Democratic deficit as 7 in 10 electors didn’t bother to vote

Do the councillors elected earlier this month really have a mandate? Political editor WALTER CRONXITE has seen the turn-out figures, and they don’t make happy reading

Ballot boxes at the Croydon count. Few were filled with voting papers

A look at the ward by ward turnout figures from this month’s local elections, as published by Croydon Council, show that many of the borough’s Labour councillors have reasons to be bashful, when it is clear that in some places, 7 in 10 voters couldn’t be bothered to exercise their democratic right.

It could even be argued that councillors elected in the Selhurt (27.32 per cent) and New Addington North (29.58 per cent) wards, where turnout was less than 30 per cent, really don’t have a credible electoral mandate.

There are other Labour-held wards, too, where the “not-bothered-to-vote” party almost topped 70 per cent.Fairfield ward only just limped over that low bar with a 30.46 per cent voter turn-out. Only 2,580 people cast a ballot across the whole area that runs from South Croydon to West Croydon and the Island Tower. There were just 860 voters for each councillor elected.

There are seven Labour-held wards, represented by 20 elected councillors, where the turn-out was between 30 and 35 per cent. That band is topped by Bensham Manor and Woodside, where even the presence of council deputy leader Alison Butler and council leader Tony Newman, respectively, was met with a shrug of indifference by electors. Or maybe it was the very presence of Butler and Newman on the ballot papers which deterred two-thirds of the electorate from turning out to vote.

Croydon’s political parties neglect to do much courting of voters outside the more closely contested swing wards: Fairfield, Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, New Addington South and Waddon. So the borough’s politicians hardly bother to campaign in what they regard as “safe” wards.

With that attitude and approach, it’s hardly surprising that voters reciprocate by not bothering to schlep to the polling station. After all, their vote is unlikely to overturn the huge majorities enjoyed by Croydon’s two parties in those wards.

By contrast, in Addiscombe East there was plenty of party political love and care dished out to voters. The higher 46.77 per cent turnout in that hotly contested ward, where the parties ended up winning one councillor seat each, shows the difference it can make to turn-out if the parties go to some effort.

The low turnout in some Labour wards is also a reflection of how less privileged communities with grinding poverty in Tory austerity Britain are less able to take part in elections.

Tory Sanderstead, with many residents enjoying more stable livelihoods, had the highest turnout at 47.21 per cent. This Sanderstead turnout was getting on to being close to double the turnout rate in Selhurst. More than a thousand extra people turned out for each Sanderstead councillor elected than in Fairfield – 1,878 per councillor.

Local government keeps asking national government to give it more powers, but there seems little point when the democratic mandate is so frayed by a governance that fails to engage. It’s no wonder that both the main English national parties have tried to encourage the creation of directly elected mayors elsewhere in London, as well as in Manchester and Birmingham, to try to re-connect with voter interest.

If every vote counted across the whole borough towards electing that single person to run the council, a vote in Selhurst would be as important as one in Addiscombe East.

But a directly elected mayor would not be in the interests of many of the councillors, who’d rather keep local politics a minority sport and the £1.5million of public money spent on them each year as “allowances”, rather than encouraging greater voter participation and better local democracy.

  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
  • “Monitored” by the council CEO since 2010
  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS 2017: Inside Croydon was source for two award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in 2018 council elections, Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, Alison Butler, Bensham Manor, Fairfield, Sanderstead, Selhurst, Tony Newman, Woodside and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Democratic deficit as 7 in 10 electors didn’t bother to vote

  1. As there were such relatively low numbers of votes to count, it makes you wonder how Negrini managed to balls it up so easily.

    • Ian Geary says:

      There’s still multiple thousands of votes to count, and as London’s largest council there would probably have been more overall than areas with higher turnout.

      I didn’t realise Jo counted all the votes herself? A couple of half hearted complaints hardly constitutes a cock up on this scale.

      And to the author, I would be interested in your evidence supporting a causal relationship low turnout and government created poverty?

      In Surrey, with high percentages of retired voters who have time to vote, turnout barely gets into the 40 percent range.

      And what solution is proffered in the article? Other than a glancing dig at the government? Every adult voter has the opportunity to vote. Full stop. Either in person, or, if the capitalist overlord has them all imprisoned in their mill during 8am 10pm, they can vote by post.

      People choosing not to vote does not reduce the mandate of those elected: it just shows a poor reflection on the parts of society who are happy to leave the work to others (apart from the complaining)

  2. Lewis White says:

    If voting were made compulsory, sadly the numbers voting for the official Micky Mouse candidate would probably top any totals gained by Cons , Labour, LD’s , Greens and UkIp combined .

    The only way to up the numbers is to get primary school children to see the relevnce of local politics.


  3. Would participation increase if there was a directly-elected Mayor? The most recent such election was in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where John Biggs was the victor on a turnout of 41.96%. He received a total of 44,865 first and second preference votes out of an electorate of 191,244. That works out at 23.5% – hardly a mandate. So long as local democracy is confined to people marking a piece of paper with a pencil on one Thursday in every 4 years, the majority won’t bother.

    • David Mogoh says:

      Indeed… but give people the ability to participate directly in politics digitally over the internet on an on-going basis, then likely you will see a huge uptake in participation.

  4. mraemiller says:

    I live over the road from the polling station and couldnt be bothered. To be fair I was working long hours that day but to be fairer I felt uninspired. Neither party seemed to have an original policy to rub together just a cornucopia of dubious gimmicks.

  5. Lewis White says:

    Sad that an Inside Croydon reader couldn’t be bothered to vote. If you don’t participate, do you actually care?

Leave a Reply