Do we only care about the vote when we don’t have it?

26 January 2015

© John Cairns

The causes of widespread voter disengagement were among the topics debated at a panel discussion entitled 'Do we only care about the vote when we don’t have it?' at the Oxford Martin School last week.

The event, held in conjunction with the Oxford International Relations Society, and Sky News’ ‘Stand Up Be Counted’ campaign, brought together a diverse group of panellists to share their thoughts on why people don’t vote, what we should be doing about it, and who the responsibility should lie with.

The panel, chaired by Sky News anchor Andrew Wilson, comprised Professor Helen Margetts, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, Areeq Chowdhury, Founder and Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, and Baroness Falkner of Margravine, member of the House of Lords and Chairman of the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Policy Committee on Foreign Affairs.

A focal point of the discussion was the failure of prominent political figures to actively try and engage with young voters. The panel’s general consensus was that new approaches need to be implemented, with Professor Margetts suggesting that “mainstream parties need to engage with young people in the same way that Russell Brand is”. From the discussion it became apparent that many young voters feel a disparity between their interests and concerns and those addressed by mainstream party manifestos, a sentiment echoed by Baroness Falkner in her assertion that “if you think there isn’t anything at stake, why would you vote?” Online voting, and its benefits and risks – primarily security - was also a subject for deliberation, despite Areeq Chowdhury stressing that “there are ways to ensure the system is secure”. The option to vote online “represents a cultural shift" he concluded.