Local elections traditionally have very low voter turnouts, with many of those who do vote using it as a ‘vote of confidence' in the UK government. With the 2021 local elections being on May 6th, The Argus has spoken to three prospective county councillor candidates about the importance of local government and participation in these elections.

Local government is a significant pillar of the UK's structure of governance, and so the people who run these local institutions require a democratic mandate to govern. However, many question the strength of this mandate due to low turnout in local elections, with some arguing that this has led to a crisis of participation in British politics.

In the context of local elections, in the Bramber Castle constituency, only 34.2% of the electorate voted in 2013. 

Simon Birnstingl, the Labour candidate for Bramber Castle in the elections on May 6th, believes that this low participation is a cause for concern because councils are the “most accessible” level of government as most of the candidates who run for election “live among the people that they want to represent”.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Nick Hopkinson, echoes Simon’s view, saying that local government is vital in achieving change locally, while also being a “reflection of the sentiment towards the government nationally”. This, in essence, creates a dual purpose for local elections, which increases their significance in the electoral calendar. Nick describes the low turnout as “far from satisfactory”.

This political inertia with local government has led to many people and politicians wondering why so many voters feel inclined to vote at national elections, but not cast their ballot in local elections.

Mike Croker, the Green Party councillor candidate for the Bramber Castle constituency, believes that politics has become increasingly “toxic” as a result of the likes of Trump and the 2016 EU referendum. He also feels that “election authorities maybe don’t quite do enough to engage voters”, suggesting that this could be improved through the use of digital technology, such as the use of e-lists.

Simon also cites “disillusionment with politics” as a reason why so many people choose not to vote at local elections. He believes that now more than ever, it is important for the public to “get involved” with politics due to our “extremely divided society”, which in turn makes politics “extremely important” to people, their livelihoods and their future.

Ultimately, local government and the right to vote in order to grant local representatives a mandate to implement their vision, is the concrete of UK democracy. As discussed, there is unquestionably a participation crisis in these elections, with a lot of work to do to ensure that people feel empowered to cast their ballot - knowing that their vote counts, voice is heard and views are reflected in local decision-making are all essential elements to increasing voter turnout in future local elections.