Bitesize: Oh for the Days When Politicians Didn't Always Do the Right Thing; Politics

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Bitesize: Oh for the Days When Politicians Didn't Always Do the Right Thing; Politics


Byline: Kirsty Buchanan

IN every election a theme will naturally emerge. Unfortunately the theme of the 2003 Assembly elections appears to be a lack of knowledge that they are on.

Three weeks into the campaign the politicians are gripped by a growing sense of panic about polling night and a sizeable chunk of the public could not care less.

It used to be apathy which concerned the politicians, now apathy has teamed up with lack of awareness to create an election fog which is almost impossible to penetrate.

Politicians are firing warning shots across the bows of the media, accusing them of talking down the election. Endless speculation over the size of the turnout on May 1 will make a low poll a self-fulfilling prophecy, goes the argument.

The scale of turnouts in general elections has been relatively consistent since 1945, when 72.8% of the public made their mark at the ballot box. But something rather dramatic happened to turnout in the 2001 General Election - it collapsed. After 50 years in which turnout had never fallen below 70% it plummeted to 59.4%.

This is the same level of decline anticipated for the Assembly elections, where turnout is expected to fall from the 46% level of 1999 to 36% in May. Surely if Assembly candidates could learn the lessons behind the 2001 General Election turnout perhaps they could address the problems?

Received wisdom on the 2001 collapse seems to be the demon in the mix was ``spin''. Trust is the blood pumping through the veins of the democratic process and, if the people lose faith in what mainstream politicians say and do, they will turn away from the process entirely.

The Assembly elections have gone perhaps too far in countering the dangerous side effects of spin for, it has to be said, there is precious little pzazz in this election.

But two old-school politi-cians proved this week you don't need dancing girls or movie-style election broadcasts to capture the mood of an election or to make the headlines. …

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