Local Elections or National Opinion Poll?

Across parts of the country voters will be heading to the polls tomorrow to elect their local councillors.

However, most of you won’t be. The turnout for local elections is historically poor and there is little indication it will be different tomorrow. Listen to people moan about their neighbourhood on social media and you will know there is plenty of interest in ‘local issues’ and especially almost anything to do with planning! So why is there such a disconnect?

For a start we have always needed greater political education at school level. From working internationally I was always struck how school pupils understood their political system better than UK pupils. Our disengagement starts young. I am convinced that if we knew more about the ‘system’ and how our democracy works we would be more engaged. At the moment there has never been a greater need for better engagement not less. The government are getting away with attacks on the proper functioning democratic process.

Our system of local government doesn’t really help. It is sometimes difficult to navigate which level and tier of government is responsible for which service. Even after 30 years of public service I still wouldn’t get 100% in a “Who provides which service” in a pub quiz! So people are not entirely sure ‘why’ they should vote.

The political parties don’t help. Look at most of the campaigning in the lead up to these elections and it is led by national campaign messages. I know I have been guilty of this in the past too. Vote for you local Labour councillor and save the NHS? There is a complex and long winded version that *could* show the two are linked but let’s be honest, in most cases there will be very little or no influence on the NHS through your local council. The same with a campaign about a Windfall Tax. Yes a good idea and a good campaign idea as voters are most concerned about the Cost of Living Crisis but your local councillor is not going to be in a position to deliver that!

At this election there will be the added complication of voters requiring acceptable forms of photo ID.

We need to call these voter ID laws – voter suppression. They are a ‘solution’ seeking a problem. We don’t have a voter ID problem. yet these new laws could deny millions their right to vote. Many will be turned away from polling stations without the right ID. In discussion with a politically astute young person only this week i was shocked to know they were unaware of the new requirements. These are laws designed to reduce the turnout amongst traditionally on-Tory voters. We should all be outraged by this.

As you will have seen from previous blogs here and on my SajeImpact page I take a lot of interest in devolution and the role of local democracy. I do believe we need greater devolution and far greater powers to enable locally elected councillors deliver for their communities. Way too many decisions are still made in Whitehall. Even programmes seemingly delivered locally like the Town Deal in Loughborough are at the whim and behest of Ministers and their officials deciding what we can bid for and against what criteria.

I believe in the long run having properly functioning local government that can make locally based decisions about policy and taxation would enliven local interest in who ran the council. It would also in the long run increase the quality of people putting themselves forward as candidates. It would eventually drive up turnout at elections and hopefully lead to greater accountability of local councillors. At the moment putting your name forward as a local councillor means you have time, resources, patience. For many (including me) the time commitment v the outcomes you could achieve just don’t add up. As a Labour councillor much of the last decade will have been spent implementing Tory austerity cuts to local communities. That will have been tough.

Despite the lack of powers in comparison to other countries, which Party runs your local council WILL make a difference. Even within the limited powers and budget constraints it is possible to have a very different approach to what and how to improve the lives of residents.

So I would urge everyone to vote. And not just because it will send a ‘signal’ to the Tory government but because I believe in local community politics and accountability. I live in what is and probably will still be a Tory Ward, so it is depressing my vote doesn’t equally count. But electoral reform is for another day! Our Labour candidates have already proven their worth, and deserve our support. And I can say, because I have a postal vote, that I have already voted for them!

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