ALL over England, voters are currently receiving leaflets and the occasional knock on the door from people who have passionate convictions about the way their towns and cities should be run.

Many of these election leaflets will be quickly shredded into hamster bedding. And many of these democratic encounters will be over in seconds when the door is closed, unceremoniously, in the face of a hapless canvasser.

That’s politics, I suppose.

But in all too many conversations, the elector will fire off this parting shot, delivered as though it was the most original insight in the world:

“You’re all the same, you lot.”

The same view of politicians is often expressed to news reporters harvesting opinion in the street.

Politicians and journalists alike must often be tempted to ask a follow-up question: Exactly what policies would you say are the same across all the candidates?

How much research did those voters do, before coming to that conclusion? Have they really satisfied themselves that there is no substantial difference between any of our political parties or independent candidates? That’s hard to believe.

Are they concerned that some issues are beyond the bounds of mainstream debate, from capital punishment on one political wing to abolition of the monarchy on the other? I doubt it.

Perhaps they are suggesting that politicians are all alike in that they fail to deliver on their promises. Well, there would slightly better grounds for believing that. But politics is surely about the art of compromise and of getting as much of your programme delivered as possible.

What’s more likely is that people think politicians are all “in it for themselves”. I’ve never really taken that view.

True, a backbench MP receives a pretty generous salary of £79,468, but for the smartest ones, there must be easier ways of making £79,468. And the current elections are for local councillors, who receive a basic allowance of £12,500 on the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council – a rather handy supplement to another income, but not enough for most people to pack in the day job.

What’s more, there are politicians who have put in far more than they have taken out, spending many hours pursuing causes or improving their communities. It isn’t that hard to find out who they are.

Unfortunately, I think the “They’re all the same” argument is usually the voice of apathy. More often than not, it comes from people who have made precisely no effort at all to find out who’s standing, what their policies are and whether they can be trusted to deliver them.

Our politics is deeply divided at the moment, and that has caused a lot of people to despair. But if nothing else, that polarisation presents us with some pretty clear choices.

Once these local elections are over, it looks as though we will have elections to the European Parliament. Those polls usually have candidates ranging from the far left to the far right, stopping at all points in between – with a proportional system to ensure that every vote matters. If you can’t find a party to support then, it may be that you’re too picky.

The notion that all politicians are the same is one of the most corrosive ideas in our democracy. It’s often an excuse for people not to inform themselves or take part in the process – and if widely believed, it can drive people towards extremists making weird and impossible pledges.

Of course, if people really think there is no difference between election candidates, they are entitled to stay at home and abstain. But by doing so, they surely undermine any future grumbling they might do about the way their town, or nation, or European Parliament, is run.

A slightly better option is to go along to the polling station and spoil their paper. Those spoilt papers are drawn to the candidates’ attention – and by boosting the turnout, the voter might dispel any suspicion that they really just can’t be bothered.