The screening of Birmingham City Council election results live on the internet tonight and tomorrow morning is, sadly, likely to have a very limited audience appeal. Council chief executive Stephen Hughes believes the webcast will be watched by those who have taken the time to vote, but even the optimistic Mr Hughes would be astonished and over-joyed if the turnout at today's polls is much more than 35 per cent.
Far more people opt out of voting in local elections than ever decide to take part, and there are obvious reasons for such widespread reluctance to participate in the democratic process. A feeling, in short, that an individual vote is pretty much worthless.
Our crude first-past-the post system means that in many Birmingham wards there is simply no chance of a change in political control. Labour can weigh the votes in Soho and Lozells, as can the Tories in Sutton Coldfield and the Liberal Democrats in Sheldon and Acocks Green. The truth is that voters in about a dozen marginal wards decide who runs Birmingham, year in and year out.
The re-election of only one-third of the council each year, with no elections in the fourth year, which is supposed to bring stability, actually sets in place a system where change of any sort is difficult as was proven by the 20-year rule of Labour which ended in 2004. Similarly, the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition would appear to be impregnable for five or six years at least, unless there is a sudden and unexpected collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats.
There is an odd paradox about a decision not to vote. Many people who steadfastly refuse to take part are among the most virulent critics of council policies, the very policies that could be changed if only enough people voted for change. What, one wonders, would be the impact on the make-up of the council if, magically for one year only, every person registered to vote actually did so?
Here in Birmingham there is another very good reason why today should be a day when councillors and candidates are brought to account and judged on their past record and future promises. A city tarnished by examples of postal vote rigging and allegations of corruption needs to show that elections for the city council are far removed from the banana republic politics of cynical political manipulation.