ALMOST two-thirds of voters in Swindon didn’t bother to turn out for the local election.
Despite a nationwide push encouraging residents to have their say in the Alternative Voting referendum, only 39.2 per cent of the electorate actually showed up at a polling station.
That was the turn-out for the AV referendum itself across Swindon, but it’s estimated the number who cast votes in the town’s council elections at the same time was much the same.
It had been hoped that deepening anti-cuts sentiment, as well as the UK-wide referendum, would help push up numbers significantly.
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland denied the poor turn-out spelled doom for local politics, but said more needs to be done to get people off their sofas and into polling booths.
He also said that Thursday’s election were a mere dress rehearsal for the much bigger all-council election, coming in May next year.
Mr Buckland, who helped run the Tories’ local election campaign in the south of the town, said he is confident things are on the up.
“Do you think I’ll become an endangered species?” he said.
“Call me an eternal optimist, but I don’t think politics is doomed.
“This year represents an increase in turn-out on average years. It might well be what we’re seeing is an upsurge in interest.
“I think we’re living in times of challenging economics, and I think it’s going to go up. People tend to lose interest in times of relative calm. People get more interested when things are at stake; and they are at stake. We’re living in turbulent times.”
The highest turn-out for the local elections was in Highworth ward where 46.08 per cent of the electorate voted.
The lowest was in Parks, where the figure was just 29.62 per cent.
And there is another reason why 2012 may see an increase in turn-out.
While this year only one-third of all council seats were up for election, next year, because of changes to the ward boundaries, all 59 councillors will see their seats put up for election.
Party leader Coun Rod Bluh (Con, Dorcan) admitted the Tory Party was concerned about the gains made by Labour this time round.
He said: “When you’re in this position, you’re going to be concerned. We knew the moment the government changed from Labour to Conservative we’d have to fight a lot harder.
“Yes, we’ve got reduced majorities; that was to be expected. The battle will be fought again next year and the people of Swindon will have to decide.”