Why do you hate us?
That's what Ed Miliband seemed to ask voters in Harlow, Essex, this week.
Even as he hailed May 3's local election results as proof of a party on the comeback trail, the Labour leader couldn't avoid the obvious - in a borough where voter turnout was just 29 per cent, not even the most brass-necked band of councillors could claim any real popular mandate.
And with an average turnout across the country of 34 per cent, barely one in three, the swing as a whole to Labour didn't carry much momentum either.
"I want to reach out and understand why you don't trust any politicians," he told locals in a crowded community hall, going on to warn of a "crisis of politics in this country."
Thinking of it as a crisis of politics is perhaps part of the problem - most people live out their politics in workplaces and social life as much as at the occasional polling booth - but the threat to party politics is very real.
Liberal democracy, after all, is founded on the consent of the governed - in appearance, anyway.
When people effectively boycott elections, all the self-serving mythologising that passes for political strategy has to be abandoned.
While Tories George Osborne and Louise Mensch claim to have received conflicting, self-serving "messages" from the public, the only unmistakable message is an effective boycott by two-thirds of the population.
So why in a time of crisis is apathy the biggest winner of all?
Any number of recent events immediately spring to mind - the received wisdom of all three major parties that public-sector cuts are inevitable, the courting of Murdoch's media empire and assorted campaign donors, and, not least, the horrific and largely ignored abuse of public trust that was the 2008 expenses scandal.
But a cursory look at turnout over the years shows Miliband's crisis has been looming a long time at the local level.
Last year's turnout - 42.6 per cent - could readily be seen as people revoking their Lib Dem protest vote from 2010, a year which itself saw abnormally high local election turnout (62.2 per cent) due to piggy-backing on a general election.
But general elections are seemingly the only point at which a majority of people actually vote. In 2008 and 2009 turnout for local elections wavered around 39 per cent, while average turnout across the last decade was just 35 percent - the lowest level in the European Union.
In Scotland Holyrood has previously tried to paper over the cracks by timing them to coincide with national ones - but this year's introduction of staggered elections has shown turnout plummeting from 52 per cent in 2007 to an estimated 35 per cent last week.
Leaving aside the logistics, pairing up local and general elections again would merely obscure the root of the crisis - that voters do not feel they have any meaningful influence on local authorities.
No doubt the privatisation of state services is a big part of it. When traditional council services like road maintenance, rubbish collection and utilities are all farmed out to anonymous multinationals, there isn't a great deal of passion about who signs the contracts.
On a more subtle level it could be a problem of media conglomeration - as corporations swallow up independent operations or edge them out of the market, coverage tends more and more to relegate local elections to little more than a national opinion poll.
And many readers will lay the blame with England's first-past-the-post system - although Scotland's abysmal turnout shows alternatives like STV are no panacea.
One reason might be the presence of parliamentary politics itself. When the Department of Constitutional Affairs grappled with this same issue in 2002, they reported that the range of candidates in a local election was one of the most crucial factors in boosting turnout.
Wards that elected just one member saw significantly lower turnout - by an average of 1.9 per cent - than wards with multiple representatives.
And while the entry of one of England's three major parties dragged an extra 1.67 per cent of voters to the polls, candidates from outside the Lib-Lab-Con triumvirate were arguably even more influential.
Each time the ratio of outsiders to major party candidates increased by even one, turnout increased by at least 1.2 per cent. "In other words, the presence of independent candidates does seem to boost turnout."
That certainly seems to be the case in Scotland. Consider last week's results in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where independents have controlled their councils for the past decade.
Last week independents seized all 21 seats in Orkney, while turnout across its six wards was in the political stratosphere. Where average turnout in Scotland was an estimated 35 per cent, turnout at its very lowest point in the Orkneys was still 45.75 per cent - and ranged in an even spread as high as 57.47 per cent.
And in the Shetland Islands, which followed suit with all 22 of its own seats, turnout ranged between 45 and 61 per cent, while postal ballot returns were as high as 70 per cent.
Ed Miliband is right to say there is a dearth of democracy in local government. He may find the problem lies uncomfortably close to home.
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