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General Election 2015 – A Wasted Vote or a Chance for Change?

Written by Jameela Raymond on Thursday, 9 April 2015

In the lead up to the upcoming General Election, Jameela Raymond looks at the lack of trust in the UK Government.


 

Less than a year ago – when considering the links between public apathy, political scandals, and the low voter turnout at the 2014 European Election – I wrote:

In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, it is crucial that we see an active effort from the government to encourage voting and restore faith in democracy and the electoral process. With increased transparency, accountability and space for legitimate political participation, we can have a more involved electorate and improve the reputation of British politics.

Now, as the UK approaches the 2015 General Election, I still don’t think that the impact of political corruption scandals on public trust in government is fully appreciated. In the second half of the 20th century the average voter turn-out was near 80% – since 2001 it has been little over 60%. Yes the statistics look positive still – but the idea that democracy works just fine, as long as you vote, is beginning to wear away.

In 2010 before being elected, David Cameron spoke out against broken politics, criticised the political scandals under the Labour Party and warned that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. Since then, however, we haven’t seen one scandal, but rather 15 separate lobbying scandals to date including the Straw and Rifkind affair. What strikes me is that many of these scandals fell within the rules.

Our report Lifting the Lid on Lobbying: The Hidden Exercise of Power and Influence in the UK pointed out that major party donors can be appointed to the House of Lords, and each political party can accept donations with no limit. These are only two lobbying loopholes – out of 39 that we identified across the UK political institutions – and they are significant. This clearly unequal reality hardly encourages the public to believe that their vote will be heard over the private interests of a major party donor – just one of the reasons why the value of a vote is being questioned now more than ever. If any government truly wants to rebuild trust in government and put an end to the ‘crony capitalism’ that David Cameron condemned in 2010 tackling political scandals head-on will be crucial. Lobbying loopholes must be closed and focus should be on prevention rather than punishment.

The seven-way Leaders’ Debate highlighted the nation-wide desire for a shift in the system and showed that complacency with political errors is no longer being accepted as the standard. With the political party manifestos published next week it will be interesting to see how (or if) the parties expect to approach the problem.

Where there is frustration with politics, apathy can soon be expected. But it is far better to demand a higher quality of government than to bury our heads in the sand and allow the problems to persist. There is no such thing as a wasted vote – putting your voice behind the party that you think will do the best for the country can never be a wasted effort. But we can, and should, make our voices heard far beyond the ballot box. Those in power are accountable to the public, and if their actions are unsatisfactory they need to know about it. Whoever you vote for on 7 May, we must all let the next government know that we will not accept our democracy to be worn down by corruption. We deserve better, and the election is just one opportunity for us to demand it.

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Read 3606 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 12:18
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Jameela Raymond

Jameela is Transparency International UK's Senior Policy Officer. You can follow her on Twitter @jameelaraymond

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