Turnout – how low can it go?

Turnout – how low can it go?

Birmingham Council House
The Council House in Birmingham – the largest local authority being contested today


Unrepresentative bunch that we are here, we can get an inflated idea of the prominence elections have among the public in general. Quite a few posters here will have spent an intense month focusing on today’s local elections, but that puts us in quite a minority. Correspondents to The Times, who no doubt are serious and well informed people, seem to have been bypassed by the campaign. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats haven’t had particular success in planting a national message in voters’ heads, and the most exuberant national campaigning – Labour’s “Dave the Chameleon” broadcast – seems to be better loved by Tory activists than anyone else.

So the task of motivating voters comes down to the party activists who have been working very hard in battleground areas, where voters hear more about the elections from party leaflets and canvassers than from the media. But Labour footsoldiers must now be afraid their efforts will be in vain. If the local elections underwhelm the TV stations and the press, the same certainly can’t be said for Labour’s recent troubles. Home Secretary Charles Clarke is struggling through one of the bigger recent scandals about the failures of a government department. And the way that John Prescott is not so much attacked as ridiculed is reminiscent of the Major years when no misfortune of the Conservatives passed unnoticed.

Even electors who have been impressed by Labour on a local level will be in two minds about going out and casting a vote that could give Tony Blair renewed comfort in office. It looks like a lot of people will give the polling booth a miss today, and they’ll disproportionately be Labour supporters.

In the betting markets, the conventional bookies (some of whom will be fearing burnt fingers after opening their books with generous odds against a bad Labour performance in London) are cautious about offering bets on today’s results. However, you can get 4/7 from Paddy Power on Labour losing Tower Hamlets to Respect or to no overall control. Betfair has markets on a range of councils. Not all are very liquid but you can check the up-to-the-minute prices here.

Philip Grant

The author is a Liberal Democrat activist in London. Mike Smithson returns at the weekend.

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