Monday, April 24, 2006

Why people don't vote

It's local election time. I've got my postal form, I'm ready to go. What now? There's a list of 9 folks for my "ward" - none of whom I know and none of whom have knocked on my door. Only one party, the Conservatives, have dropped something through my letter box - and I threw that away before I realised what it was. So what happens now? I thought I'd do a little survey of each of the 3 parties (there are no oddball parties on my list) and see what they can tell me about who I am and what they'll do for me. To maintain a level playing field, I've given each party 10 minutes to convince me to vote for them, used the same questions for each and have decided I'm prepared to do some work for the 30 minute period before I make my selection. The questions are: 1) Do you know who I am (i.e. is there some way I know that you know I exist) 2) Have you told me who your councillors-elect are and what they've done individually 3) Have you told me anything about what you've done so far 4) Are you telling me lots about what you're going to do (your manifesto) So, here goes, first for Labour: 1) Do you know who I am? The Labour party website insists first on showing mehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif their campaign page with the chameleon and asking me if I'd like to sign up. At the bottom of the page their's a link to continue to the main page. I find the "what labour's done for you" box, which seems to be the only way to identify myself to the party. They don't recognise my postcode, and rather than assume they're wrong, I'm told:
Nothing found Please make sure you have entered your whole postcode. If you have and your constituency is still not found, please use Interactive Map Due to recent boundary changes in your area, information linking your postcode to your electoral ward is not available at this time.
I'm used to this, they're not the only ones. But I've lived here 18 months now - you'd have thought that if Amazon can figure out where I am, the Labour party could. So using my already prepared fake postcode which seems to map to near where I live, I get the info page which actually addresses the next question. So, no points for (1). For (2) Who are your councillors and what have they done? There's no mention here of the councillors, but there are some, I imagine, useful facts on what has been done. oddly the page has the date "February 2005" in it's title and that might be why the following paragraph is still there:
Under Michael Howard the Tories are committed to a £35 billion cut to public services. Cuts on that scale could only be found through cuts to frontline services - cuts to schools, hospitals and the police.
It goes on with some factoids, like this one:
Our streets are safer, crime is down and there are now 3,433 more police officers fighting crime in Metropolitan Police Force than in 1997. When Michael Howard was Home Secretary in the last Tory government, broke his promise to increase the number of police numbers - instead he cut police numbers by 1,132. Now the Tory plan to cut £35 billion from public spending would mean massive cuts to the fight against crime
Nicely, I suppose, the Tory text is in blue which has the effect of making it stand out more than the Labour text which is in black (why not red?). There's a tab there that tells me about "local contact information" and gives the names of MPs and MEPs, but no local information. Is the Labour party website only about national politics? Labour are mixing up my test here, answering (3) when I'm after (2) ... but I'll bear with them as I'm a patient voter and they haven't used up their 10 minutes yet. Back to (2), typing the name of any of the councillors into google, comes up with only 2 references. Both are the full list of councillors standing for election on the Hammersmith and Fulham site. Searching for "labour councillors fulham" I get some interesting results: So now who do we vote for? - unlikely to be a favourite of any of the parties least of all labour, but doesn't appear to have been updated since the 2005 elections. Black councillors in Fulham - none of whom are in my ward Wikipedia - the best source for information so far and (drum roll please) takes me to the right place: Hammersmithandfulhamlabour party website - that's a long word without a breath. Lo and behold, there are pictures and thumbnails of the candidates - one of whom is already a councillor, the others aren't (and one looks black which makes me wonder why the previous site didn't talk about "prospective black councillors" too). On a separate point, the fonts used on this site are hideous - I think the main one is "Franklin Gothic Book" (what?). They've even got little signatures under their blurb. So, on (2) Labour get 1/2 a point. I know who the folks are and I know what their current jobs are, but I don't have a view of what they offer as individuals. On (3), it's touch and go but there are I think, no points here. The site is out of date (Michael Howard? Who he?) and there's not much about the specifics and far more about the national level issues, NHS, crime, education and so on (what the PM used to call his big 4 - the 4th was tranport). On (4), the long worded website tells me that there are 5 priorities: Safer communities Smarter borough Better education More affordable homes Value for money Hardly very snappy, and the 10 minutes is nearly over. Picking one at random, value for money, I get that ugly font and then this (although it will be much easier to read here).
# Deliver lower council tax, with a guarantee of making real terms cuts in council tax until 2009 # Seek more efficiency savings across all council activities and make our services more effective, investing in new ways of working # Deliver free home care services, undertake a major review of parking policy and support a strong vibrant voluntary sector # Keep residents informed and in touch through a more interactive website with email alerts and a regular A-Z of council services so residents know what services they can get # Run regular ‘meet the leadership’ sessions for local people to exchange ideas and views on the council and extend ‘better government for older
I don't quite follow the value for money argument for most of those (a "more interactive website and a "regular A-Z" (I'm not sure what an irregular A-Z might be, perhaps every other letter only?). Still, one point there for trying. And the 10 minutes is fully up. Labour score 1 1/2 points out of 4 So, on to the conservatives: 1) Going to conservatives.org.uk takes me to the .com equivalent, showing that the Tories are perhaps hipper and more commercial and don't want to be seen as a charity or not for profit (which is what .org has always implied to me). Or maybe they were just quicker off the mark, labour.com is sat on by someone already. Still, they recognise my post code and I see my MP, my MEP and my LAM person (London Assembly Member) - I'd forgotten I even had one of those (what do they do and when did I vote for them?). There's then a link to my local Conservative party site, via a quick interstitial of the Tory flame logo. Perhaps a bit disappointingly, they don't pass on my post code, so I'm dumped at the home page and have to hunt again. The design is different - there's no search or post code box for instance. At the bottom it says "lower taxes, less waste, better services" - that might help me when it comes to (4). To answer (1), I have to follow "your candidates" and then find my ward. Eventually, I find that written on the back of the voting form. I also found it on the lbhf website, although they don't have my street listed (though they're taking my council tax now so I don't know why). I've got a picture of the 3 prospective councillors together, taken not far from where I live (sensible enough given they're standing in my ward), then individual pictures and thumbnail CVs. None are councillors now, so there's no story on what they've done. So 1 point for the Conservatives for (1) and another point for (2) - that's 2 points already. On (3) The Conservatives don't have any councillors in my ward and are not in overall power in the borough, but there doesn't seem to be any detail on what they've done through negotiation, outright bullying or even what they've tried to do. No points for (3). On (4), under "our manifesto" on the home page, I get these 5 things (5 again, is that the catchy number?)
1. Lowering Council Tax and providing quality, value for money services, 2. Improving markedly the local environment, 3. Cutting crime, 4. Improving educational standards, and 5. Supporting the most vulnerable in society.
and the catchy catch all of "Don't just hope for a brighter borough. Vote for it." I'm offered a 1mb dowload of their manifesto, in PDF format. Lucky broadband is available these days. 10 minutes is nearly up, it would be gone with dial up. The first few pages, all I have time to read, are about the quality of the environment. I'm just thinking that's a nice link up with the national stuff when I see that it's actually about graffiti, rubbish left on the streets, litter, "street trees" and "street furniture". The whole thing runs to 23 pages and there's no executive summary beyond the 5 priorities. I could award points here for content overload, but I think it deserves no points - and the ten minutes is up anyway. So, 2 points overall for the conservatives and they nose ahead of Labour. On to the Liberal Democrats: This one really threw me. Liberaldemocrats.org.uk (not a bad first attempt) gave me this (and I'm only pasting in a little of it, you can follow the link to read it all):
I want to make explicitly clear that this is NOT intended as an anti Police web site as I have great admiration for the majority of Officers who are in the job for the right reasons and carry out their jobs honourably and within the law (and who are not liars and incompetents like Nigel Cary (the force solicitor) and officers such as, Chief Inspector Neil Boon,DI Anthony Howe, PC Mark Watts and Sergeant Simon Moxon all of whomshould be ashamed of themselves !!!) . This web site is instead aimed at the aformentioned solicitor and Officers ,and the so called "Professional Standards" department (whose only role is to cover up using liars like DI Anthony Howe and Chief Inspector Neil Boon to deliberately bodge investigations which the IPCC have confirmed in their decision against him) and the some of the senior officers and staff at Mount Browne who feel that it is acceptable to lie, to harass members of the public because they made a complaint about a colleague, to use the Police computer for unlawful matters,to deliberately bodge and cover up investigations and to act as if they have carte blanche to do these things.
A quick search tells me I should have gone for Libdems.org.uk (how would I know that?). Incidentally, libdems.com is unregistered. On (1) There's no post code entry box. There an "in your area" button which takes me to a UK map. London is marked at least, but still no sign of a post code box. There's even a blog linked to here, although it's nothing to do with my area. This is a far glitzier site than the others. It even offers RSS from the home page. I'm not sure I want to stay up to the minute, but it's an offer at least. I move on to Libdems4London (linked to from the "in your area" page). The "find your local libdems" button takes me back to where I was a second ago. I scroll down and am confronted by a long list of names. Stunningly, when I eventually get to Hammersmith and Fulham, the link takes me to a page that tells me I'm on the wrong page and gives me another link to follow (the difference between the two being the absence of a dash). No auto-redirect here. Time is running out Sir Menzies. You didn't have this many hurdles in your way when you were a runner. There's a list of names on the new site - which, oddly, is a brighter yellow than the national sites. And a really weird, squashed up photo of Charles Kennedy. Did they not catch up with the change in leadership. So, no points for (1). No points for (2) - two names without biographies doesn't tell me anything. There's nothing on (3), so no points there. On (4), the summary of the manifesto is of the "we oppose/we propose" era. Here's a sample:
WE OPPOSE: Putting targets first WE PROPOSE: Putting patients first Faster diagnosis so your NHS treatment can start more quickly WE OPPOSE: Tuition fees & top up fees WE PROPOSE: Scrapping student fees Further education affordable to every student WE OPPOSE: Compulsory I.D. Cards WE PROPOSE: Spending the money on 10,000 more police Funded by scrapping compulsory I.D. cards
None of these appear to be local issues. There are others in the list (10 altogether). Then I realise there's another button for the Local Manifesto. This kicks off environmentally too: more recycling, cleaner streets, beating fly tipping, dealing with graffiti and so on. It goes on (and on and on). I count 32 refernences to "Hammersmith and Fulham" but I can't help thinking that this is a templated document and a few local things have been added to a national standard. I'm going to give them 1 point because plainly they have ambition, whether national or local. So, 1 point to the LibDems. That's Conservatives (2) Labour (1 1/2) LibDem (1) Hardly a ringing endorsement for any of them - 50% was the maximum score. I could have made the time limit 20 minutes or even 60 minutes but I doubt I would have found out more - although I could have waded through the full megabyte of manifesto I guess. Would the average person do what I've just done - it's actually taken 50 minutes including all the typing (when I should be posting my marathon stats)? Is an hour or so of our time spent on deciding who governs us and how we're going to be governed locally? I suspect it is. I can't imagine there are more than a dozen people who would go to this effort. If the information is not there readily and simply - one site for the council, one post code entry and then a link to the choices to be made, what each party is proposing (ideally side by side - the way that directionless does it). This was longer than I expected it to be and not especially well structured, but it's been educational for me. But, it hasn't helped me figure out who to vote for locally. And I suspect many people feel the same and that is one of the reasons why turn out for local election is something like 25% in many areas of London.

1 comment:

  1. Superb analysis. I hope the parties are smart enough to read this.

    I wanted to add newsfeeds from the three major parties to my website. I couldn't find one on the Labour site. (even the English Democrats have one)

    They really don't get this webby thing do they?.

    ReplyDelete