One constant from across the country following Thursday’s elections is laments about the low turnout. Even by the usually low standards for local elections, where getting over 40% turnout is seen as an achievement, Thursday’s turnout was pretty woeful.

Now, it may be possible to come up with some explanations for the specifically low turnout this year – I do wonder how much campaigning by everyone was limited by the poor weather of the preceding month, which reduced voter awareness – but we can’t escape the fact that turnout is generally poor at just about all elections in Britain, especially when you compare it to other countries. For instance, turnout at the French Presidential election two weeks ago was just under 80%, compared to the 65% managed at the last UK general election.

There are plenty of reasons for why turnout is so low, and I don’t think that any one proposed solution is a magic bullet that will solve all the problems. To my mind, there’s been a systemic failure over decades to engage the people in the process of government, nationally and locally, and I’m currently thinking of a series of posts on the subject, but to correct those sort of failures will take time. Hopefully not the same amount of time it took to cause the problem and let it fester, but it’s not something that can be rectified quickly.

In the short term, though, there are things we can do to see if they have an effect on turnout and voter engagement. To my mind, the first thing we ought to experiment with is following the example of many other countries – usually with higher voter turnouts – and moving elections to weekends. I would suggest moving elections until 2014 to either Saturdays, Sundays or a combination of the two, then reviewing the effect it’s had and deciding whether to make the switch permanent for the 2015 general election and beyond.

Moving voting to weekends would not only be putting it a time when people have more free time and are close to their polling stations – consider that on most Thursdays, many voters are at work, usually a good distance away from anywhere they can go to vote – but it would also make it easier for people to be involved on the campaigning side of the election. For most political activists, to be involved in an election on a Thursday they have to take at least a day off work. And yes, some people do work at weekends, but I suspect you would find it much easier to get people involved at weekends, and that would help to get more people voting. The other advantage would that be that if it was a lot easier for people to vote during the day, polling stations wouldn’t have to stay open until late into the evening. Counting of votes could start much earlier, and people might be able to hear the result for their area without having to stay up until the small hours.

As I said, weekend voting isn’t a universal panacea for all our political problems, but given how low turnout and engagement is now, I don’t think there’s anything to lose by trying it. In contrast to other methods people suggest – even more postal voting, internet voting and the like – it doesn’t introduce security risks or reduce the secrecy of the ballot, and could be accomplished with minimal changes to the existing voting infrastructure. So why aren’t we trying it?

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First up, the result here in Castle Ward was:

Jo Hayes (Liberal Democrat) 861
Peter Lynn (Green Party 395)
Shamim Rashid (Conservative Party) 382
Bob Fisher (Labour) 285
Ron Levy (UKIP) 206

Thanks to everyone who voted to make Jo our next councillor, and with a larger majority than me!

Yet again, there was very little change in Colchester, with Wivenhoe Quay the only seat to change hands, with Labour gaining it from the Tories. The full results are:

Berechurch: Labour 1084, Lib Dem 286, UKIP 219, Conservative 192, Green 52
Dedham and Langham: Conservative 596, Lib Dem 81, Labour 81, Green 78
East Donyland: Labour 488, Conservative 209, Green 39, Lib Dem 21
Harbour: Lib Dem (Julia Havis) 663, Labour 298, UKIP 91, Conservative 84, Green 77
Highwoods: Independent 1211, Conservative 167, Labour 145, Lib Dem 110, UKIP 80, Green 72
Lexden: Conservative 833, Lib Dem 390, Labour 174, Green 131
Marks Tey: Conservative 313, Labour 162, Lib Dem 50, Green 50
Mile End: Lib Dem (Martin Goss) 1467, Conservative 535, Labour 184, Green 91
New Town: Lib Dem (Peter Higgins) 771, Labour 273, Green 166, Conservative 131, UKIP 120
Prettygate: Conservative 1048, Lib Dem 665, Labour 332, Green 177
Shrub End Lib Dem (Nigel Offen) 745, Conservative 514, Labour 334, Green 106
St Andrews: Labour 926, Independent 194, Lib Dem 175, UKIP 108, Conservative 107
St Anne’s: Lib Dem (Helen Chuah) 825, Labour 305, Conservative 234, Green 130
St John’s: Lib Dem (Paul Smith) 994, Conservative 333, Labour 136, Green 81
Stanway: Lib Dem (Laura Sykes) 1194, Conservative 520, Labour 297, Green 111
Tiptree: Conservative 772, Labour 580, Green 156, Lib Dem 97
West Mersea: Conservative 1196, Green 138, Lib Dem 130, Labour 67
Wivenhoe Cross: Lib Dem (Jon Manning) 477, Conservative 192, Labour 175, Green 59
Wivenhoe Quay: Labour 915, Conservative 559, Green 159, Lib Dem 122

Full results are on the Council website.

As I’ve already had one phone call this morning asking how I did, here’s the result for Castle Ward:

Nick Barlow (Lib Dem): 1113

Green: 715
Conservative: 583
Labour: 368

Thanks to everyone who voted for me, and I look forward to representing you for another four years.

Elsewhere in Colchester, everything stayed the same with every seat being held, despite Labour and Tory claims that they were certain to take seats off us. For the full results, see the Council’s website.

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First, I want to thank the voters of Castle Ward for giving me the chance to represent you as one of your councillors for the last four years. Representing the oldest part of Britain’s oldest recorded town has been a great honour, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to do it again for another four years.

I don’t claim that Colchester is perfect, but I do think the Lib Dem-led administration that has run Colchester Borough for the last three years has got things on the right track. By initiating a series of Fundamental Service Reviews when we got into power, we’ve been able to identify lots of efficiency savings that have allowed us to minimise the effects of the cuts on Colchester, while protecting jobs and front line services.

We’ll introduce new neighbourhood teams for street cleaning and street services, which will mean that Castle Ward has a dedicated team working to respond to residents’ complaints and problems. Our policy of cleaning all graffiti has already started making Castle Ward look better, and under the new system, the ward will have its own team.

I work hard to make Castle ward a better place for everyone, and I regularly report issues to the street services team to get them cleaned up. I also make sure I follow up on reports I make to ensure we get action – I’ve lobbied the County Council to get our potholes fixed quicker, and we’re finally seeing action there.

We’re investing in the town centre, and working with local businesses to make it better. One of the first decisions I made as a Cabinet member was to get our new Christmas lights, and working in partnership with businesses and other organisations means we had a great array of events running to compliment them – and there’ll be even more this year.

I want Colchester to be a place that attracts visitors. That’s why I pushed for us to spend money fixing the Roman Wall, and if I’m re-elected I’ll work to get a proper protection and management plan for it, so we make the most of it. I want to promote our other heritage sites, and will look to arrange a Heritage Summit to get all groups working together on a strategy to really make the most of our history.

I’ll also work to get more jobs in Colchester, and ensure the Council continues to support our small businesses. This year, we’ve opened the new Business Incubation Centre at Severalls, and now we need to work hard to get the funding for the Creative Business Hub in the town centre that will bring in new jobs and new investment for the St Botolph’s area.

I’ll also continue to work on making the Town Centre a better place at night. Colchester’s not alone in suffering the problems caused by the night-time economy, but we need to act to stop those problems spreading – I opposed the plans for a massive nightclub in Crouch Street, and will oppose the plans for late-night opening every night of the week at the old Hippodrome. I led a group of councillors from all parties looking into these problems, and I’ll make sure that the work we did isn’t forgotten about, and find ways to get a wider variety of events in the Town Centre at night, making it attractive to everyone again.

I’ll work to protect our nationally recognised arts venues, and ensure that the Council keeps funding and working with them to make a better Colchester for everyone. A large number of people in Colchester work in the creative and cultural sector, and it’s a vital and growing part of our local economy that we need to protect and nurture.

Finally, I promise to keep up what I’ve been doing for the last four years, and work to make life better for the residents of Castle Ward, championing your issues and resolving your problems. Along with my colleagues Bill Frame and Henry Spyvee, we’ll keep reporting back to you through regular Castle Focus newsletters about what we’ve been doing, and will always be accessible to you.

Castle ward is my home too – I’ve lived here for almost fifteen years, and want to make it a great place for everyone. Please give me your support today so I can keep doing that.

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Don’t forget to vote tomorrow – your polling station should be on your poll card, but you can vote without it if you’ve lost or misplaced it. The polling stations for Castle ward are:

Friends Meeting House, 6 Church Street (next to the Arts Centre) if you’re in St Mary’s, Lexden Road, the west side of North Hill, Sheepen Road/Place and Rotary Way (AE polling district).
Castle Methodist Church, Maidenburgh Street if you’re in the Dutch Quarter, Town Centre, Abbeygate Street, Priory Street, Roman Road and Castle Road (AF polling district).
Celtic Rose Centre, Guildford Road (formerly St James’ Hall) for Riverside estate, East Hill, East Street, Smythies Avenue, Rosebery Avenue, Nicholson’s Grove, Brook Street, Ipswich Road, Fenwick Drive and Rouse Way (AG polling district).
Belle Vue Social Club, Colne Bank Avenue (by the Albert roundabout) if you’re in St Paul’s, North Station Road, Clarendon Way, Essex Hall Road, Claremont Heights, Cowdray Avenue, the new Riverside quarter (Meander Mews, Reed Walk and Pillbox Walk), Jarmin Road, Catchpool Road, Serpentine Walk, Kings Meadow Road, Margaret Road, Mercers Way, Albert Street and Causton Road (AH polling district).

All the polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm. If you’re in another part of Colchester and not sure where to vote, contact the Council’s Customer Service Centre on 01206 282222 or you can call us at 01206 766171.

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I’ve just realised that I’ve forgotten to link to our local election manifesto for Colchester this year. So, if you want to read it, you can by clicking here (though it is a pdf file, so you’ll need Adobe Reader to read it)

According to sources that I can’t reveal, I can exclusively reveal that should the country vote No in the referendum on 5th May, we will be required to gold-plate every pencil used at polling stations. This will cost something in the region of eleventy squillion pounds, and it’s clear that the country can’t afford this expense at this time, especially when that eleventy squillion pounds could be used to pay for an elevator to the moon.

So, what would you rather spend eleventy squillion pounds on instead of keeping our current electoral system?

(When the director of No2AV feels free to make things up and continually repeat figures that he must know have been proven to be entirely imaginary and unreliable, I feel it’s time to fight nonsense with nonsense.)

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I’ve been somewhat reticent about doing this, partly because of the way it’s oddly reminiscent of the playground and lists of who happens to be who’s friend, but I’ve now set up a public Facebook page for my Council work. So, you can now feel free to like me or ignore me on there as you wish.

This is one of those moments you couldn’t make up. The No2AV campaign have put a video up on YouTube that highlights their extremely dubious claim that changing voting systems would cost £250m. After all, the most important factor about democracy is how much it costs.

Of course, as YouTube is an open medium where people can rate and comment on videos, these points have all been… oh, wait, no they haven’t. Turns out our fearless campaigners for traditional British democracy have decided they don’t want anyone pointing out their errors:
Screenshot of No2AV YouTube video with rating and comments disabled
The irony of the people who think our current electoral system is just fine and dandy actively blocking people from engaging with them is just far too delicious, isn’t it? Don’t question the system, just sit back and take it.

Meanwhile, here’s a Yes To Fairer votes video you can rate and comment on:

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Yes, the burning issue here is the old one – is the plural referendums or referenda?

First up, interesting news from Wales where there’ll be a referendum at the start of March on granting new powers to the Welsh Assembly. The interesting part comes from the news that there may be no official referendum campaigns as it seems no one’s that interested in being the official No campaign. This would mean that there would be no official Yes campaign either, but as that’s supported by all four of the parties that sit in the Welsh Assembly, it’s not going to be short of support.

There does appear to be an attempt at a No campaign but – and this may be due to the fact I haven’t had much contact with Welsh politics for almost fifteen years – it doesn’t seem to make much sense, and seems to consist mainly of criticising the politicians rather than the policy.

Meanwhile, back in London, Labour peers in the House of Lords are trying to delay the referendum on AV, which presents the rather bizarre spectacle of them working to delay the implementation of something that was in their manifesto at the last election. I wonder what the Salisbury Convention would have to say about that?

But if anyone wants to see just why negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in May broke down, this is why. Given the number of Labour dinosaurs opposed to any reform in the voting system – and a Government that spent thirteen years kicking the issue into the long grass – it was obvious that Gordon Brown couldn’t deliver any promises on electoral reform, even before other issues were looked at.

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