"While the victorious party at the 2005 General Election polled 9.5 million votes, 17 million registered voters failed to attend a polling station.
Only 37 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2005 General Election compared to 75 per cent of those over 65. In the same election, 47 per cent of those from a black and minority ethnic background voted, while 62 per cent of those classed as white turned out. A similar disparity exists for social class, with 54 per cent of those categorised as D/E voting in May 2005 compared to 70 per cent for those in the A/B social class.
The Home Office Citizenship Survey has questioned a very large sample of 10,000 people every two years since 2001, and in 2005 found that 50 per cent of British adults – or over 20 million people – volunteer formally or informally at least once a month, an increase of 3 per cent from the same survey in 2001. Among those at risk of social exclusion – who are usually regarded as far less likely to participate – the percentage of volunteers is still a surprisingly high 43 per cent.
Power’s own research found that amongst the supposedly most apathetic – those who do not vote in general elections – 37 per cent were members of, or active in, a charity, community group, public body or campaigning organisation.
The Citizen’s Audit of Britain found that over a twelve-month period 62 per cent donated money to a political or campaigning organisation, 30 per cent helped raise money for a political or campaigning organisation, 42 per cent signed a petition, 25 per cent contacted a public official, and 13 per cent contacted a politician in an effort to change laws or policies. Only one person in twenty took part in a public demonstration or attended a political meeting, but in terms of the numbers willing to participate this remains highly significant. The Home Office Citizenship Survey broadly backs these figures, finding that 38 per cent of people had undertaken one of these activities (with the exception of donating or raising money) during 2004/05. This figure was the same for the previous two Citizenship surveys.
The World Values Survey found that the percentage of the British population that had taken part in a demonstration rose from 6 per cent in 1974 to 13 per cent in 2000 and those who had signed a petition rose from 23 per cent to 81 per cent.
Friends of the Earth has experienced a growth from 1,000 members in 1971 to 119,000 in 2002; Greenpeace has risen from 30,000 in 1981 to 221,000 in 2002. Bodies which combine campaigning and advocacy work with leisure-time pursuits have done even better: the National Trust has seen its membership grow from 278,000 in 1971 to 3,000,000 in 2002 and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has enjoyed a growth from 98,000 to 1,200,000 in the same period.
The Countryside Alliance demonstration in 2002, which drew 400,000 participants; the demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003, which gathered around 1, 500, 000 people; and the Live 8 event in 2005, which was attended by 150,000 people.
Livejournal estimates that there are 78,000 active bloggers in Britain.
Elections to English Metropolitan Councils rose above 50 per cent in 1979 only when they were held on the same day as the general election. During the 1990s they hovered around 25 per cent. European parliamentary elections have not seen a serious decline because they have never enjoyed anything other than low turnout since their inception in 1979. The highest turnout was never more than 40 per cent.
Membership of the three main parties in 2001 was less than 25 per cent of its 1964 level less than 2 per cent who are party members.
In 1992, only 11 per cent of Conservative Party members reported attending more than five party meetings in the previous year. 77.8 per cent said they spent no time on party activities in the average month. Labour Party members have always been more active than their Conservative counterparts. However, by 1999, just 18 per cent of members said they had been to more than five party meetings in the previous year. 65 per cent said they spent no time on party activities in the average month.
The percentage of Labour members who said they had not attended a party meeting in the previous year rose from 36 per cent (1990), to 54 per cent (1997), to 61 per cent (1999). At the same time the proportion of members attending more than five meetings a year fell from 30 per cent (1990), to 19 per cent (1997), to 18 per cent (1999). Those reporting that they spent no time on party activities in the average month rose from 51 per cent (1990), to 63 per cent (1997), to 65 per cent (1999).²⁸ It seems fair to assume that figures for the Conservative Party – whose members, as already mentioned, are historically less active than Labour’s – would show a similar pattern.
In 1964, 43.8 per cent of respondents said that they had a ‘very strong’ party identification. By 1997, this figure had fallen to 14.7 per cent. At the same time the percentage of people declaring themselves to have a ‘not very strong’ party attachment rose from 10.7 per cent to 31.5 per cent.
why is a population that is active in many political and non-political areas increasingly unwilling to participate in the institutions and processes of formal democracy?
When asked whether they agreed with the statement: “British governments of any party can be trusted to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party”, those who agreed fell from 37 per cent in 1987 to 16 per cent in 2000 and has only risen slightly since.
Turnout dropped by an average of 7 per cent in the older democracies during the 1990s and twenty out of twenty-seven established democracies experienced a drop in turnout in the same decade.
When asked if they felt it would be a serious neglect of duty not to vote, 79 per cent of those who first got the chance to vote during Macmillan’s premiership answered yes; this declined to 70 per cent of the Wilson/Callaghan generation; 53 per cent of Thatcher’s generation and only 41 per cent of Blair’s;
• this is supported by a survey which found that, while 74 per cent of the whole population agreed it was a duty to vote, this stood at only 58 per cent amongst 18-24 year olds and at 61 per cent amongst 25-34 year olds.
In 2001, 59 per cent of the population professed themselves interested in politics. This is the same as the percentage that voted. Amongst young people, however, while 53 per cent declared themselves interested in politics, only 39 per cent voted.
Interest in ‘national issues’ and ‘local issues’ was very high at 82 per cent and 78 per cent respectively, but was much lower for ‘news about elections’ and ‘politics’ at 60 per cent and 58 per cent.
Only 19 per cent cited apathy as a reason for not voting when asked the ‘open’ question: ‘what was the main reason for you not voting on 5th May’, 36 per cent of non-voters cited political reasons such as a lack of difference between the parties and claims that politicians ‘could not be trusted’.
When asked to choose a factor from a list that might encourage them to vote, most non-voters (54 per cent) chose politicians keeping their promises and listening to people’s views between elections. Interestingly, the figure rose to 72 per cent for 18-24 year olds.
More than 90 per cent of non-voters identified three or more political issues that “really mattered” to them despite the fact that 66 per cent declared themselves as uninterested in politics.
MORI found that turnout in the 2001 election was 68 per cent amongst social classes A and B but only 53 per cent amongst classes D and E.
When asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way MPs were “doing their job”, 32 per cent were satisfied and 36 per cent were dissatisfied. These figures improved however, when people were asked how they felt “your MP is doing his/her job” – 41 per cent were satisfied, only 13 per cent dissatisfied. These findings suggest that the belief that politicians are of a particularly low calibre is not based on direct experience but a more general sense of alienation from politics and politicians.
The proportion of those who strongly believe that ‘people have no say in what the government does’ rose from 15 per cent in 1973 to 30 per cent in 1994. 56 per cent agreed in 2003 that they have ‘no say in what the government does’.
• One study reported a fall from 70 per cent in 1965 to 51 per cent in 1999, in the number of people agreeing with the statement: ‘the way that people decide to vote in local elections is the main thing that decides how things are run in this area’.
Over three-quarters of those questioned in 2000 felt they had little or no power between elections.
• 40 per cent disagreed in 2004 with the statement, ‘when people like me get involved in politics, they really can change the way the UK is run’.
• Another survey in 2004 found that 90 per cent of respondents felt ‘ordinary voters’ should have influence over government policies but only 33 per cent felt they actually did.
64 per cent felt they knew ‘just a little’ or ‘hardly anything’ about how Parliament works – this increased to 81 per cent amongst 15-24 year olds;
• 57 per cent felt they knew ‘not very much’ or ‘nothing at all’ about politics⁸² – this increased to 71.1 per cent amongst 18-24 year olds;
• in a seven-question political knowledge quiz of 2,000 adults only 45 per cent got four or more answers correct and only 3 per cent got all answers correct – only 27 per cent knew that a general election does not have to be held every four years and only 49 per cent knew that the House of Commons has more power than the Lords.
The survey of non-voters found that 44 per cent said they were ‘very likely’ or ‘likely’ to vote if they were able to vote by mobile phone or on the internet.
in the 1940s manufacturing accounted for almost 40 per cent of the UK economy; today it accounts for around 20 per cent;
• at the end of the 1970s around seven million were employed in the manufacturing sector (around 33 per cent of the workforce); today, the figure is around 3.4 million (about 14 per cent of the workforce) and falling;
employment in the service sector exceeds 70 per cent in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, France and the US. The figure is 65 per cent in Germany, Italy and Japan. This represents a major decline of manufacturing employment in all of these countries. For example, 34 per cent of German employment resided in manufacturing in 1980 but fell to 24 per cent by 2000; and fell from 22 per cent to 15 per cent over the same period in the USA.
the percentage of individuals living in households in income poverty in the UK rose from 15 per cent in 1981 to 24 per cent in 1993/4 and 22 per cent in 2002/03;
• child poverty has fallen roughly in line with government targets, but is still high by international standards – in 2002/03, 23 per cent of children in Britain lived in households earning below 60 per cent of the median income;
the number of households in temporary accommodation has continued to rise since 1997; in 2002/03, 129,000 applicants for social housing were accepted as being homeless and in ‘priority need’, an increase of 10 per cent on 2001/02;
• Persistent poverty – defined as living at least three years out of the last four in poverty – is high in Britain compared to the rest of Europe; between 1998 and 2001, 11 per cent of UK citizens lived in persistent poverty. This compares to 5 per cent in the Netherlands, 6 per cent in Germany, and 9 per cent across Europe as a whole.
The statement, “Britain needs a written constitution, providing clear legal rules within which government ministers and civil servants are forced to operate” has consistently won the backing of 70 per cent in opinion surveys carried out between 1995 and 2004, and achieved its highest backing of 80 per cent in 2004.
• In 2004, 83 per cent agreed with the statement “the Prime Mini-ster should be bound by law to seek approval from Parliament before committing Britain to war or other military action”.
• 50-60 per cent agrees that Parliament should have greater control of the Executive in five opinion surveys between 1977 and 2000 with another 19-25 per cent remaining neutral on the issue.
The number of MPs who are members of the Government has grown. This ‘payroll vote’ now delivers to the Executive an increasing and guaranteed slice of parliamentary support. Currently almost one-third (140) of the Parliamentary Labour Party are members of the Government. The big expansion has been in Parliamentary Private Secretaries – the most junior members of the Government – who have grown from 29 in 1979, to 40 in 1989, to 50 today. This, in effect, provides the Prime Minister with a growing patronage power over the very body which is supposed to scrutinise and challenge government policy and decisions.
British government is populated by a vast number of quangos. The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee reported, in 2000, the existence of 297 executive quangos and 536 advisory quangos in central and devolved government; 5,338 local quangos of all kinds; and 2,295 local partnerships which bring together local authorities, the police and other public agencies, voluntary bodies and private enterprises in a new level of local governance.
In 2003/04, executive quangos alone spent £32 billion of public money – one fifth of all money spent by public bodies.
In 1983, half of the British workforce belonged to a union, this dropped to one-third by 2001;
• in 1972, 27.6 per cent of the male population belonged to working men’s or social clubs, this dropped to 17.9 per cent
• membership of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes has dropped by 46 per cent from 442,000 in 1972 to 240,000
Currently all candidates must provide a deposit of £500 which is returned only if the candidate wins 5 per cent of the constituency vote, although the Electoral Administration Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, proposes reducing this to 2 per cent. All other elections in the UK, with the exception of local and parish elections, have a similar deposit and percentage system. The Mayoralty of London is the most stringent, with candidates expected to provide a £10,000 deposit which is lost if 5 per cent of the vote is not achieved.
At the 2005 General Election, the biggest losers were the the Green Party, the UK Independence Party, and independent candidates who lost £393,000 between them, whereas Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats only lost £3,000 in total (and Labour, in fact, did not lose any deposits at all).
In the UK Parliament, the total number of black and minority ethnic MPs was 6 in 1992, 9 in 1997, 13 in 2001 and 15 in 2005; as for women MPs, there were 199 in the 2001 Parliament and 128 in 2005.
If the make up of MPs were accurately to reflect the proportion of the British population there should be 51 MPs from minority ethnic backgrounds and 320 female MPs. The average age of MPs was 51 in 2005. Only 6.2 per cent of MPs come from a manual occupation, the vast majority have a business background (19.2 per cent) or a professional background – mostly lawyers, teachers, journalists or political workers (74.6 per cent). One third of MPs attended a private school compared to 8 per cent of the population as a whole.
In 2002, there were no BME members in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly. However, both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have achieved over 40 per cent representation for women.
Representation by different groups within local authorities is equally varied. 70 per cent of local councillors in England are male, only 3.5 per cent are from a black minority ethnic community and their average age was 57 in 2004.
Comparative budgets (year ending 2004) of six political parties with national profiles and representation at national or European parliamentary levels
The Electoral Commission has calculated that approximately £25 million of public funds are given to political parties in a normal year and £111 million in a year when a general election is called. The great bulk of this subsidy is distributed in a fashion that benefits the main parties and weakens the relative capacity of smaller parties and independent candidates to build their profile.
If the voucher was set at £3 per year, this would mean that if 30 million people voted in a general election, there would be a potential pot of £90 million available to fund local party political and candidate activity. In practice, however, many voters would probably fail to allocate their £3 voucher, so reducing the pot.
This method, though radical, has a number of attractions for the Power Commissioners.
It creates a strong financial incentive for political parties and candidates to engage with voters, in the hope that they could persuade as many voters as possible to allocate their £3 voucher to them. £3 seems negligible but if a local party were able to secure 10,000 vouchers for example this would bring £30,000 per annum into a constituency party’s coffers. This would make a huge difference to the activities which could be organised. Alternatively, it could cover the salary of a full-time organiser.
• It helps address one of the chief findings of Power that citizens want more direct influence over political decisions – this approach gives citizens a direct say over political funding.
• It overcomes popular objections to state funding of parties by allowing voters the option of allocating their tax money earmarked for party funding to be used for mainstream public spending instead.
• It will allow voters to direct state funds to those parties that are not raising money from business and large individual donations, should this be a matter of concern to the voter.
• It allows voters to vote for one party while directing funds to another party which they feel may offer interesting alternatives in the future but is not quite ready for power yet. The system therefore allows the voter to play a sophisticated role in shaping the responsiveness of the party system to emerging voter interests and values.
Only 24 per cent said a material incentive would make them “more likely” or “likely” to vote."