Political engagement – trust in politicians and bothering to vote

cynicism07:18 Monday 27th April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: We’ve been talking today about political engagement. Overall in 2010, the last General Election, Cambridgeshire saw a turnout, the number of people voting, that was actually above the national average, although only just. The turnout varied between 74.9% in South Cambridgeshire to just 63.9% in Peterborough. And you do hear people complaining that all politicians are alike, that politicians just don’t keep their promises, so why should we bother voting? Why should we bother voting when they never do what they say they will do before the election? So lots of people trying to do more to increase the number of people who actually turn up to vote on May 7th, and we’re going to hear from two of them now. Clive Semmens is the Green Party Parliamentary candidate for South East Cambridgeshire. Morning Clive.
CLIVE SEMMENS: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And also with me in the studio is Huw Jones, who’s the Labour Parliamentary candidate for South East Cambridgeshire. Morning.
HUW JONES: Hiya Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So South East Cambridgeshire, at the last General Election it was neither the highest nor the lowest in Cambridgeshire in terms of turnout. Why do you think Clive that still one in three people on average just don’t vote?

CLIVE SEMMENS: Because they don’t trust politicians. They don’t think they’ll do what they say they’ll do. I’m standing for the Green Party, and Caroline Lucas has made a real impression as being someone who really has stood up for the things she said she would stand up for.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So Caroline Lucas, the one Green Party MP.
CLIVE SEMMENS: The one Green Party MP, and I would dearly like to stand beside her. And also stand up really for the things that our party says it will stand up for.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Huw, do you think Clive’s right? Do you think that people just don’t trust politicians?
HUW JONES: I’ve spent a lot of time standing round on street corners outside Tesco in Histon and the Co-op in Linton and various villages. And you find that there are some people who are highly engaged and want to talk about it, and a lot of people who want to walk on by, and don’t want to engage, don’t want to talk, don’t want to think about the issues. A lot of these are young people. And the attitude comes back, why should I care, why should I bother. Equally there are some young people who are highly motivated towards politics, and they’re campaigning in groups like 38 Degrees. And I’m hoping that their energy and their excitement over politics is going to spill over into toward the more apathetic people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I suppose the second question really is, does it matter? If people don’t want to vote they don’t have to vote.
CLIVE SEMMENS: Yes it does matter. Our politics has been dominated by the representatives of the wealthy, and that’s resulted in this politics of austerity, which is simply a policy to transfer wealth from the general population to the rich. And it’s been hugely successful in doing that, which is very unfair to the ordinary people, and the ordinary people have it in their power to do something about it. Most of the political parties have been haemorrhaging membership at a tremendous rate. Green Party has tripled its membership in the last twelve months. So people are coming round, trying to do something about it. This is particularly noticeable among young people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And would you say Huw do you think that young people are becoming more politically engaged?
HUW JONES: I think there are some people, some young people who are very highly motivated towards politics, interested, engaged. And they’re campaigning on things like animal issues. They’re campaigning on environmental issues.They’re campaigning on social issues. I’ve been involved in the campaign to stop the NHS sell-off in Cambridge, and there were an awful lot of young people involved in that, alongside colleagues in the trades unions who were trying to stop that privatisation.
DOTTY MCLEOD: There are certain issues aren’t there which do galvanise people. The NHS is one of them I think.
HUW JONES: It’s very issue-based, and I think what the parties need to do, and what I’ve been trying to do, is funnel that energy towards mainstream politics. Because if it goes into fringe politics then we’re in danger of getting disengagement and more disengagement, and people not being part of the system.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Fringe politics. Clive, is he talking about you in the Green Party?
CLIVE SEMMENS: Yes I think he is. (THEY LAUGH).
HUW JONES: It’s not a criticism, but if people want to make change in a democratic society, they have to engage in the mainstream democracy. But equally it’s incumbent on the people operating that democracy to be responsive, and to actually do the things that they’ve said they’re going to do, and to listen to what people are saying.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So Clive, you think it is important for people to vote. You think more people should be voting?
CLIVE SEMMENS: Absolutely. Yes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What have you done in South East Cambridgeshire to try and encourage people to vote full stop? And of course, by the very nature of campaigning, to vote for you.
CLIVE SEMMENS: Well our party doesn’t have a huge budget like most of the other parties, so that most of my activity has been online, on Twitter, on Facebook, and replying to thousands and thousands, literally thousands of emails.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Really? You get that many.
CLIVE SEMMENS: I get over a hundred a day on average at the moment.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And what are they asking you? What do they want to know?
CLIVE SEMMENS: A very large proportion of them are actually from the same people asking repeated questions, many of them coming through organisations like 38 Degrees that you just mentioned. Also Avaaz and other campaigning groups.
DOTTY MCLEOD: These are online campaigning websites, aren’t they?
CLIVE SEMMENS: Online campaigning websites, petitioning websites. And they encourage people to write to their prospective MPs, their candidates. And of course all the candidates get huge numbers of emails from these people, and a lot of my work is replying to those emails.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Huw, you’ve actually done something a little bit different, haven’t you, in terms of online activity, with a bit of a Facebook hustings? Is that right?
HUW JONES: Well one of the things I’ve been doing behind the scenes is going onto village Facebook pages and getting in touch with community groups. And I’ve been doing this since about October last year, trying to make sure that we did have an informed active vigorous election in South East Cambs, trying to encourage villagers to hold hustings meetings. In some cases been successful, and yes, some people have taken up the challenge. And we’ve been into village halls and churches and it’s been great fun. But Willingham did something different, and they organised a Facebook hustings. And it was absolutely tremendous. We had I think engagement from over ..
HUW JONES: And it was just excellent.
HUW JONES: The other thing I’ve been doing is going to where people are, going to where people shop, going to where people are on Saturday morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So old school. Old school campaigning.
HUW JONES: Old school. I think voters are entitled to see the whites of my eyes, and if they think that I’m lying, they’ll be able to look me in the eye and say, that’s nonsense Jones. The other thing, another bit of retro-campaigning, you’ve got your bed.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes we do have our bed. Yes indeed.
HUW JONES: Well I’m going to park my campaign camper next to it.
HUW JONES: We’re going to go out in the next couple of .. the next ten days, and we have a nicely decorated van, a loudhailer, and we’re going to have some old style driving around, trying to engage voters. If you see a bright yellow camper plastered in Labour posters, stick your hand out. I’ll stop and I’ll answer any question you like .
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well thank you both for coming into the studio this morning. You heard just then from Huw Jones who is the Labour Parliamentary candidate for South East Cambridgeshire. Also from Clive Semmens who is the Green Party candidate for South East Cambridgeshire. And you’re getting used to this. I’ve got to read out a list of the other candidates who are standing in South East Cambridgeshire. Lucy Frazer for the Conservatives, Jonathan Chatfield for Liberal Democrats, and Deborah Rennie for the UK Independence Party.