Reality check: democracy inaction

Every now and again, you come across something which reminds you that, for all our great progress in e-politics, we still can’t do some of the absolute basics.

Tomorrow there’s a by-election where I live: the Thatcham South and Crookham ward of Thatcham Town Council. It’s not a big deal, perhaps, but it’s another chance for democracy to get some exercise. I received my polling card, and I was interested to find out what I could do with it.

To their credit, the Lib Dems have made a serious (offline) effort. We’ve had a couple of badly DTP’ed newsletters, a quite convincing pseudo-handwritten letter from the outgoing councillor, and a couple of knocks on the door in the very recent past. Plus, they’ve picked a candidate who rejoices in the name Marvellous Ford. A name you won’t forget, although not ideal for search engine optimisation.

But that’s all we’ve received, from anyone. So, who else is standing? I genuinely haven’t been able to find out. Nothing on the award-winning local paper website, or on the BBC site, or (that I’ve seen) in the various freesheets we get through the door. Nothing on the local Tory party website: I’m not even sure they’re putting anyone up. (There’s nothing on the local LibDem site either, actually.) Nothing on the town council website, apart from a PDF telling me there’s going to be an election. Nothing on the local authority website, under whose auspices the election takes place. Nothing coming up on Google.

Tomorrow I’ll do my civic duty. I’ll make my way to the polling station, and cast my vote. I will be doing so in complete ignorance of the choice being offered to me. And that, folks, is a bad bad thing.

Maybe if I was a Londoner

I’m actually a big fan of ‘fill in this questionnaire and we’ll tell you who to vote for’ websites. Granted, it’s all a bit unscientific: it’s close to impossible to boil the key policy issues down to a series of multiple choice answers (never mind agree/disagree), then assess how each candidate’s policy correlates to the available options. But at the very, very least it makes you think. It makes you question what you thought were your natural leanings. And it may even change your mind. In these days of political disengagement, and plunging voter turnout, that could be pivotal.

Unlock Democracy has just unveiled such a site for the London Mayoral elections. Although I spend a lot of my time in London, I no longer live there, so I don’t have a vote. (But that’s for another time.) This allows me to approach the exercise with a degree of detachment. It genuinely is just a bit of fun.

Twenty-five agree/disagree questions later, the site gives me a response. Two candidates came joint-top of the list: one I probably expected, the other I probably didn’t. And curiously, I’m pretty sure the two don’t consider themselves to be in competition for my (non-existent) vote. Something for me to think about… and arguably, something for the candidates to consider too.

No, I’m not going to say which two candidates: I try to keep my own party politics (such as they are) out of things here. But feel free to offer your own guesses. 🙂

And by the way… if anyone (eg Tom Steinberg) has a URL for the similar Dutch ‘Stem-viser’ website that Tom Steinberg always quotes as an example, do pass it on. An accurate spelling would be a start.