LOCAL VOTES FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

SAM_1498Persistent hounder of many a bounder, TV journalist Michael Crick once described the General Election as ‘our World Cup’, with the ‘our’ being the small coterie of correspondents and commentators whose careers are devoted to documenting developments in the British political arena. If that’s true for the major event held on average every four/five years, local elections must then equate with some minor tournament staged during the summer, the kind of poor relation that is exclusively available on some obscure subscription-only satellite channel nobody has ever actually seen.

Most of us could probably name our MP (at a push), whereas councillors are a far more anonymous breed. At one time, there appeared to be a proliferation of regional titans who were never slow to remind the electorate that they’d once run around without shoes on their feet, hard men – and occasionally women – carved from local stone and prepared to pocket a few backhanders to put their towns on the map. Many, such as Newcastle’s T Dan Smith, became embroiled in scandals that were a side-effect of their rapacious ambition, eventually paying the price with prison sentences and the consequent end of careers in public office. Yes, they were rogues, but there was a certain begrudging admiration for their refusal to be cast as pale imitations of their Westminster superiors. When compared to the bland double-glazing salesmen and primary school headmistresses who constitute today’s moribund councillors, it’s no wonder so few potential voters can be sufficiently fired-up to trek to the polling station.

Not that this will be evident as live TV coverage bigs up today’s elections once the results begin rolling in, mind. It’ll still be presented as ‘David Cameron’s first serious test since the General Election’ or ‘the first chance to gauge the public’s opinion of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’ or numerous other ‘firsts’. The broadcasters love it, and they’ve not even had the EU Referendum to get their teeth into yet; not that through-the-night broadcasts of this nature aren’t occasionally entertaining, however – fun to dip in and out of, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s even acquired a crass Americanism to inject a dash of glamour into proceedings – Super Thursday, as opposed to not-bad Wednesday and bloody awful Friday.

Lest we forget, the engrossing allure of local elections isn’t quite sufficiently engrossing to support the hype, so it’s handy we also have elections to the assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the Scottish Parliament and one or two mayoral shindigs, most prominently the one darn Landan way, between renowned Bollywood devotee and man of the Asian people…Zac Goldsmith; and Sadiq Khan. Hell, there are even a couple of Westminster by-elections to add to the list. Come on!

Head-and-shoulders above the rest, though, have to be the elections for the local Police and Crime Commissioners. When the Tories introduced this extra layer of police bureaucracy in 2012, the turn-out amongst the electorate was a canny reflection of the public’s appetite for the new innovation: between 10% and 20%. One cannot but suspect had the damp squib proposal by the Blair administration for regional English assemblies got past the drawing board at the turn of the century, the enthusiasm on the part of the electorate would be similarly euphoric.

Having said all that, there are certain aspects of the day’s machinations which might prove interesting as pointers to where the major parties go next. Will the recent anti-Semitic accusations affect Labour’s prospects? Will the divisive European issue damage the hopes of the Tories? Will the internal coup that has been brewing ever since Corbyn rose without a trace be given the excuse it needs to move into action? Will the whole exercise serve as a warm-up for which way the wind may blow come June 23? Only one way to find out, you lucky bloody insomniacs.

And on a less cynical note, here’s a silly video…

© The Editor

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3 thoughts on “LOCAL VOTES FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

  1. Your headline should really be ‘Local Votes By Local People For Local People’ because, in the ‘good old days’ that’s what local elections were all about. Candidates were simply local folk who wanted to make their local area better, then party politics intervened and ruined it.
    Once those party labels were applied to candidates, the electorate started to append all the nuances of national politics to those involved in emptying their bins and clearing up the dog-shit. We even have the nonsense of UKIP local councillors being elected on the key platform of leaving the EU – what the Hell has that to do with the local library’s opening hours or the leisure-centre car-park charges ?
    But once the labels stuck, then local politics simply became an entry-channel into national politics, with greasy-pole climbers starting their careers claiming to worry about bus-stops when, in fact, they only ever had an eager eye on landing the next Parliamentary seat vacancy.
    I’m not sure what can be read into this year’s local election results, the world of politics is so unstable and riven with schisms that any conclusions drawn would ennoble the collective voters with far greater insight and wisdom than is reasonable to apply. The fact that Jeremy Cobyn has a momentary issue with Jew-haters should have no bearing whatsoever on our bin-collection, but it may have done, or not – if it did, then that’s part of the problem, for which I don’t have a solution, other than banning parties from local politics: now that would be interesting, with a Donald Trump in every town……..

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  2. On the subject of Police Commissioners, I have mixed feelings. It’s certainly another form of administrative gravy-train but it’s very important to remember what it replaced. Previously, policing was allegedly ‘supervised’ by a large committee, made up of nominated (not elected) councillors from whichever local authorities were covered by that police force area, which often meant that 20 or so self-selecting councillors had a day out on expenses, mileage, food etc, every few weeks, during which they sat in a room with the Chief Constable, were blitzed with PowerPoint shows of incomprehensible data, and left at the end agreeing that he’s doing a really good job. It was not effective, efficient or accountable, but a just a regular pleasant jolly for all concerned. Don’t forget, all the currently-appearing historic scandals happened under that old system – it was not fit for purpose.

    In theory, the Commissioner is a single, publicly-accountable figure, charged with ensuring that the local police deliver the service which that local public wants and, if they don’t, he/she can be kicked out at the next election, losing the salary, expenses etc. in a trice. Now that strikes me as a far better model.
    However, in its initial manifestation, it has become something of a rest-home for redundant or failed politicians, usually former councillors, where the election is based mostly on local political habits, rather than any inherent competence of the individual. That’s the problem.
    What it needs now is for a few genuine Independents to get the post, prove that they can do it better, then the other regions may notice and follow, and then we may all finally get Police Commissioners worthy of the name and the post. The idea is right, but the implementation has been badly flawed.

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