Are You a Local (Voter)?   Leave a comment


The over-riding news theme of the week has been elections. With people going to the polls in England, Scotland, Wales, France and Greece, there has been a lot of discussion about what the results really mean for the future direction of Europe.

Rather than discussing all the ‘usual’ stuff that has already been covered in great detail by all of the major media channels, I want to look at what the elections might mean for the future of politics on a local level. Do we identify ourselves more with national than local politics?

The results below show the change in councillors across the English, Welsh and Scottish councils who held elections on Thursday. The results do clearly show disillusionment with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, but at the same time we can see that this hasn’t helped the smaller parties. The biggest gains of these elections were for Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP).

 

Party

Number of Councillors

Increase/Decrease

Labour 2159 +824
Conservative 1006 -403
Liberal Democrat 431 -330
Scottish Nationalist Party 424 +57
Plaid Cymru 158 -41
Green 40 +11
Residents Association 22 +6
UKIP 9 0
Independent Community and Health Concern 5 +3
Respect 5 +5
Liberal 4 -6
Scottish Socialist Party 1 0
Independent 0 0
BNP 1 -6
English Democrats 0 -2
Socialist 0 -1
Others 596 -143

Local council elections in Great Britain, 3rd May 2012. Source: BBC News.

 

As these were local elections, it shouldn’t matter what is happening politically at a national level. However, due to the nature of the world we now live in, there are an increasing number of people who feel less of a connection with their local area and are instead more aware of the national scene and what the national party policies are as opposed to really knowing what their candidates want to do for the local area.

We can also see from the results of the mayoral referendums held in the 10 largest English cities that people don’t seem to be in favour of having someone who is elected purely to represent their city. This would imply that the electorate is happier to not have a single figure leading on local issues; possibly because they associate themselves more with their national rather than their local identity. This thought can be further cemented when we look at the turnout for the elections (and referendums) held on Thursday: around the 30% mark, compared to around 60% across the country for the 2010 UK general election (source: the Electoral Commission).

 

City

Yes

No

Birmingham 42.2% 57.8%
Bradford 44.9% 55.1%
Bristol 53.3% 46.7%
Coventry 36.4% 63.6%
Leeds 36.7% 63.3%
Manchester 46.8% 53.2%
Newcastle-upon-Tyne 38.1% 61.9%
Nottingham 42.5% 57.5%
Sheffield 35% 65%
Wakefield 37.8% 62.2%

Mayoral referendums in English cities, 3rd May 2012. Source: BBC News.

 

So what or who is to blame for the electorate confusing the local with the national issues? The obvious target is the media. Around election time we are faced with all the major news journalists telling us all about what the various possible outcomes of elections will mean for the political parties on a national level; about how it is a chance for the electorate to ‘send a message’ to the parties; and there’s very little time or space given to local issues. Of course, it would be difficult to cover all the local issues on a national news programme or in a national newspaper, but if less emphasis was given to the effect on the national picture, maybe more people would take the time to discover what their candidates were standing for on the local issues that will affect their day-to-day lives.

Another key player in the national v. local politics is how communities and the wider society have developed over the last 100 years. The transport revolution has led to an era where people are able to work in different towns/ cities/ counties to the place where they live. This can lead to people not feeling connected to where they live as they don’t spend as much time there as they would have done in previous generations. Many of us don’t know our neighbours, or at least don’t know them more than to say “hello” if we pass them in the street. Personally, I am much closer to and know a lot more about some of my work colleagues than I have ever done about any of my neighbours past or present. Maybe I should make more of an effort, but as I’ve just moved to London, I don’t think I’m even allowed to make eye contact with my neighbours!

The main London mayoral election candidates for 2012.

Lastly, I think maybe the political parties themselves should take some of the blame for the electorate losing sight of the local in amongst the national issues. The larger parties find it easier to get their candidates elected by using the momentum of their national image. It can help newer candidates with not much experience and it can also help more established candidates who have already said (and done) all they can about local issues. However, smaller political parties do still have to rely on the strength of their local candidates to engage the electorate on the local issues as their national image isn’t so established and their lower vote shares mean they can’t get as much air time as the more dominant parties.

“Well what can we do to change from the national to the local?” I hear you cry. The answer isn’t going to be simple or easy. I’m not going to suggest we fight for a huge political overhaul; that would be unrealistic. I think all we can do is get behind Cameron’s “big society” campaign. If he wants us to all take more of an interest in our communities, then maybe we should and not just because it would help us to engage with what’s important in our local areas, but also so we can get something positive out of it for ourselves: some new friends!

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Posted 07/05/2012 by thinkmindy in conscience, identity, Politics

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