Why did we not inspire more people to vote?

Axminster town centre

Councillor Ollie Tucker remains committed to serving the people of Axminster - Credit: Barrie Hedges

Who won the Devon County Council election in Axminster? The official answer, of course, is Ian Hall. 
However, perhaps a more accurate answer would be the ‘did not vote’ candidate. If a candidate could have been elected from unused ballots, they would’ve won in a landslide, with over 60 per cent of the vote. That should be the real story of the election. Every candidate and party who ran (myself included) should now be asking themselves: why did I not inspire over 6,000 people to turn out and vote?
I believe that the problem is two-fold. First, in Devon, we have four different levels of government: from parish to Westminster. Even as a sitting councillor, I have to Google what responsibilities are within each level’s remit. We shouldn’t expect everyone to want to teach themselves about different types of authority. We certainly then shouldn’t be surprised when over half of people know ‘not very much’, or even ‘nothing’ about their local council. 
A second, perhaps even more pertinent reason for low turnout is an ambient but significant dissatisfaction with local government. Across the UK, approval ratings of our councils lie at just 55 per cent,, which should be an immediate cause for alarm. Councils and their councillors need to realise that it is critical to deliver tangible, visible and high-quality services to their residents when elected. This is not ‘pork-barrel politics’ as they might say in the US: this is the bread and butter of local government.
To this end, despite not winning the county council seat two weeks ago, I will be striving to deliver for our community in the coming months and years. I am becoming involved in the skatepark project, something that has garnered significant attention on Facebook. We all recognise the difficulties in finding the right site and ensuring that the new facility doesn’t ultimately go the same way as the last one. There are no simple solutions, but I personally believe (and this may be my natural inclination toward optimism) that we can deliver this project within two years. In any event, I’m determined that we will not have another generation of young people missing out on such a valuable community facility – I know other councillors feel the same.
I’m also a part of the neighbourhood plan steering group – a joint initiative between Axminster Town Council, other stakeholders and councillors to deliver Axminster its first neighbourhood plan. Once this is ratified (around 2023), our community will have a legal document granting us significant agency over the scale and type of development we want to see in our area. This is less visible in the short term. Still, it is impossible to understate how meaningful it will be for future generations.
Finally, as a Labour and Co-operative party activist, I will continue the campaign on the doorstep. Just because the election is now over doesn’t mean we have stopped caring about local issues. All too often, parties and candidates save their energy for a short campaign right before the election. To put it bluntly, if people seeking your support aren’t being active on social media, on the doorstep and making visible change in the community, they don’t deserve your vote.
This is my plan as we advance. I am not even slightly put out by the result of the county council election. Instead, the local determination and energy I met on the campaign trail has fired me up to ensure I do my best for Axminster in the coming months and years. I hope you’re with me.
 

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