"Hi my name is Professor Pongoo, I am a six foot tall penguin, the cousin of Pingu and I have come from another planet to warn people about Climate Change. I am standing as your candidate for Edinburgh Council and if elected I pledge myself to attend every council meeting as your elected penguin"
An unusual, but not altogether bad platform to fight an election campaign on I guess, and it so nearly worked. Pongoo with 444 votes was well ahead of the Lib Dem candidate 370 and also the Green Party candidate on first preference votes but in a seat determined by the alternative vote he eventually lost out to the big three in Scotland (well big two and a tiny bit) The SNP, The Labour Party and the Tories.
It was brave attempt for the Independent candidate, and the man inside the suit Mike Ferrigan, and a warning to us all that apathy and a total loss of faith with our current political system is still a leading issue even amongst the minority 30% of the population who can still be bothered to vote.
Pongoo's near miss was for me the highlight of a Local Election night that overall was a predictable and completely mind numbingly boring affair all round. OK the Labour Party won a whole shed load of seats lost in previous elections and in fairness they won more seats than even the Tories who were talking their chances up, had predicted, The Tories lost seats and the Lib Dems flat lined. And as the local government pendulum swings against the government in situ we should by now be used to such changing fortunes.
Meanwhile down in the smoke Boris held off Ken on a "We know he is a Tory, but we quite like having a Mayor who is as mad as a goose" vote.
Proof positive if you like that even the big three revert to farce when their core vote abandons them. In fact I dare say if Boris had himself taken advise from Pongoo and dressed up in a penguin suit then his vote would have been even higher, but then if Ken had donned a Salamander Lizard outfit? who knows the Labour Party might have took the mayoralty as well?
But a 30% turnout! just where are we all heading? I recently researched party membership of the big three in Britain over the last 60 years and found that the Tory Party can lay claim to the highest ever party membership figures of the three main parties (2.9m in the 1950's) followed by Labour (1.1m again in the 50's) The Lib Dems of course are a modern phenomenon but in their various guises they always struggled to reach such dizzy heights (highest found figure 145,000 1980 SDP)
So how does that all fare against today's party membership statistics, surely given the massive rise in population since the 1950's the number of our citizens actively involved in political life must still be quite high? Not a chance, the last estimated figures in 2010 have the three party memberships as follows;
Conservative: 210,000 Labour: 190,000 Lib Dems: 45,000
That's less than 500,000 members between the lot of them! or an even more alarming way of presenting it just 1.5% of the UK population between all three of them. And if you really want a sense of the size of the decline then look no further than a comparison with UK membership of the three biggest Conservation and Wildlife charities. The National Trust alone has more members than all three of the political parties combined total, and when added to memberships of the Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds then the Big Three nature lovers at 5.5m members trump the party hacks by more than 5m paid up subscriptions. Maybe the RSPB vote explains Professor Pongoo's success?
Coming back to local politics, you also have to remember that we currently have 469 local councils in the UK as well as two parliaments (England and Scotland) and an two Assemblies (Wales and Northern Ireland) so given that you have to be a party member to stand for election then roughly around 30% of those combined party members would be current candidates and 10% (1 in 10) will end up being elected. You should also worry that all three of the parties amongst their membership include a proportionately high number of eccentric individuals (best written about in another blog)
New parties are also not making any in roads into the public interest. Of the most successful in recent years and also the most vile UKIP have only ever reached membership high figure of 26,000 in 2003 (now down to 16,000) and the BNP a high of 9800 in 2008 which most believe has now fallen to well below 4000
I am a socialist, those are my political ideals, I am now after 5 years out in the cold able to rejoin the Labour Party if I so wished, they along with the Greens are currently the only parties I could ever entertain signing any membership form for in the future. But before I took such a massive step I would need to know, what were their parties plans for re-engaging with a British public who are currently completely turned off to UK politics.
I don't want a debate with the 30% of the 30% who bother to vote in Local elections, I want to engage with the 70% who don't bother to vote at Local Elections and or say they never will or never have voted.
And fun as it may seem, I don't want to have to dress up in a penguin suit in order to do it.