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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Do local elections matter to you?
On 2 May, candidates will be contesting around 6,000 seats in more than 150 local authorities in England.

A number of areas will also be holding polls for directly-elected mayors

Experiments with electronic and postal voting, mobile polling booths and text message ballots are being conducted in a bid to improve voter participation.

However, it looks like apathy will be the winner as increasing numbers of voters stay away.

And in certain towns in the north west, that apathy could allow the far-right British National Party to make gains.

Reasons given for lack of interest include the perception that local elections don't matter anymore as councillors increasingly find their hands tied when it comes to matters such as housing, social services and education.

This is despite the fact that local authorities spend 60bn of taxpayers' money every year.

Do local elections still matter to you? Will you be voting this year? Is your local authority experimenting with new methods of voting such as text messaging? HAVE YOUR SAY

If people are taught why politics is important then maybe we can get more of them voting

Bart Smith, England
I think the young of today should be taught how to vote and why it is a good idea - in Citizenship Class. I took this as an A level subject and as a young person found it very helpful. If people are taught why politics is important then maybe we can get more of them voting.
Bart Smith, England

Local democracy is a vital part of our system of government. We need to rediscover a sense of pride in how our government structures work at a local level.
Peter Cameron, England

Yes, the local elections do matter to me; the only problem is I have no idea who is standing in my ward. We have received literature from only one party, and I can find nothing on the council and community websites. What we must not forget is that these elections potentially could affect us much more directly than national politics. Calls for regional assemblies in England are irresponsible as they are an unnecessary third tier and will only undermine the power of local government.
Lee, UK

I actually work for the leader of a local council and am always amazed at the number of people who don't feel it's worth voting, because politicians "don't listen". I can assure you that in my experience they do. If you have a problem write to your local councillor, 9 times out of ten they'll do their best to help. If they don't, contact the leader of the political group they represent. You can have far more of an impact on local politics than national.
Sarah Smith, UK

Local councillors DO get things done

Jack Thompson, UK
What happened in France proves that if people don't get out and vote for one or other of our mainstream parties, the extremists will get a foothold in local government. Even if we accept that local government has less power than it once had, it is still important. Local councillors DO get things done - they certainly have in my ward in South East London. So those who indulge themselves with either apathy or cynicism will only live to rue the day they turned their backs on democracy whatever its faults and shortcomings.
Jack Thompson, UK

I would like to vote in the local elections, but since York became a unitary authority, the council no longer holds yearly elections, so I can't even let them know how badly I think they are running the place. The council is also now run by a 'cabinet' style politburo, meaning that they are not even accountable to most other councillors. What we have experienced in York is a massive reduction in democratic accountability. Clearly the ruling elite in York are not interested in hearing the public's views on anything. Apathy isn't the problem here.
Dave Berkeley, UK

If candidates and political parties can't be bothered why should I be?

Steve, UK
Politicians complain about voter apathy, but they don't seem too bothered about local elections themselves! I have received a polling card, but not so much as one leaflet or visit from any of the candidates. Therefore, I don't know what views or policies they propose. If candidates and political parties can't be bothered why should I be? I won't vote for a paper candidate. Voter apathy? How about candidate apathy?
Steve, UK

Local elections do matter to me but, unfortunately, I am not there to stand in opposition to those who get elected. Our local authorities have headed the same way as the rest of the country. We now have many liberal minded ex-hippies running our local communities and the whole fabric of our country life is being destroyed. Unfortunately I work overseas and am unable to do anything about at the moment.
Phil T, Oman

I think it is rather unfair to tar all local politicians with the same brush, i.e. arrogant, ignorant, self-interested etc. Many local politicians do stand to gain from their position, but many manage to avoid that temptation. There are many respectable, honest, hard-working local councillors out there on all kinds of authorities and from all political parties. And at the end of the day at least they could all be bothered to stand for election and try to do something about local services etc, which - I suspect - is more than most of the contributors to this discussion would be prepared to do!
James, England

I'm tired of hearing people blame everyone else for their own apathy. Most people are simply too lazy and self absorbed to bother voting. They dream up a whole list of well rehearsed excuses, but in reality there is no excuse for not voting. If you don't like any of the candidates, just spoil your paper - that sends a signal. Not turning up just says that you're lazy. And if you don't like any of your candidates, stand for election yourself. It doesn't cost a penny at local government level.
Steve, UK

I bet you'd care if they took your right to vote away

James Maloney, UK
Elections on all levels should be taken seriously. It is the only way that the average person can let those in charge know how he/she feels. People have devoted their lives to get us into the position we're in now and it is extremely insulting to see that nobody cares. Well, I bet you'd care if they took your right to vote away.
James Maloney, UK

Elections on all levels should be taken seriously. It is the only way that the average person can let those in charge know how he/she feels. People have devoted their lives to get us into the position we're in now and it is extremely insulting to see that nobody cares. Well, I bet you'd care if they took your right to vote away.
James Maloney, UK

In my opinion there is one thing that, above everything else, would make the best difference in local government. A system of proportional representation, such as the system used in Ireland (where the voter ranks candidates in order: 1, 2, 3, etc). This would have the result of giving minority political groups a better representation on the council and it would make sure that, in the majority of cases at least, that parties had to SHARE power on the council, instead of having the decisions dictated by a controlling party that most of those who voted actually voted against!
Chris Nelson, UK

There is no justification whatsoever for Westminster to tell my council how it should organise itself, how it should raise revenue, how it should conduct elections, or a whole host of other things which should be decided locally. I'll vote, but not with any expectation that my vote will make a difference; and I don't blame those who won't.
Jeremy Hicks, UK

Why not abolish local government altogether?

Robert, UK
Local elections would matter if the candidates were intelligent, professionals with common sense. Instead many people dictating local policy have very little idea about the notion of common sense and display their ignorance in the legislation they pass. Why not abolish local government altogether and replace it with each area having its own mayor - possibly a lawyer, doctor or other professional - rather than an uneducated, socially inept "mouthpiece"?
Robert, UK

Voting should be made compulsory and a "none of the above" box offered on the ballot paper. People will then have to think about the candidates, the candidates will have to come up with some good policies and so on..
Stephen Luke, UK

With central government controlling so much of local government finances and preventing any alternative policies it sadly matters less than it should who is in charge of your local council.
George, UK

I am finally 18 and enrolled to vote. But to my disappointment neither of the two parties I wished to vote for (Green or Socialist) have representatives in my ward. Maybe the number of people voting has declined because they do not feel represented. I'm sure this is the reason for the low turnout at elections and the large numbers of spoiled papers. I'd like to believe my vote can make a difference but I can see why so many people feel like they don't have a say and have lost interest in politics.
Trotskipixie, England

Pay them and make them full-time

Lesley, UK
I am a Parish Councillor, the bottom rung! Unfortunately I too have become disillusioned by local government, but for a different reason. Our District Councillors are only paid expenses and attendance fees for meetings, so, as someone else said, at that level they are generally self employed or retired. Because they are not full time in the job, the day to day decisions and the wording and shaping of policy is done by paid local government workers, so in many cases the councillors you vote for have little more power than a rubber stamp. If they also have the restraints of the party political system to deal with, at local level it makes them more or less useless. When I have a problem I consult my District or County Council officials - not my councillor, that's a waste of time! Pay them and make them full-time, like MPs, or get rid of them and give over the whole job to the civil service and parliament, which is what the present government wants anyway in my view.
Lesley, UK

The system is of course to blame

John Lawrence, UK
Local politicians are not paid well. Most of them get expenses of between 5,000 - 10,000 p.a. Many hours a week are needed for meetings and briefings making a normal 9 to 5 job very difficult unless one has a very tolerant employer. So it should not surprise anyone the poor standard of local politicians. The system is of course to blame. When we are prepared to pay proper salaries for properly qualified representatives we will then get competent people who make a success of running our towns and cities and we will be happy to vote for them. But at present, why should anybody bother to turn out and vote for them?
John Lawrence, UK

Unfortunately we do not have a local council election next week. If we did the county council would get a battering as our council tax has just gone up nearly 12%. It's a disgrace and it's going to be stopped!
Bob, U.K.

Unless local government is run by full-time officials and has enough power and funding to get the job done then, no, local elections will never matter. Until that time comes my vote means nothing at all, although I will continue to vote, if only to keep people I despise out of the council.
Ross Elliott, UK

Successive governments of both persuasions have succeeded in making local government so weak as to be irrelevant

Desmond, UK
Successive governments of both persuasions have succeeded in making local government so weak as to be irrelevant to most people in their daily lives. Certainly, here in London, one is left wondering who deals with what and why and one is constantly reminded that none of them has any real power to do anything about anything of any importance most of the time. The local authorities are a shambles. Managed and run on an amateurish basis.

I certainly do no underestimate the complexity of the services they provide. Unfortunately, they are usually crippled from actually providing any of them effectually and have become little more than a good excuse for the failures of central government policy. For example, it is easy to blame local councils for the dreadful standard of most social housing, but, in reality, it is government policy that has seen what was once one of the world's best social housing systems into a decrepit mess. Voting in local elections is therefore a waste of time as, no matter what party wins control of a local authority, nothing can or will change.
Desmond, UK

I don't vote for politicians - they don't listen to my concerns since they only implement policies that further their own selfish goals. I'd happily vote for "none of the above" though.
John, UK

The use of local government as a staging post for wannabe MPs should be stopped

Guy Chapman, UK
If you don't vote, you have no right to complain when your council makes a complete pig's ear of things. In local elections, my advice is always to vote for an independent - you might have some chance of influencing how they vote in Council. The use of local government as a staging post for wannabe MPs should be stopped, and nobody should be allowed to serve on a council for more than ten years.
Guy Chapman, UK

Why bother to vote when neither of the parties have anything relevant to say and if they do promise action, nothing happens. I cannot vote in the local elections because I live in Canada, but I can and will vote in the General Election. And that means bye bye Tony!
Mark S, Canada/UK

Give us the "none of the above" option and we'll vote. Without the power to say no, it is not democratic.
Tom, UK

Yes, it's important to vote, if you don't you will have no rights to say what you want to say. Do vote, to have your say.
David Dutton, Hamphire, UK

I live in Nottingham and have a council which decided against local pressure from the press to continue to have closed and secret meetings. No valid reason was given for this. I've recently objected to planning permission for a new building in my area and this was subsequently approved in one of these secret meetings. I firmly believe that people who express a desire to be councillors should be blacklisted from that very position. It's just the next thing people do when they get kicked out of the round table. Either that or become a magistrate. I'll be spoiling my paper rather than endorsing and validating another self-made, out of touch, reprobate.
Stuart, UK

The real culprit is apathy

Peter Nelson, USA
An American view. Here in the state of Massachusetts local town government is responsible for education, road maintenance, including plowing and sanding in the winter, police and fire protection, ambulance service, water, sewer, and garbage collection. Together, these obviously affect our daily lives and those of our children far more than decisions made in Washington. Yet turnout in town elections is very low and most people are uninterested in who is representing them in town government. Party politics is not to blame since it plays little role in local elections here; the real culprit is apathy.
Peter Nelson, USA

Having visited meetings of our local town council, I was interested that there appeared to be very little inter-party bickering, but a desire to get the best for the town and its people. What did disturb me was that in the case of housing development, they are powerless to block inappropriate overbuilding if the county council says it has to go ahead, even if it will clearly making the town an increasingly less pleasant place to live.
Toby, Herts, UK

Has anyone noticed that there is a direct correlation between the decline in numbers of people voting in elections and the demise of the Monster Raving Looney Party? Coincidence? I think not. Britain needs an alternative to the current choice of the Lib-Con-Lab single party.
Vince Warrington, UK

It hardly seems fair to blame only the voters

Catherine, UK
Why should I bother to vote when not one prospective candidate has been round, no leaflets delivered and I had to fight through the badly organised council website to even find out the names of those standing. I will vote and I will make the effort to find out about the candidates, but it hardly seems fair to blame only the voters when nobody appears to be overly concerned with the election.
Catherine, UK

If you don't vote, you really can't comment/criticise the council. If you want to change things, get down to the polling station and VOTE!
Wendy, UK

Until there is a box on the ballot paper for 'none of the above' the same poor quality of candidate will continue to be elected by a minority to represent the views of an even smaller minority.
Keith Howlett, England

Our rights were earned with their blood

Jack Burge, Birmingham, England
There really cannot be any excuse for voter apathy, especially with recent events in France gaining so much publicity. If people are dissatisfied with those who manage their local services, then they should make the effort to find out who are the best persons for the job. If the literature provided by the candidates is unclear, or misleading, then contact their offices directly and ask them awkward questions, they're not going to bite you, they want your vote. If I ever needed an excuse to get me to the polling station, it would be to remember the millions of people throughout history who have died fighting for the right to have a say in how they are governed. Our rights were earned with their blood, and they deserve a bit more respect than some of us are prepared to give them.
Jack Burge, Birmingham, England

Years ago, when I lived in Cowbridge, S. Wales, I was introduced to the town mayor in my local pub. I shook his hand and told him I'd vote for him every time and would he give me his name so I could remember it? He said that as I did not know his name, his party, or what he stood for, he thought that rather strange. I told him, "Look, everything works, the streets are clean, the public services function, and the beauty of the town is maintained. Even better, it's run by politicians that I've never heard of because they just quietly get on with it; my kind of politicians!". That, to me, is nirvana in local politics!
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK

Local councils may spend 60bn a year, but most of that expenditure is controlled by central government, from schools to policing. Even the 'local' council tax is controlled by central government. There is no local power. There is no point.
Gerry, uk

It's not the localness of the elections but the fact that they are party-based that breeds apathy. A party, to get a large vote, needs a broad appeal and thus has bland policies. Its politicians, even if they were individuals worthy of respect, cannot satisfy all constituents. We need direct voting on issues to contribute to the way those issues are handled by those who run the country at local or national level.
Nigel Rees, Briton in USA

The council election leaflets we get are inane and indistinguishable

Jon Cooper, UK
Councillors are generally perceived as old retired men or people who are climbing the greasy political pole but who aren't good enough to be MPs. My council tax has just gone up an astonishing 11% (for what??) and I would dearly love to vote the council out and get a better lot elected, but I have no faith whatsoever than anyone else would be any better. People just vote for the same party they would vote for in a national election, which is daft. Does the Labour party nationally have a policy about the terrible potholes in my road? Is there a think tank in conservative central office looking at cutting the grass more than twice a year and collecting rubbish? No, of course not. But there is no alternative, and no way of knowing if the individual councillors we elect are any good or not. It's OK to vote along party lines at general elections, since there are well publicised manifestos, but the council election leaflets we get are inane and indistinguishable, and bear little relation to what happens anyway. I won't be voting.
Jon Cooper, UK

Somehow I will manage the 500-yard walk to my local election polling booth. I have not yet lost the use of my legs, so I see no need for internet voting. JR's comments (below) are interesting though. I experienced re-registration problems when I moved areas. The lack of information about registration seems strange when you think about all the superfluous paper that is issued by councils. Oh well, at least I have a recycling box now.
Vicki, England

What's the point? Local authorities are a waste of space. Our council has rigorous parking enforcement in all areas, except around their offices, where the parking laws are altered to allow them to have free parking. Meanwhile, if I park outside my house (on a residential street) from 8 to 6:30 Monday to Saturday, I'll get ticketed within minutes. And there was also the farce where they ordered hundreds of laptops at 3,000 each to utilise e-mail. Sensible? How about a basic desktop PC at 500 and use the remainder to clean the streets? Of course not. I cannot wait until Labour has been ousted from here!
Steve, UK

I live in Hackney where we have been betrayed by politician of all parties. Unfortunately we have no loony or protest candidates so we're reduced to sullen apathy or spoiling our ballot papers. Seriously, voter apathy won't improve until politician re-engage with their constituents rather than serving corporate interests and serving out spin.
Hugh Barnard, UK

Until local councils here actually listen and implement what their constituents want, then elections for them are pointless. People want to see proper democracy in action, not some half baked ideas received from some party hack in London.
Malcolm, UK

I have just turned 18 and would like to vote in the forthcoming elections. Unfortunately I, and many others of my age, are unable to due to a total lack of information from the council regarding the registration process, deadlines, and so on. With this being the first time I have had to register, you might think that the council could produce information leaflets for young people explaining how to become eligible to vote; since we are all already on their educational records, distribution should pose no problems. However, until a better service is provided, the young voters will continue to be regarded as "apathetic" simply because the relevant advice isn't available!

Those who do not vote should never complain at who gets in. Look what's happening in France at this time!

WJ Andrews, England
Local elections are used by the media to judge the national government. Why?

This may be a naive statement but local issues and personalities involved in dealing with local issues are totally different to what is going on at the national level. I vote in local elections as they matter. The political party of the individuals who will get my vote in local elections may not necessarily be the political party that I may vote for in a General Election. The issues involved are totally different but are equally important. However, voter apathy will always be a problem. Those who do not vote should never complain at who gets in. Look what's happening in France!
W J Andrews, England

People will be apathetic about local elections for the same reason they were apathetic about the general elections. It doesn't matter who you vote for, whoever gets elected will do whatever they want regardless of the wishes of the electorate, they'll scratch the backs of their mates, repay favours of those who contribute to their campaign funds & waste millions of pounds on various pointless schemes.
Simon, UK

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24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Why local elections matter to us all
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