OPINION: Mills on ... voter registration

A few years ago, in my all-too-brief period as a political animal, I found myself getting the vote out in a run-down East Midlands constituency.

A few years ago, in my all-too-brief period as a political animal, I found myself getting the vote out in a run-down East Midlands constituency.

What this meant was driving the old, the sick and the incapacitated to the polling station. I knocked on the door of one supposedly rock-solid supporter. 'I'm here to take you to vote.'

'Oh good,' the wizened old crone said. 'I'll just put my teeth in and then you can drop me off at the shops on the way.' She never did vote, and it didn't much matter if the truth be told. However, I was bitterly disappointed. As someone who'd not long completed a degree in politics, voter apathy was a concept I struggled to come to terms with. How could she be so casual about something so sacred? Didn't she realise billions of people didn't have the right to vote? And didn't she care that if the 'wrong' party got in, her life would be affected?

You could ask the same questions of the millions of other Britons who don't vote today. And it's not just the young, the old or those on the fringes of society. It's the people in my nice west London suburban street, it's friends. They used to feel guilty about it. They don't even do that anymore.

Who can blame them? The state of political discourse in this country is neither inclusive nor encouraging. Check what passes for political discussion and debate in the media and Westminster. Everything is a row, a controversy, a gaffe. It's like a game with rules only insiders understand. And those insiders are part of a white, middle-class and metropolitan elite.

So, as we enter the will-we-have-a-May-election-or-won't-we period, the Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper campaign designed to encourage people to register - and thence to vote - is of more than just topical interest. In one ad, geezer bloke lounges against the bar of a cool club. Loud music plays. A middle-aged woman's voice has been dubbed over his: 'Call this a party? In my day a party was a civilised affair. A glass of sherry and nibbles. All this modern electronic music nonsense. I'd ban it.' In the second ad, Surbiton housewife pours herself a cup of tea. 'I'm a right creature of habit, me,' he/she says. 'On a Saturday afternoon I catch the game, have a few pints and then it's off for a ruby. And if it gets a bit loud later, well, that's diamond.'

The catch, of course, is that the voices have been swapped. This leads us nicely to the ads' endline: 'If you don't register to vote, someone else will be speaking for you. Make your voice heard.' Surbiwoman doesn't want society to be run by geezer or his mates, and vice versa. Very simple, very effective, if quite subtle. My children, who'd seen the ads even before I took the tape home, grasped the idea. They asked: 'Have you registered, Dad?'

Trouble is, I think they fail to tackle the real issue. The real danger to democratic society in this country is not from the apathy of geezer or Surbiwoman. In fact, it's the underclasses, the poor and the ethnic minorities that need to be enfranchised. Even if they saw these ads, I can't see them identifying with either geezer or Surbiwoman - stereotypes and white at that - or with the message. The ads target the wrong people. Put the right people in the ads, have them talk about the issues that affect them - discrimination, alienation, poverty, powerlessness and hopelessness - and then you might get somewhere.

But I guess that might be considered too political. Which is a bit ironic - the idea that getting people involved in the political process may be too political for the system to handle. Still, there's always the Australian way: fine people who don't vote.



Dead cert for a Pencil? No. This ad is in the worthy category.

Will it work? Let's wait for the turnout on 3 May.

What would Cherie say? You could use my Dad in the next ad.



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