After watching BBC’s ‘Meet the Lords’ series, it struck me, how stale the epicentre of British politics has become; that being Westminster.
Although I’m certainly not advocating the wholesale eradication of traditions within the Houses of Parliament, which are historic symbols of British democracy, I do think that a sprinkle of technology could go a long way. A case or two in point being that 650 MPs in the House of Commons still spend 15 to 20 minutes queuing up in voting lobbies before casting their ballot while new members of the House of Lords are mandated to wear parliamentary robes at introduction.
Such examples partly go to show why widespread disillusionment exists among young people — they can’t relate to those who ‘represent’ them; it’s almost as if the so-called Westminster bubble is impenetrable. This disconnect between parliamentarians and the general public is widening as a new age of technology emerges. Not only does a divide exist between MPs and constituents but also among the electorate itself in terms of voting behaviour. Turnout for 18- to 24-year-olds at the 2015 General Election was 43 per cent compared to 78 per cent for those 65 and over. But why so low for the young? One reason being voter apathy and the other, well; a voting system that fails to reflect lifestyle change. So, is it now time to reform the voting system used for UK General Elections by ushering in online voting?
Even though, student protests, anti-austerity marches, e-petitions, boycotts, and the Occupy Movement, demonstrate a politically active youth culture, low turnout in general elections provides the source for an unbalanced, unrepresentative democracy. Analysis estimates that 95 per cent of the UK’s 19,000 politicians were elected on turnouts of less than 50 per cent. Consequently, political parties devise manifestos which appeal directly to older voters, by, for example offering improved pension schemes. Contrastingly, young people have received tripled university fees while grants for those in low-income families have been scrapped. From a party perspective, the logic is sound — why bother wasting resources on abstainers?
Digitally empowering young people can tackle such negligence by increasing their access to the democratic process. Society’s borderline addiction to social media, further emphasizes the potential online voting has in procuring greater electoral participation. In an age of instant gratification at the press of a button, inconvenience associated with travelling to polling booths is simply not tolerated by the youth of today.
However, fears of electoral fraud have arisen, triggered most recently by Russia’s supposed involvement in the 2016 US election, as the idea of online voting crept up the political agenda. Cyber attacks, data security, peer pressure and identity verification are fears most frequently voiced; reason enough to view local elections as a potential platform to test out online voting before it enters the national fray.
Ultimately, as safeguards against such threats increase in sophistication, the path ahead for online voting will become far safer. Eventually, it will become a question of not if but when. Of course, its delivery shouldn’t be rushed but if one wants to reinvigorate British democracy, locally and nationally, and ensure politicians have a proper mandate to govern, the sooner the better. Now, I’m not proposing its implementation in time for the UK’s 2017 snap General Election but I do feel that more attention, awareness and resources are needed to cater for its impending importance in elections in the not so far away future. I say, it’s time for UK politics to catch up with the 21st Century.