Educate the voters back to the polling booths

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Gordon Brown is reported to be looking for Big Ideas as he becomes PM. Here’s one he can have for free. It’s long amazed me that although I’m not involved in politics, I seem to know far more about it than almost anyone I come into regular contact with. That’s not a reflection on what I know, it’s a reflection on what most people don’t know. I live in an educated, affluent area, yet when I voted in the last council election, late in the day, it looked to me on the list like I was only about the second or third person from my road to vote. Why couldn’t all my eloquent, intelligent neighbours be bothered?

The reason? Ignorance. In recent weeks, I’ve dropped a few enquiries into conversation with my neighbours to see what these people know about local politics. Remember, these are smart folks. Some reckoned Cambridge still has a Labour MP; a few could even name her, but most at least knew that he was a she. Unfortunately, they’d missed the fact that Cambridge had thrown out Anne Campbell and returned a Lib Dem at the last election.

Even more unfortunately, none of them knew that we’re not in the Cambridge constituency at all, and that we haven’t had a Labour or Lib Dem MP in our lifetimes.

If nobody knows who they’re voting for or against, what incentive is there to vote? At least most people thought they had an idea about what party our MP was from. I doubt anyone (except the neighbour who canvasses for one of the parties) knows what parties our ward returns in the council elections, or what the makeup of the council is.

But there’s no need for this. Why can’t national and local government do one simple thing before every election? And that is to deliver to every voter a simple card – it could be part of the notice of election paper – which tells them something about the type of election, who is standing, and what the results were last time. Quite straightforward stuff (I’d like to see a one-paragraph manifesto from each candidate too, but let’s not ask for miracles). After reading that, I confidently predict the number of people who’ll go and exercise their right to vote will rise dramatically.

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