As the shock subsides, the reality sets in – little more than two years after having had a general election, Britons brace themselves for yet another one on June 8.
Election fatigue may make many voters reluctant to return to the polls in seven weeks’ time, but the stakes have never been higher as the country, roiled by years of austerity, finds itself on the precipice of a hard Brexit threatening to decimate jobs and living standards.
The feeling that it doesn’t matter – maybe you believe your vote doesn’t really count anyway – is a pervasive sentiment shared by many among a generally jaded electorate.
But if it is true that there is strength in numbers, then the strongest voice is of those who collectively did not vote last time around.
Although both the general election in 2015 and the EU referendum last year saw record numbers of people voting compared to recent elections – turnout was 66.1 per cent and 72.2 per cent respectively – the sad truth is long-term trends show that the number of people turning up to the polls is in general decline.
A 66 per cent turnout in 2015 means that 34 per cent didn’t cast their ballots – that amounts to more than 15m registered voters allowing the opportunity to have their say pass them by.
In the EU referendum, the numbers abstaining were hardly lower – of the more than 46m people registered to vote, nearly 13m stayed at home.
Let’s put this in perspective – the 15m who didn’t vote in 2015 dwarf the 11.3m people who voted for the Tories, the majority party. Likewise, the 13m who didn’t vote in the EU referendum were just a few million shy of exceeding either the Remain or Leave camps.
One thing is certain – if those millions who didn’t vote were to mobilise themselves on election day on June 8, the power is squarely in their hands to swing the election. They could change everything.
Certain groups who vote at lower rates than the national average have an even greater latent power to influence the results on June 8.
Take, for example, 18 to 24 year olds. Nearly 60 per cent – well over half – stayed at home at the last general election despite being registered.
And these figures weren’t much better among other traditionally marginalised groups. Of those registered and classified as working class (C2DE), 41 per cent did not vote. On the other hand, of those categorised under the highest class (AB) only 25 per cent stayed at home.
Of the millions of black and Asian minority ethnic people (BAME) registered to vote, 44 per cent did not cast their ballots. And after young people, the group with the lowest turnout was those who live in private rented accommodation – nearly half of them did not vote.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said people should look at these sobering figures and take stock – an unstoppable political power has the potential to be unleashed in seven weeks.
“This is not just another general election – it is an historic opportunity for people who feel marginalised to finally have their voices heard,” he said. “If all of those who typically don’t vote – young people, the working class, those in rented accommodation and BAME people, among others – were to band together in June, those in power who depend on ever-lower turnouts can no longer ignore them.
Vote and register
“Registering to vote is only the first step – it takes just five minutes to sign up online. We also urge everyone who thinks they may be registered to check with their local electoral registration office and make absolutely sure.
“But the most important step is actually turning up to vote,” Turner added. “As the figures show, so many millions register but don’t for whatever reason cast a ballot.
“For those working long hours, juggling childcare and insecure jobs; for those in college busy with exams or those facing massive rent hikes at the hands of exploitative landlords, turning up to vote on election day can become understandably the very last thing on their minds. But this time the stakes are too high – and the power is all in their hands.”
If you can’t vote in person on June 8, find out more about alternatives, include proxy and postal voting, here.
Aren’t registered? You can sign up here – you’ll be asked for your name, address, National Insurance number and a few other basic details. The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election is midnight on Monday, May 22.