Saturday, 5 May 2012

Lessons from the Election

So after weeks of mud-slinging, swearing and not much policy propositioning, London finally came to the somewhat unsurprising conclusion that it would keep Boris Johnson as mayor for a further four years. But this is far and away the least interesting thing to take away from the election. In the aftermath of an election which focussed on personality more than ever, the two lessons to be learnt from are the problems surrounding broadcasting rules and the even greater ones surrounding voter apathy.

As the battle got bloodier between Ken and Boris, unsurprisingly Londoners began to look for other options, only to discover that there weren’t any. Or so it would seem from media coverage. The televised debates refused to put any other candidates than the four main ones (Boris, Ken, Brian Paddick (Lib Dems), Jenny Jones (Green)). This ignorance of the three other candidates on the polling slip was impossibly frustrating. Independent candidate Siobhan Benita’s, who eventually stormed into 5th place with over 80,000 first preference votes, annoyance was evident from her Twitter. IN an increasingly media savvy age, most voters find out about candidates through the newspapers, radio and television. How can we live in a “democracy” with a fair voting system when there is nowhere near an even spread of time between all the candidates, particularly on the BBC? There was a cruel irony to the fact that as the candidates got up to do the speeches one by one after the results, the BBC cut away from them after the main 4 ( the same 4 they had given air time for) had spoken, just as Benita opened her mouth. It’s time for a change to allow more diverse candidates to step up to the challenge of taking on the main parties, and our media should be supporting that.

The second shocking thing to take away from the election was the astonishingly low turnout of 38%. This can be attributed to everything from disillusionment with party politics to the fact that it was raining on Thursday but the fact is Boris Johnson has been elected mayor of a city with almost 8 million inhabitants, with only 17% of their support. The London mayoral election is one of the more confusing ones, with voters being asked to make two preference votes along with voting for councillors and the GLA. But aside from that clearly we need to find a solution to the political apathy which is plaguing the UK and again destroying democracy. Whether it is electronic voting, compulsory voting or lowering the voting age in order to politicise younger people, something must be done. Politicians can no longer sweep the issue of low turnout under the carpet and I hope somewhere out there the coalition are thinking of ways to tackle it now. Somehow I doubt it.

In many ways the London mayoral election was an absolute farce. The loss of two ballot boxes delayed the result for almost four hours until eventually at almost midnight it was announced, to a resounding “meh” from the majority of London. Britain: doing democracy right. 

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