Perspective: Democratic Disillusion; Britain Has Been Waging War in the Name of Democracy. Yet Millions of Us Will Still Fail to Exercise Our Basic Democratic Right Tomorrow. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Reports
Byline: Paul Groves
The nation has become politicised during the first four months of 2003 as war with Iraq loomed and then became reality.
Millions took to the streets, voiced their concerns and their opposition to invading Iraq or their support for our thousands of service personnel dispatched to the Gulf to fight with the coalition.
It was the issue that captured the imagination of a wide cross section of society - from school children to octogenarian veterans - and managed to polarise public opinion at the same time.
The nation was stirred from the over-riding sense of apathy that has pervaded for years.
And yet tomorrow, the predictions are still that we will witness a depressingly low turn out for elections taking place in England, Wales and Scotland.
Why, when Britain has been fighting for the basic democratic freedoms of the people of another country, do we continue to deny them to ourselves?
Despite new methods of voting being trialled across the country - such as increased use of postal votes and the introduction of on-line polling in parts of the Midlands - together with a publicity campaign particularly aimed at stirring voters out of their torpor, only Blair has been predicting for weeks that Labour will lose control of scores of councils because of their failure to mobilise a sizeable proportion of the electorate.
This apathy has been evident for well over a decade and the blame has been pinned on a variety of reasons. Yet the spiral of decline has still to be reversed.
'Disillusionment in the whole political process set in a few years ago and nothing has happened to shake it off,' said political analyst James Price-Thomas.
'The huge majorities enjoyed first by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and latterly by Labour under Tony Blair have effectively disenfranchised a large number of people. More and more have perceived their vote to be a wasted vote as it has done little to break the stranglehold by the dominant party of the day.
'Even the advent of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have failed to address this. Both promised a new brand of politics, but both have got bogged down in the same old petty party political squabbles.
'The three main parties and Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Nationalists in Scotland are all guilty of this. People have lost faith in the political process.'
Although not pinning the blame squarely on Labour, the prevalence of spin has also been a huge turn-off.
'Spin was not invented by Labour under Blair, it has been part of the process for decades,' he added. 'But we have become more aware of it through the media and as such this has heightened the feelings of disillusionment.' Mr Price-Thomas, who is studying the introduction of new voting procedures in the Midlands, said the rise of the 'independent' candidate was significant.
In particular the success of so-called single issue candidates - the anti-sleaze stance and the Kidderminster Hospital debate being the prime examples - has served to highlight the fact that people can be mobilised to vote, but have also lost faith in the main parties.
'Trust is very important and it is something that has gradually been eroded,' he said. 'The various new measures being introduced for May 1 will address the issue of convenience and will help those who claimed they struggled to make it to a polling station, but will not address the fact that people are disillusioned with the whole political process. …