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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.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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..
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Give us the "none of the above" option and we'll vote. Without the power to say no, it is not democratic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Why local elections matter to us all
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