By Catherine Roberts
It was a disappointing night for voter turnout in the Adur District council elections on Thursday.
Nationally, a 30 per cent turnout was considered the lowest in over 12 years. Adur District bucked that trend a little – and not for the better. The area managed to scrape an average of 28 per cent.
In Adur District, every ward was down voters apart from St Nicholas which fetched up with a relatively impressive 36 per cent turnout.
A map of the turnout numbers shows that the lowest turnout (the darker circles) are gathered around the south and west regions of Adur District. This is perhaps unsurprising considering they tend to be areas of a low population, where a handful of voters preferring Corrie to the polling station equals a few percentage dip.
Marine is a bit of an odd ward: it’s the only one that voted for an independent councillor: Shoreham Beach Residents’ Association’s Liza McKinney. She was re-elected to Adur District Council after collecting a whopping 70 per cent of the votes.
In the end, Adur’s vote looked a little like this:
Adur has always been a bit of a Conservative safe bet and on first glance the stats say that, with a generous slice of the pie taken by the blues. However the Conservatives have actually lost two seats to Labour in what could be the weakest protest vote in the country. It was more of a dissatisfied murmur, really.
While perhaps not as dramatic a protest vote as the rest of the UK, Adur District saw definite signs of restlessness: Cokeham and Eastbrook are now islands of Labour in a Tory sea.
The growing apathetic attitude of voters is a problem that jumps continents: in the US, the 2008 election saw a 38 per cent turnout – that’s ten per cent less than 50 years ago – while the last no-holds-barred presidential election tempted along a mighty 57 per cent of voters.
Frustratingly, in a time when candidates have the opportunity to be as visible to their constituents as its possible to be through both social media and door-to-door campaigning, there is still a steady and worrying drop in turnout numbers.
There is a reason: council members just don’t have a smart enough profile to mobilise people. On the Adur District council website, in particular, councillors’ contact details are poor and the site is difficult to navigate. Most councillors don’t hold regular surgeries and their names are unrecognisable.
As with most of the country, a mix of proactive online and offline campaigns is needed. US politicians excel at this: they and their campaigners know exactly how to use social media to gain a strong online presence. Who can forget President Obama’s Les Mis-inspired One Day More countdown to election? (Three guesses who represented the ghoulish Thenardiers.)
Despite the fanfare, the US elections maintain a downwards slide in voter turnout. Perhaps in a time of austerity, public disillusionment runs deeper than even a snazzy online campaign can reach.
Looking at the thousands of dollars spent on campaigns over the pond, and the relative lack of change it’s brought, it’s doubtful that online campaigns will be the sole decider of whether a decent number of constituents will turn up on election day.
The answer to kick-starting the voters is fairly simple: councillors’ faces would be more well-loved (and more well-recognised) if they were active in their local area, and not just at election time.
As the only area to consistently re-elect councillors from an independent party, Adur’s Marine ward is a shining example of campaigning done right.
The Shoreham Beach Residents’ Association has been a constant since the 1950s, when the independent party dug their heels firmly into the slightly marshy ground of the Marine ward. The group was established solely to serve the needs of the residents – not a political party – and considering this year’s sweeping win it looks like they still manage to inspire their constituents.
The SBRA website is clean and accessible, of course, and regularly updated, and it has so many meeting minutes transcripts that it lends the group a refreshing attitude of full disclosure.
Liza McKinney and Ben Stride are also two of the more active councillors in Adur District, with a view to putting the needs of the residents before all else. Considering their near three-quarters share of the Marine vote, it is perhaps a sign that independents who have their eye on their immediate constituents could begin to creep back into the landscape of UK politics.
It makes a change from the usual suspects, anyway.