Why is there such a high level of political apathy in 18-24 year olds? Why do so few of us care about who leads our country?
I posed these questions to Matt Chocqueel-Magnan, creator of Social Enterprise ‘voteforpolicies.org.uk’. His response: “I believe most of us do want to engage with politics – it’s just very difficult.”
This is why Matt set up Vote For Policies. A website proving the point – that I often ignorantly ranted about – that we vote for personalities not policies, and very few people vote for the party whose policies they actually agree with. Vote For Policies anonymously gives you the policies of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UKIP and the BNP, and tells you who you are most aligned with.
If you’re a student, next year will probably be the first opportunity you get to vote, so find out who you really support – you’ll be surprised.
I was anyway. I’ve always aligned myself with the Left. So, I wasn’t that surprised when my results showed 33.3% Labour and 33.3% Green. I wasn’t even that surprised that a few Lib Dem policies snuck in there (11.1%). But finding out my beliefs are 22.2% aligned with UKIP, was very surprising.
According to Matt, a graduate of Plymouth Business School and City University, the site is primarily for first time voters. “There are so many reasons why we should help young people get engaged with politics and use their vote productively,” he tells me, adding he isn’t that surprised youth turnout is so low- only 44% in 2010 – given the ‘quality of the debate’.
Matt created the website when he realised that he couldn’t describe any policies of the parties that he had voted for, or how other parties differed – and that most of his friends were the same: “Despite having a good education, we just weren’t engaged in politics at all”. So, instead of unintentionally voting for a party whose policies he disagreed with, Matt did something about it. Working as a web designer, Matt saw disengagement as a ‘usability problem’ and his aim was to make it easier for people to engage, without trolling through long manifestos.
In last year’s Eastleigh by-election Lib Dems won and UKIP got their biggest ever vote (27.8%). According to Vote For Policies, Eastleigh voters rank Liberal Democrats and UKIP, fourth and fifth respectively. Labour, who got less 10% of the vote in last year’s by-election, came out on top.
If you live in Bassett and Swaythling, your MP is Caroline Noakes, a Tory who gained 49.8% of the votes in 2010. Yet according to Vote For Policies, only 17.16% of voters in her constituency agreed with Tories’ policies.
Nationally, Vote For Policies tells the same story. It is not any of the ‘Three Major’ parties, which come out on top. It is the Green Party that appears the most popular, with nearly 25% of the vote. It isn’t surprising that so many people are misinformed about politics, given the level of mandatory politics education in this country. According to Matt some of the most engaged in politics even get surprising results, with one Labour MP tweeting his results: and they weren’t Labour.
Within the last few weeks, Nigel Farage has been mocked over employing his German wife to do a ‘fake’ job and Ed Milliband was told he needed to take a history lesson, stating ‘he wants to be the first Jewish MP’. The Liberal Democrats have called themselves pointless, and David Cameron has been ridiculed for saying he is continuing God’s work. I asked Matt what his views of political media spin were “Spin also comes from the parties themselves, so all in all it can be pretty hard to find a rational discussion about politics. As more parties play for the same middle ground, a lot of political spin is devoted to avoiding talking about policies.”
So, what is the future of Vote For Policies? Matt assures me he has ‘Big plans for 2015!’ and is aiming to top a million users of the site. He is redeveloping the site and of course, will update the manifestos but admits there is still scope for improvement “In a perfect world we’d show only those parties who have candidates standing in your constituency, but the reality is the data is so unreliable until very late in the election campaign.”
Dr. Russell Bentley, Assistant Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Southampton said of the site: “The great thing about considering your own policy commitments in the abstract is that it challenges a kind of party tribalism that often prevents voters from seeing where their real agreements and disagreements lie.”
Dr. Bentley’s description here of ‘political tribalism’ is perfect. People who blindly swear by their party allegiances are the most ignorant of us all. Parties change drastically over time, and voters should know which policies their favoured parties actually stand for: not if their leader went to the same school as 19 other Prime Minsters or N-Dubz.