It’s election day for 27 County Councils, 7 Unitary Authorities, 2 elected Mayoralties, and one Parliamentary constituency in England, as well as on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, and the Isles of Scilly. One of those UAs is Cornwall (local government structures can be complicated in the UK, especially in England, and while Cornwall looks like a county it is, administration-wise, a unitary authority). The decisions of electors today will make no direct impact on the current national government, so in that way the title of this post is a little disingenuous, but it will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as a comment on the government’s policy direction.
I say rightly or wrongly because really local elections should be more about the local government than the national one. Yet, of course, politics and political structures are more complex than that. Local governments can’t do much without the national laws that give them that authority, national governments face a much more difficult challenge in introducing policies if the organisations required to carry out the majority of policies in a local setting are run by people of opposing political outlooks. So, the elections today do matter – they matter to the local people who are directly affected by the operations of their local authority, and they matter to those in national government as they give comment on the view on the ground of national policies – as they say, the only polls that matter are the ones at the ballot box!
Yet, in some places today, in areas where the local authority is up for election, there will be no polling stations, because there is only one candidate! In others it will feel like voting is irrelevant even if it is an option, because one party always wins despite never appealing to anything like 50% of the voters. And this second problem is magnified in some places across whole local authorities. That’s why the Electoral Reform Society is campaigning not just in regards to the reform of national elections but also local ones. I can only say to folk that if they live in such areas, you can do something about it – you can join a political party of your choosing and encourage them to put candidates in areas that they don’t currently do so, you can stand yourself next time with or without party support (Cornwall Council has a number of Independents on it), and you can join the ERS’s campaign for better local election systems.
And if you do have an election in your area today? Well, make sure you get out there and vote! Or, if you really feel strongly about politicians not being worth a vote then go and spoil your paper – if everyone who didn’t vote did this instead then we’d know the population wasn’t apathetic but simply unhappy with the political choices (or lack of choices) available to it. Voting is one of the ways we play a part in society. It is a vital part of being a democracy. Churchill may have been right when he suggested democracy was the worst form of government apart from all the rest, but it’s the one that creates an opportunity to change the system from within. To do that, though, you need to participate – by nothing more, and nothing less, than walking into a little booth and putting a X (or a scribble if you wish to spoil your ballot) on a slip of paper and putting that piece of paper in a box.
And having said all that, I will be walking the long way to my meeting this morning in order to go and put my graphite where my mouth is, and vote. And who am I voting for now I’m not a member of a political party? That’s between me and the voting booth!
Whether your voting today or not, travel well.