Friday 1 March 2013

Two cheers for the Eastleigh voters, and one for the non-voters

The result of the Eastleigh by-election is a source of  delight for Liberal Democrats.  The background couldn't have been worse:  our identification with the coalition's failing economic policy, the disgrace of the previous Liberal Democrat MP, along with the revelations about the Rennard allegations and the party's ham-fisted handling of them.  This last, whether the result of "dirty tricks" timing or not, was given massively disproportionate coverage by the media (including the Guardian -shame on them):  on at least one BBC news bulletin the item took precedence even over the loss of the AAA credit rating.

Yet the Eastleigh electors ignored them, or maybe smelled a rat, and stuck with us, bless them.

My second cheer is for the  massive increase in the vote for UKIP.  Not that I agree for one moment with UKIP's policies, and I find Nigel Farage's demonising of courageous and go-getting young Romanians and Bulgarians as despicable.  But surely UKIP's high vote is a warning to both Conservative and Labour parties that their tactics on Europe are wrong. Both have been shamefully neglectful of putting forward the positive case for the EU and the massive benefits and wonderful opportunities Britain and we British would gain from committed participation in this exciting and civilised project.  Instead both have used the EU as a scapegoat for any unpopular measures for which they prefer to deflect rather than take responsibility.  Liberal Democrats too have been somewhat tepid.  All bar one of the candidates for the Liberal Democrat list for the coming elections to the European Parliament were defensive rather than enthusiastic.  All three parties need to start now to to publicise the achievements, advantages and potential of the  EU, otherwise Farage and his xenophobic acolytes will continue to eat into their support.

Thirdly, not so much praise as acknowledgement of the message the non-voters have given.  Turnout was 52.7%  and, unless the rules have changed, that is on a brand new register which would have come into force on the 15th February.  Normally part of the  percentage of non-voters can be explained by people who have died or moved.  There wouldn't have been that many in a couple of weeks.  So in spite of all the razzmatazz, glad-handing by political big beasts  and national as well as local media coverage, very nearly half the electorate didn't vote.

Our political leaders need to recognise that politics as it is presently played in Britain: the knockabout of Prime Minister's questions, the broken promises on the NHS etc, the lies, the  sloganising rather than reasoning, the sucking  of  decision-making  from the local area to the centre, is a turn-off for very nearly one out of two.  A particular disappointment was the derisory vote received by the "National Health Action" candidate -  392,  less than one per cent.  Either the electorate don't care, which I don't believe, or they take the view that whatever they think the politicians will ignore them.

 Unless we tackle this malaise our democracy is in danger.

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