communities and neighbourhoods is helping to boost engagement in
local democracy, Stephen Byers, the secretary of state for transport,
local government and the regions said today.
In a speech to the Foreign Press Association in London, Mr Byers
stressed the importance of globalisation. He also gave details of
significant elector turnout for elections to neighbourhood boards
compared to local and national elections, saying that 'at a time of
globalisation it is crucial that we renew and revitalise our own
The full text of Mr Byers' speech is as follows:
'Events since September 11 have shown that there is a world community
which is prepared to act together.
Some would argue that it is simply impossible for the world to be a
community. That nations will always act in their own self interest.
Of course they do. But one of the key lessons we have learnt from
September 11 is that national self interest and world wide mutual
interests are woven together.
This is the politics of globalisation. For many it is uncomfortable,
introducing elements of uncertainty. A feeling amongst individuals
that they are not in control of events.
But the issue is not how to stop globalisation. The essential answer
to issues of the moment is not less globalisation. Not new national
structures to separate and isolate economies but stronger
international co-operation which makes globalisation work in
difficult times as well as easy ones.
It is for democracy and people to decide how globalisation is to be
managed. It is not something which is out of our hands. Indeed there
is a responsibility on governments to shape the way in which our
world will develop. So that globalisation can be a force for good.
Not just for the developed world but for the poor wherever they might
live in the world.
At a time of globalisation it is crucial that we renew and revitalise
our own democracy. To demonstrate the importance of the democratic
For the United Kingdom there are important lessons to be learnt from
the lack of engagement and consequent low turnout of voters in the
June general election and in local elections.
The low turnout is part of a longer term trend which has affected
most western democracies since 1945. (See tables attached.) However
whilst there was a slow decline in turnout since 1945 a dramatic drop
in participation has occurred during the 1990s.
The two countries to go against the trend in regional/local elections
- Spain and Portugal - witnessed a devolution of power to regional and
local level which could explain the increased turnout.
Indeed we would appear to be witnessing something similar here in the
results of elections to the boards responsible for implementing the
government's New Deal for Communities.
Each board covers a neighbourhood of some 1,000 - 4,000 households
with a budget of around£50 million over ten years. The money has to
be spent on projects to improve the area - tackling crime, creating
jobs, improving health, raising school standards and upgrading the
Local communities elect their own representatives onto the board. In
Bristol turnout was 54% (compared to 33% in local council elections);
Sheffield 52% (26% in local council elections); Bradford 43% (30% in
local council elections); Newcastle 41% (29% in local council
The message from these elections is clear. At a time of globalisation
when many issues seem to be beyond the control of local communities
the relevance of elections for central and local government is
But at a more local level with neighbourhood candidates and the
possibility of decisions being taken which will directly affect your
community then people do get engaged.
So as we look at ways of renewing and reviving our democracy we must
make it meaningful, relevant and responsive. Only then will we have a
choice of increasing turnout and participation.'
Average turnout in national elections in advanced democracies,
Country / 1945-1979 Average turnout / 1980-1999 Average turnout / Change
Australia 94.4 95.0 0.6
Austria 94.0 87.8 -6.2
Belgium 92.5 92.8 0.3
Italy 92.4 87.2 -5.2
Netherlands 91.5 81.0 -10.5
New Zealand 89.7 87.3 -2.3
Germany 87.1 83.5 -3.6
Denmark 85.9 85.0 -0.9
Sweden 85.5 87.3 1.9
Norway 80.7 80.6 -0.1
France 79.5 70.6 -8.9
Finland 78.6 70.0 -8.6
UK 77.1 74.5 -2.6
Canada 75.9 71.8 -4.1
Ireland 74.7 71.4 -3.2
Switzerland 62.8 46.3 -16.5
USA 56.4 50.0 -6.4
Overall Average 82.3 78.7 -3.6
However whilst there was a slow decline in turnout since 1945 a
dramatic drop in participation has occurred during the 1990's. In
Spain, turnout in the mid-1980s was 73.7%. This increased in the late
1990s by 6.9% to 80.6%.
Average turnout at sub-national elections in the EU during the 1990s
Country / Before 1995 Mean (%) / After 1995 Mean (%) / After 1995 / Change
Belgium* 93 -
Luxembourg* 93 92 -1
Italy 85 80 -5
Austria 82 79 -3
Sweden** 85 79 -6
Denmark 80 72 -8
Spain 65 72 7
Germany 72 70 -2
Portugal 60 62 2
France 68 59 -9
Ireland 60 50 -10
Netherlands 54 47 -7
Great Britain 40 35 -5
Before 1995 Mean 72.1, Range 53
After 1995 Mean 66.3, Range 57
*voting is compulsory
** timed to coincide with national elections