Thanks to social media, today's citizens - and, for that matter, permanent residents and visitors have an equal voice in society. Whether that's good or bad is debatable but one thing is certain. When it comes to how the country is run and who is in charge, constituents have only one option: the ballot box.
In this round of elections in the UK, people had plenty of reasons to vote as they did.
Property prices are through the roof and the cost of living keeps going up, often with no pay rise to offset it. And now, the whole world struggles with inflation, food shortages and higher taxes.
All but the wealthy are feeling squeezed from all sides and the current government doesn't seem interested in doing anything about it.
Coming out of two years of pandemic conditions - isolation, work-from-home and remote learning, and still having to deal with this infernal virus has laid bare social inequity and just how unprepared our leaders were to see us through this crisis. Indeed, it's come to light that even our beloved National Health Service is slowly and quietly being privatised, setting off wave after wave of public outrage.
And then, Partygate?
Despite it being more difficult to feed, house and clothe one's family and educate the children, an astounding number of eligible voters chose not to register their preferences during election season. This year's election results reflect the worldwide, ongoing trend of simply staying home instead of heading to the polling station on election day.
Closely related to voter apathy yet a separate phenomenon is the trend towards making each election a referendum. Rather than vote for their desired candidates or the issues nearest to their areas of concern, voters contend they're "not voting for Candidate XYZ, they're voting against Candidate ABC".
This sentiment was most prominently on display in the US, when Mr Biden was elected - not because he was a stellar candidate with the most to offer, but simply because he wasn't Trump.
Voter apathy and voting against undesirable candidates (instead of for candidates that may bring about positive change) are the two most obvious symptoms of trouble in our democratic processes.
We need to take a broader look at the 2022 election results to figure out why constituents voted as they did.
The Most Pressing Issues
Earlier, we mentioned Partygate. People probably wouldn't have gotten mad about the Johnson government enjoying festivities; in fact, they might have found it strange if that cabinet never hosted a get-together. It was the flagrant disregard for how people had suffered in isolation for two years while Number 10 got to party on that provoked outrage.
But even that wasn't the biggest issue. The subsequent fumbling for excuses, none of them good and most of them demeaning sealed the Conservative Party's electoral fate. Although perhaps their wipe-out wouldn't have been so resounding if it hadn't been for the persistent downward slide of British life under conservative rule for the past 12 years.
After all, Mr Johnson's government is the third consecutive, Conservative-led Parliament.
COVID and the wholesale privatisation of formerly government-run institutions like the NHS - particularly the NHS also influenced the vote. People recognised this government's propensity towards American-style tactics of pressing on with an unpopular agenda, completely disregarding the public's wishes. And, for that matter, what would be best for the nations.
This is where economics comes into play. The Conservative-led government had been ushering the countries towards austerity while corporations raked in huge profits, all with government support and endorsement. The people were having none of it.
But here, we get back to voter apathy.
For the explosion of ire the public expressed via social media and in opinion pieces, the 2022 local elections' turnout of a little more than 30% of eligible voters was disappointing. Granted, there's no mistaking the message: even with such a low turnout, the Conservatives had their hats decisively handed to them.
Still, it's rather disturbing that more voters cast their ballots in general elections than local ones. In a very real sense, neglecting one's right to vote at every opportunity signals waning faith in the political process and a lack of desire to participate in it. That is a message that the governments must take seriously if democracy is to progress.
Parties and Campaigns
Unlike some countries, voters in the UK have a range of political parties to choose from. Perhaps not as extensive as India, with 2858 parties - only eight of which are national, British citizens nevertheless enjoy far more choice than, say, the US, whose two main parties claim all of the seats in government.
In the UK, the following parties are active:
- the Conservative Party (Tories), led by Boris Johnson
- the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer
- the Green Party, with Jonathan Bartley and Siân Berry at its head
- the Liberal Democrat Party, headed by Ed Davey
- the Scottish National Party (SNP), led by Nicola Sturgeon
- Plaid Cymru, headed by Adam Price
- Sinn Féin, with Mary Lou McDonald at the helm
Beyond these main groups, we find many others at the local and national levels, some with and others without any seats in Parliament. For instance, the Scottish Green Party, a centre-left group that advocates for Scottish independence and sustainability, has no seats in the House of Lords.
Each of these parties ostensibly campaigns on their ideology - Tories for conservatism and economic liberalism; Labour for social democracy - no major political party can afford to stray too far from the centre lest they be rejected by the voters as too extreme.
This partly explains why, more and more, voters see no point in heading to the polls. Many believe elections are just for show; regardless of party, the policies will be roughly the same. Is that what happened in the 2021 elections, too?
You have to admire the relatively short window and the limited budget they have to promote their candidacy. Despite those constraints, candidates must present themselves as the best person for the job and take time to listen to voters' concerns.
Candidates may use proxies to represent them throughout their district, and canvassers. They make heavy use of polls to measure the impact of their campaign and, if it seems things aren't going well, they may change tactics mid-campaign. That's why, as the progress of the campaign, candidates' exposure changes.
Typically, campaigns make ample use of print and television advertisements. They usually hand out leaflets that outline their political positions and what they want to accomplish when they're in power.
It's common for candidates' volunteer teams to knock on doors to represent the candidate throughout the community. This is usually done ahead of a campaign event, wherein the candidate will give a speech and talk with individual voters. Pre-COVID, these events involved lots of hand-shaking and getting close to their constituents.
Over the last 20 years, digital media has become instrumental in candidates' presentations. They may pay for adverts on streaming platforms or upload videos; some even sit for interviews on better-known podcasts.
Obviously, digital media is much less costly and time-consuming to produce than traditional campaign materials and events. Those two factors, time and money, ultimately drive candidates' approach to their campaigns. This is true for local elections as well as general elections.
The Politics of Personality
Considering that a certain music group recorded a song that says what Boris Johnson is, you could assert that it's less a matter of policy than his personality that drives the current negative publicity heaped on him. By no means does that signal that his policies are popular, only that they are less unpopular than the man himself.
Strange as it sounds, personality and appearance are two driving factors in politics.
Mr Johnson was nominated for Prime Minister because conservatives were tired of dithering over Brexit. It's possible that, like American voters versus Mr Trump, they were willing to hold their noses over Mr Johnson's less savoury traits. It's not like they were unknown; he'd long been in the public eye.
But now, it seems that enough is, indeed, enough. It's hard to find any laudatory piece written or spoken about the current Prime Minister, especially not after Partygate, the meandering speech given at COP26 and his attempted backtracking on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Those are all political manoeuvres but they speak of the man behind them. In a rather simplistic fashion, the idea seems to be 'Boris' policies are bad so he must be bad'. However much merit that idea deserves, it illustrates that voters need to trust their politicians before they can consider their policies.
Elections essentially boil down to the candidates' personalities. An honourable, upstanding candidate with a long record of good deeds stands a better chance at winning the election than some ruffian whose brashness and ill manner are too off-putting to cast a vote for. Unless that's the type of candidate needed that that moment.
For as often as local elections are held, it's a wonder that voters haven't moved away from the idea that elections are not supposed to be about the candidates' personalities.
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