The streets that don’t vote

The 2019 local elections take place on Thursday but, if recent turnout patterns continue in the same vein, a vast majority of Greater Manchester residents will not have their say at the ballot box.

The 2019 local elections take place on Thursday but, if recent turnout patterns continue in the same vein, a vast majority of Greater Manchester residents will not have their say at the ballot box.

For The Streets That Don’t Vote project, Local Democracy reporters have been out on the doorsteps in wards with the lowest turnout records to ask why so few bother – and if that is likely to change this week.

In the run up to the local elections, social media is awash with selfies of beaming groups of councillors, decked out in rosettes and waving posters.

But away from the political echo chamber, people on the doorstep tell a different story.

Apathy, frustration over delays to Brexit and simple disinterest in politics are cited as key reasons why the majority are choosing not to cast a ballot on May 2.

In St James ward in Oldham, turnout last year was just above 18.5pc, meaning more than four out of five people didn’t vote.

Fewer than a thousand votes were cast for the winning candidate.

And it’s symptomatic of a downward trend across the borough, which has seen fewer residents turn up at their polling stations every year.

Even die-hard voters who had always put a cross in the box are now saying they are considering turning their backs on the process.

On a red brick terraced street in the north of the town, 51-year-old Patrick Cleary doesn’t hold back about why he won’t be visiting a polling station.

“I voted leave and nobody’s done anything about it, I am not even going to waste my time now because all politicians are liars,” he says.

He’s lived on London Road for 15 years and aside from the 2016 referendum, he can’t remember ever voting.

“It’s like we have just been left behind. We just look after each other,” he says.

“Politicians are just doing what they want to do. If they wanted to know about the people they would have done what we decided.”

It’s a view shared by Alec Melling up the hill in Sholver – once a no-go council estate in the 1980s and now redeveloped with semi-detached family homes.

The 82-year-old has always voted Labour but says unless he can vote UKIP next month, he won’t bother, branding it a ‘waste of time’.

“If we don’t get out of Europe I won’t vote again,” he says.

“I will feel betrayed. It’s not democratic is it.

“I have always voted every four years and every year – but it ends now.”

A lack of understanding about what councils actually do and how the voting process works was a theme among many non-voters.

Mum Shannon Barker, 24, has lived on Shakespeare Road for three years and has never voted.

“I am not really interested in politics,” she says. “I don’t get how it all works.”

On Wilkes Street, Samantha Coleman explains she doesn’t have any antipathy towards voting, but has so far never taken part in an election.

“Nothing puts me off, I just don’t really follow it so I don’t understand it,” the 25-year-old says.

“I think my mum’s the same, it’s never been in my family really – I have never been really brought up to understand it.

“I know it’s a massive thing, but in day to day life I don’t come across people talking about it.”

Like Samantha, Shannon Spencer says voting was never a feature of her life growing up.

She’s lived on Peverill Road for five years and is yet to vote.

“I think it’s pointless voting until I do understand what I am voting for,” the 25-year-old adds.

“My mum and dad never really voted or anything, it’s kind of stemmed from that, I have not really had the knowledge.

“My friends, the last thing they are interested in is voting, but I do know it’s important.”

Shannon adds that as she is getting older – and as a mum – she is becoming more aware of how vital being politically engaged is.

“But I wouldn’t vote just for the sake of voting,” she says.

“I would want to know who I was voting for and if it didn’t make a difference to my life, I wouldn’t vote.”

On nearby Shakespeare Road, Vernesta Trotman is one of less than a fifth of the area’s residents who did take part in the council elections last year.

But after years of loyalty to democracy, she is considering turning her back on it.

“I am thinking whether to vote or not to,” the 64-year-old said.

“I don’t see a councillor, we get letters coming through the letterbox saying vote this, vote that, what are we voting for?

“They don’t do nothing for me, we don’t see them. What’s the use?”

By contrast, new mum Alex Healey says this year she intends to cast a vote for the very first time.

Cradling her 12-week-old baby in the doorway of her London Road home, she explains that she’s supporting the only independent candidate standing – who used to be her next door neighbour.

“I just think she’d be good for it because at the minute the one that we have had every year, nothing’s really changed,” the 23-year-old says.

Nodding at her new baby son, she adds: “I think he’s one of the reasons that I am voting. It never bothered me until I had my son. 

“Now kids are carrying knives and stuff at 12 years old. When I was 12 I was still playing with dolls.

“I want there to be more community centres to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.”

Committed voter Kevin White, who has lived on Sydenham Street for 10 years, says he believes the only solution is to make voting compulsory.

“You can’t complain if you don’t vote,” he shrugs.

Written by Local Democrcacy Reporter Charlotte Green.

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