changed their views towards politics and become more apathetic. Rather younger people today have a far wider choice of things to occupy their time. Social circles are much wider thanks to the Internet, mobile phones, affordable foreign travel etc. Perhaps we should have polling stations at work, moving politics from our social lives into our work lives might make it seem relatively more interesting.
Saranjit Dosanjh, London, England
As an ex-pat I have watched Britain becoming a steadily less free and liberal country since Mrs Thatcher's time with growing dismay. The decision not to vote strikes me as singularly unsurprising because successive governments have steadily disenfranchised voters, claiming they are representing their best interests then enacting legislation such as speed traps, high petrol taxes, and the abysmal denationalisation of trains without any regard to their relevance to the life of the citizen. I doubt very much the politicians will listen to this warning until further surges of crime and violence threaten.
I agree completely with Robert. It is sad that so many people chose not to use their vote, but given the state of politics in this country today, I don't believe the British public was given much of a choice on Election Day anyway.
Why should anyone vote? Everyone knows big business runs the country. Regardless who gets into power, under the current system nothing will significantly change. Democracy in the UK is a myth - hopefully one day we'll see a revolution here.
Ian Russell, Ipswich, UK
Politicians across the world seem to be focused more on big money, special interest, and personal gain. The people need to actively involve themselves and their children before apathy increases the political barrier to the point where our voices are no longer heard.
I sent off for a postal vote in good time and never heard anything back from Greenwich council. Why were postal votes hyped so much if they did have enough staff to handle them? The conservatives need to replace William Hague to stand a chance in the next election. That said I would have voted for him rather than Blair.
I went along to vote after deciding the green party had the only workable drugs policy only to find there was no green candidate in my constituency. The only other candidates were mainstream, an Independent, and Scottish Socialist.
No matter who you vote for nothing will ever change, nothing has, except the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the politicians have more of a laugh at our expense, literally.
I think the general public have a distrust for politicians irrespective of party. By staying away they are saying it does not matter who runs the country. The only winners will be the politicians
Politicians are trained to assume what peoples' instincts are, and to be heard echoing them. Young men and women in Britain do not take politics seriously because politicians don't know what to make of us. They lack a sense of who we are or what we want. Young people will take politics seriously if politicians ask them for answers rather than presume what they want.
Michael Faleti, London, UK
Voter turnout is at an eighty-year low shows just how out of touch politicians have become. Although Jack Straw may comment that such figures represent 'the politics of contentment', any serious appraisal of the situation is more likely to reflect the fact that the Conservatives had a widely disliked leader.
I did vote even though I knew my vote for the Socialist Alliance would be wasted. Once before I felt, as I do now, that none of the parties represented my views. At that time I distributed leaflets urging people not to vote. Boy was I wrong! It was 1979!
Rather than blame the people who didn't vote, it should be noted that many of the population saw the election as a farce. The Americanisation of the election - dependent on big finance, movie-style election posters and spin, has produced an American style rejection of the election by over 40% of those eligible to vote.
I often wonder what kind of difference people want between the political parties. The fact is, political power is all about making compromises and I suspect it this aspect of politics, which the apathetic voters dislike. They probably want decisive government on their terms only.
Modernise the voting system and allow internet voting. I also think we should do away with all the subsidiary voting, and simply have a designated six parties that you can vote for. Voting should be a totally serious issue, and wasting a vote on a man dressed, as a woodlouse is quite frankly stupid. I would say that mandatory voting should not be introduced.
A. Lewenski, London, UK
I think disillusionment is what prompts people TO vote, it isn't what keeps them away. There are many reasons to vote, especially if you don't agree with all of the policies of the party in question. You will never agree with all the policies of a political, but why can't people consider the broader picture instead of focussing on single issues? Grow up people, stop acting so hard done-by, and vote. There are way too many people on earth who don't have the right so count yourself lucky.
As a 23 year old, who did actually vote, it would appear I am a rarity. However, I did not think that any of the candidates had anything different or special to offer. There is a definite feeling amongst those my age that politicians are in it for themselves and themselves alone. Until this view is changed the voting turnout will
continue to decrease.
Although some might think it ludicrous, at the age of 29, I still have not voted. There has not been one occasion where I felt my vote would make a difference.
Steve Smith, Dorset, UK
Politics seems to be about pulling the wool over the public's eyes, treating them as fools and fobbing people off with empty promises while stealthily taxing away billions of pounds.
The feeling I get is that people believe their vote is pointless. Surely this is a desperately sad comment on the political system. An intelligent and carefully thought out version of PR would go someway in addressing this problem. We should also strongly consider compulsory voting with an abstain box.
If we do nothing I fear the system of government in this country will get more and more distant from the voters and the already low ranking of politicians, in most peoples minds, will plummet to new depths.
Politicians nowadays have the habit of answering questions without actually saying anything. Issues are fudged by rhetoric and party dogma, instead of being discussed with honesty and clarity. Why should we vote when our politicians are incapable of providing us with decent answers to the issues of the day? It's very easy to be apathetic when those in power are ignoring you.
The low turn out was not apathy but a genuine protest. The three main parties offer a very limited choice of policies and very little vision. If the ballot allowed for a formal and counted 'non vote' the turn out would be much higher.
A. Lynch, Bedford, England
The media-savvy MTV generation is all too aware that politics is dead. Instead, hype and spin are used to weave an illusion of adequacy around an elite group of dictators. Wouldn't you rather stay home?
Attend the meetings; listen to the issues and read the papers. Is this so hard? Come on people, vote rather than complain.
I think that it is very disappointing to have such a low turn out. Many people died so that we could have a democracy, and I feel we are lucky to be able to have the choice of who governs the country. It would be a great shame to force people to vote, by making it law, but I feel it is a necessary step.
James Parnell, Torquay, UK
My overall feeling was one of disaffection - there was no real debate because there were only very minor differences between the parties.
I think that there is a responsibility on the part of the electorate to participate in the electoral process. But the only way to secure that is for the parties to energise that interest. The parties have to rise above pandering to the latest focus group findings or to the supposed "sensibilities" of the press. Give people real principles, ideas and issues to vote on rather than sound-bites and spin.
I didn't vote this time for the first time in a long time. I am not convinced that any of the parties would actually do anything that they promised.
Who cares if people don't vote? That is their choice. The only effect it has is that they only have themselves to blame if they feel the parties aren't listening to them. Anyone who says there is no difference between the parties should pay more attention to current affairs.
Helena Mapanzure, London, UK
The constant need of the media for dumbed down quotes has reduced political debate to a series of sound bites and people do not want to vote for empty rhetoric.
Being one of the 18-25 group who did not vote I take great exception to the premise that apathy ruled in this election. Quite simply, I am thoroughly disillusioned with democracy in this country, my trust and confidence in many politicians is non-existent and I felt there was no acceptable choice for me to make.
People have a social life. So if the outcome of an election can be anticipated and it's a nice sunny day, why not start the day as usual and then go to the pub after work and inform oneself about the election the next day over breakfast?
In the past the public thought that the UK was a great country and anything that went wrong was the fault of the government. In fact the government is perceived as an irrelevance. An active electorate is a product of a proud and confident nation not the 21st century picture of the UK.
I did not vote because it never seems to make a difference. In four years Labour have delivered a flop Millennium Dome and precious little else apart from spin and the art of not listening. Where is all the money going? Until I get answers to questions like that I will never vote again.
Simon Cole, Darlington Co Durham
Like many people I voted Labour last time expecting to see a change from the last Conservative government, particularly investment in public services such as health and transport, what happened? Labour spent even less on public services. Yesterday there was no way to vote that would change anything. Why bother?
I'm not surprised people didn't vote if like me their polling station was a 40 min walk each way. I think people in their twenties didn't vote because we've lived under both Labour and Conservative government's and neither made any positive difference to our lives.
The election was fought on petty issues such as tax, spending and the euro. We are headed toward global climate chaos and it is business as usual at Downing Street. How are we supposed to take these people seriously?
A single member, first past the post voting system means that any alternate views are totally wasted at the ballot box. Many seats were won with considerably less than 50% of the vote. A transferable voting system might give supporters of minority parties more reason to vote as their preferences would often be vital in deciding seats.
Michael Rogers, Sydney, Australia
If we are serious about reversing the decline in democracy in this country then the politicians must do two things; cut out the spin and
get rid of this ridiculous voting system!
We now have an electorate which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable, and they resent being treated like children, either by the "gung-ho, land of hope and glory" Conservatives, or the endless "spin" and obsession with media manipulation of the Labour party.
The electorate has come of age and in future would appreciate large doses of truth and straight talking. They cannot be fooled any longer, and the more politicians carry on with the old duplicitous ways, the less chance they have of people voting.
If your views are not represented by any of the major parties, then what is the point of voting for anyone?
Since we left Britain in 1967, there have been many changes and the general apathy towards voting is sad and frightening. It is due to a number of factors; the general high levels of comfort coupled with a deteriorating educational system causes people to lose interest in anything but their own immediate wants. This is manifested as an alarming change in attitude. More people today are totally self-centred with little regard for others. As a result, they manufacture excuses not to vote, not for the reasons they claim but because they have little, if any, sense of responsibility.
Peter Dewsnap, Conway, USA
Living overseas gives me a slightly different slant on UK politics. It seems to me that voter apathy is the greatest threat to our democratic system. It leaves the door open for Blair, or any other PM, to make major changes while the electorate is too busy watching Eastenders to notice. It's up to us to demand the policies and the politicians we want. If you stay silent, expect to be ignored.
An election is not just about whom lives at number 10, it is about which MP will fight for the issues concerning your area. I think that the era of party politics has made people forget that. We often vote for the party, not for our candidate and it makes people wonder whether there is any point!
My natural instincts are as a Tory, but I live in a constituency where nearly half the District Council seats are unopposed Labour. To me, this makes my vote pointless.
People take their cars everywhere now, even for a 200-yrd journey. It's tragic that as part of this attitude it's become too much of a bother to vote in this society. Shirley Williams was right - this trend IS disturbing and we should be ashamed for the sake of those who in other countries are denied the right to vote.
Izzie B, Cambridgeshire, UK
I think most young people of today are disillusioned with government and can't be bothered to vote. Online voting might be a solution.
Having recently left the UK, I know look upon the politics in the UK with a different perspective. It seem to me that there is no party worth voting for these days. There really seems to be one choice and that is Conservative, nearly Conservative and might as well be Conservative. So the question that remains is not one of why didn't people vote but was it worth voting at all.
People have learned not to trust anything politicians have to say. They believe the politicians are out to line their own pockets and think we're all too stupid to notice.
Angela Hewitt, Elgin, Scotland
The Campaigning was negative. It wasn't 'what we can do for you if you vote for us', it was, 'what they will do to you if you vote for them¿. There is little to choose between the Labour and Tory parties. Labour isn't Labour any more, its just the second Conservative party. I agree with Angela Hewitt. Incidents of 'sleaze' in both administrations really suggest that MPs are in politics to line their own pockets. Lie to the house and you should be out for good! Governments never keep their election promises. Even if they stick to the word of their promises, they usually break the spirit of it.
I agree with Angela Hewitt to a point. I feel the populace has resigned themselves to the uncertainty and incomprehensible rhetoric of the governing body.
I think Angela has hit the nail on the head. Internet voting is an obvious way of getting younger voters to participate. Or at least air their views! I have am now worse off under Labour from their new taxes. The Conservatives under Portillo would have suited me fine!
The only form of protest left to us in this ridiculous system is to withhold our vote. I also agree with Angela Hewitt, most politicians are not to be trusted. The present government are a prime example. Their arrogance is unbelievable.
We need a "None of the above" box so that people can go and register the fact that they feel disenfranchised.
Although I did choose to vote in the end it was a close run thing. I couldn't possibly vote for the Conservatives and although I voted Labour last time I don't believe they have delivered anything but spin and cronyism. My view is we need constitutional reform even if we do run the risk of weaker government.
Nick Dudding, Dewsbury
Having been out of the country, I missed most of the pre-election PR garbage. At the end of this short period I found myself in the same position as many others in my age group. The fiascos of the Millennium Dome, the returning of the Lottery to Camelot and the fuel crisis, I felt that none of the parties had anything to offer. People no longer trust or have any confidence in politicians.
Fundamentally, you can't really put a piece of paper between the parties, in a so called global economy they dare not move outside of the accepted parameters. As a consequence people rightly or wrongly ask what's the point?
Blair's comments about the importance of voting were appalling. It is the politicians who should respect the importance of freedom, democracy, and the electorate, not the other way round. No wonder there is such apathy!
There simply is no choice. Anyone who votes for a party other than the three largest simply wastes their vote. Why should anyone waste time and energy dropping a scrap of paper into a box when it just won't count? Give us a chance for the other voices to be heard with PR and the situation may change
The outcome of this election is virtually identical to that of the 1997 except with a far lower overall turnout. Even the percentage swings between parties within constituencies are minimal in most cases.
The massive Labour majority seems to result from apathy affecting voters from across the entire political spectrum.
I think all those people that didn't bother to vote, should remember that next time they start complaining about the cost of things like fuel, public transport. Failing to vote is just a way of saying they agree with the high costs and poor services. Rob Dean, Basildon, Essex
I'm starting to agree with the Australian approach to this problem where the electorate are required by law to attend the polling station to collect their cards. There isn't a requirement to actually vote, however this does get people into the polling stations where they are more likely to vote. Also the polls are opened on a Saturday rather than during the working week.
Basically, people saw the election as a waste of time. We all know that what you think you are voting for is not really what you will actually get.
Wez Carnell, Exeter, England
Many voters simply stayed at home in disgust.
So we have another Prime Minister, again elected by a minority of the population, but able to drive through policies which harm the majority of the population by the use of a party machine and a massive majority.
Low voter turnout generally indicates one of two things; voter contentment or voter disgust. It would seem you have both forces at work.
I will tell you why three people in this house did not vote. We do not trust any of the two main parties enough to govern the U.K.
I could not vote Tory because I do not agree with their little Englander views on Europe, I cannot vote Labour because of their stealth taxes. I could not vote for the Lib Dems because of their policy to increase taxes.
Dr J Hall, Sutton Coldfield
Educational or political illiteracy?
Many of our ancestors signed by 'making their mark', It seems our descendants are incapable of this simple act.
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