MOST POLLS suggested that up to three quarters of registered voters would not take part in this week's local council elections. Socialist Worker went to press before the elections, but it would be remarkable if the turnout is not low.
The number of people voting in all elections has slumped in the last decade. None of this is because millions of people have suddenly become 'apathetic' or are complacently pleased with the government. They are angry, bitter and frustrated. A growing number feel that the main parties are very similar and have nothing to say to them.
Karen, a checkout operator from Hastings, told Socialist Worker, 'Labour and Tory speak a different language to me. They look different to normal people, they are worried about different things, and they do not know what our lives are like. They do not know how we live. We are from different countries.' People are intensely interested in very political issues-low pay, privatisation, jobs, racism, how their children will get on, and what the future holds for them.
But there is very little echo of that in what generally passes for politics. Socialist Worker spoke to voters from across England about why they will not vote for any of the main parties.
Those politicians don't speak for me
'WHO THE hell should I bother voting for? The council, which is run by Labour, is going to close the local nursery my kids used to go to. The Liberals and the Conservatives have made the same sort of cuts when they have been in charge. Let me tell you what concerns me-I work 47 hours a week in a bakery, starting at 3.30am, seven days a week. For that I get £235 a week before tax. So I do a bit of cabbing as well to get up to around £300 a week.
And that's just rubbish money in London-not enough to get out of my crappy rented place, not enough to see my kids who live elsewhere with their mum, not enough to do more for fun than have a few pints on a weekend. Nobody in politics talks about things which matter to me.
I don't really care about most of what is talked about as 'politics', although actually I am very interested in the bloody way we keep having wars with people. Why should I vote for any of these parties? I don't even listen to the election campaign-they're all the same. None of them talk about what matters.'
SEAN, Hackney, east London
They all sound like Tories
'UNEMPLOYMENT is a word you don't hear about in politics anymore. Or if you do it's only to hear the unemployed told off. I used to work at the Corus steel plant on Teesside. I earned good money for the area-£400 a week. I got chucked out last year, one of the victims of that bastard Moffat, the Corus boss.
Most of us who finished then have got jobs again. But we are on a lot less. I do painting and decorating now, trying to get jobs in a city where most people haven't got enough money really to employ you.
Voting won't make any difference to me or my son or my granddaughter. I would be well in favour of us stringing up a few politicians and managers, especially steel plant managers. But I don't think that option will be on my ballot paper.
I voted for Thatcher twice. There you are, I've admitted it. But I saw through them during the miners' strike. So I started voting Labour-and I find now it's the same bloody package I voted for with Thatcher.'
System is wrong
'I WASN'T going to vote, but I decided that it was worth it to vote for the Socialist Alliance. At least they are saying some of the right things. I don't like to think that New Labour gets away with being in charge just because they've pissed off so many people that they can't be bothered to vote.
And I don't like the idea that one day the Tories-or something even worse-will get back because people are so disillusioned. I would like to ask these politicians why they have given away so much power over the last 20 years-given it to companies and committees which are just appointed.
My council house is now run by a housing association. My job has been moved from the council to a contractor. We don't have any power. I'm sure some people go into politics with good ideas, but they all end up explaining why we have to work harder.
There's something wrong with the system. Socialists should be giving a voice to a lot more people-letting them know there is an alternative.'
MICHAEL, north London
Labour now look like they were all born in their suits
'OVER THE past few weeks I have felt very frightened about the prospects for Burnley. There are people at work who are racists, and a lot of them were for the BNP this week. But there were also people who were not racist who thought about voting for them.
I want nothing to do with the BNP. I hate them because they divide us up and are violent. I'm white, but I don't think that's important. It's what people do that matters. The BNP get support from some people because they say they are different. For some people voting for them is a bit like giving two fingers to that lot you see on television-the politicians who go on about businessmen all the time or about tax rates for people who are on £50,000 a year.
I work hard-35 hours a week as a cleaner in the NHS. It would take me five years to get £50,000. I've argued with myself about whether to vote. I definitely wouldn't if it wasn't for the BNP standing. If I vote it will be to stop them-nothing positive about the one I put a cross against.
My dad was staunch Labour, but he's finished with them. He hates that Mandelson and he hates Blair. Politicians have always been men in suits, he says, but Labour ones used to look like they were dressing up. Now they look like they were born in a suit.'
What we think
POLITICIANS create a system which alienates people, and then have the nerve to blame them for not taking part. There are very good reasons why people do not vote. The disenchantment with the main parties is a challenge and an opportunity for the left.
Socialists need to tap into and reflect the feelings of millions of working class people angry with what the system is doing to their lives. And they also need to get across some arguments. Low turnouts in elections embarrass politicians, but they can live with them-just look at the US, where half the population does not take part in the presidential election.
Businessmen would love politics to be reduced to the plaything of elite groups choosing between two similar parties. Not voting lets Blair pretend that people are content with his policies. Socialists have to show that their ideas and organisation can make a difference, and that we are not the same as the rest.
In some areas socialist candidates tried to get that message across in this week's elections. The job now is to build on that.