Why bother to vote? - Here's Why!

Cllr Stephen Ferguson talks about the importance of voting.

St Neots East and Gransden county councillor Stephen Ferguson talks about the importance of democracy. - Credit: HUNTS POST

In Huntingdonshire, 47,433 of you turned up at polling station (or post box) to vote in the local elections. Dubbed “Super Thursday” in some corners of the media, voters had the opportunity to cast their vote for the Mayor of Greater Cambridgeshire, a Police & Crime Commissioner, and a county councillor to represent their area.

I am grateful to everyone who made the effort to vote, regardless of which candidate or party you cast your vote for. I’m even thankful to those who chose to register their protest by spoiling their ballot paper, usually because you thought that none of the candidates represented your interests.

I am however much less impressed by the 88,409 of you registered to vote but didn’t bother. These people represent 65 per cent of the eligible voting population in Huntingdonshire. That’s almost two people that didn’t vote for every one who did.

In some ways, I can understand the apathy. In recent years every level of government in Huntingdonshire has been ruled by a single political party (except for town and parish councils which are largely apolitical).

No matter which candidate you vote for, nothing seems to change. In 31 years, I can’t remember ever voting for a winning candidate.

So why bother voting?

Well, sometimes elections are decided by a handful of votes. And a handful of votes in a handful of seats can result in a significant change in the political landscape.

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I won the seat by just nine votes over an excellent (and desperately unlucky) Conservative candidate Sam Colli in the St Neots East and Gransden County Council elections. Mine wasn’t even the smallest margin; in the Hardwick division of Cambridge, the Liberal Democrats beat the Conservatives by just five votes. Ely North also passed from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats by just 153 votes.

Those three results, decided by just 167 votes from the 232,000 cast across the county, were enough to end the Conservatives control of the County Council.

Instead, New Shire Hall is now under the control of a new “rainbow coalition” of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent councillors who are now in control.

Democracy really can be decided by the smallest margins. Every vote really does count.

With Cambridgeshire still reverberating from the shock of the County Council elections, attention turned to the count for the mayor of Greater Cambridgeshire. This election was a three-way battle between the Conservative incumbent James Palmer, Labour’s Dr Nik Johnson, and Aidan Van de Weyer for the Liberal Democrats.

Dr Nik is a good friend of mine and a fellow St Neots East Councillor. I spent a lot of time with him at the County Council count, and he won’t mind me telling you that he didn’t expect to win. I’m not sure that anyone did.

The early stages of the count did nothing to dispel that impression; Mayor Palmer collected 40 per cent of the first preference votes, which put him comfortably ahead of Dr Nik Johnson with just 33 per cent share. Because Palmer did not receive the requisite 50 per cent required for immediate victory, the ballot went to a deciding round in which the second-preference votes of the eliminated third-placed candidate were allocated to the remaining candidates.

Initially, 17,836 votes behind, as the results from each district were announced Dr Johnson narrowed the gap, eventually stealing a dramatic and unlikely victory by 5,799 votes from the 222,000 cast, a margin of just 2.6 per cent.

The sad truth is that both these elections were determined by the silent majority who chose to stay at home rather than taking the trouble to cast their vote. As a newly elected county councillor, I take personal responsibility for this. Part of my job over the next four years is to inspire you to take an interest in local politics and show you the real-life benefit of the decisions we take on your behalf.