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Friday, 5 May, 2000, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Local elections: Do they matter?
While the media have focused on the race for the London mayor, thousands of local councillors have been preparing to defend their seats in elections across England.
But with voter turn-outs falling, many people fear that local authorities are becoming disconnected from voters. Why is this happening?
Do you think that they have been made irrelevant as power has shifted away from local councils - or are they the unsung heroes of government, keeping the streets clean and school meals hot while national politicians steal the limelight?
A number of local authorities are experimenting with new forms of voting to try and encourage people to turn out but what do you think should be done? Do local elections still matter? Tell us your views.
Daniel Cochran, Great Britain
I don't vote in the elections as there isn't the option to vote for "none of the above".
Until this option exists all you have is the choice of picking the best of a bad lot, which is no choice at all.
There is no way of expressing your disapproval of the current policies of the parties.
There are almost 2000 Independent councillors in England and Wales. Independents safeguard the interests of all residents and taxpayers first without the damaging effect of political party dogma. More members should throw off the shackles of party politics and have the freedom to vote as they see fit.
Don't criticise non-voters for being apathetic. Most care greatly about how the country is run, but the political system of this country is not working. Whips force MPs to vote against their common sense and beliefs undermining democracy.
After election, politicians conveniently ditch all the promises they made in order to get into power. Students and young people are completely ignored by all the parties. What choice is there? A choice between abolishing civil rights, and encouraging racism?
I would very much like to see more independent candidates.
Our local council has been dominated by one political party for years. The result of voter apathy has been a bunch of councillors thinking they can do what they want without being accountable to local people. Local pressure groups who have opposed council policy (particularly on transport issues) have been smeared in the local press and the lack of consultation is scandalous. If more people voted, there might more even representation from the different parties, and therefore better representation of different views in communities. People don't realise how it affects them until it's too late, for example after planning permission has been given to build yet another supermarket on communal space, or another block of executive flats appears on their doorstep. So use your vote carefully - and don't let councillors take your vote for granted.
Marion Grenfel -Essam, UK
If you can't be bothered to take part in the democratic process (voting) then you must be responsible for what would take its place. Sheer anarchy such as we saw in London recently. No thanks. I'm for democracy every time, warts and all. There is a lot wrong with this country but doing nothing won't cure it. No man is an island - in fact no man is a country anymore. We're all responsible whether you like it or not. So get involved.
I would love to have been able to vote in the forthcoming election. Unfortunately I cannot, the forms that would have allowed me to appoint a proxy arrived too late to send in - though I will for future elections.
What's the point? Labour introduced
tuition fees for students, the Lib Dems
aren't making any comment on the
matter. The Tories are out of touch with
my age group and Cardiff City Council
"definitely" do not pay any attention to
the needs and concerns of the student
population (of which we number nearly
30,000). Why should I vote for
someone that won't listen to me?
Neil, UK (temporarily in US)
Of course they're important! Your vote could mean the difference between getting a council that is the epitome of efficiency or some socialist idiots who still think that Stalin is a byword for justice and equality.
No is the answer to your question.
We all know that nothing happens at local level without the say so of the head office of the ruling party.
Most council's are jobs for the boys. Local people have no input and no say over how money is spent.
If you abstain, don't complain!
Of course local government matters. It's just a pity that there is a tendency now to think about national issues all the time instead of local ones. Maybe it's a function of the way people get their information about political matters - predominantly through the national media.
Local elections should be about local matters. All candidates should stand as Independents and should live in the ward they seek to represent.
Kris Hopkins, England
Local elections do matter. Although these days they are an indication of national politics i.e. whether or not people are happy/unhappy/indifferent to what is happening nationally.
Democracy should be compulsory. In Turkey there is a system where you are fined for not voting. I would go one further and threaten people with the removal of all their state protection; health, law, police...everything. By not voting people simply say; I don't care.
Benj'min Mossop, Britain
If local councillors actually stood for
something instead of being puppets
of their party it might be worth
voting. I don't know what any of
my candidates stand for, other than
their political party.
Of course we don't have many powers, but last year around 500 local people contacted myself and my colleagues who represent this ward (where I live!) We reckon that by hard work we achieved around 20% more being spent on the area than should have been our share by doing nothing. There is for instance one extra pedestrian crossing making our area safer than would have been the case. Not earth shattering, but at least something worthwhile.
Please do vote on Thursday - the ward in which I am standing has around a 50% turnout. Clearly many of the people here do think that it matters. Around half do not.
Phil McLellan, UK
The problem with politics is the UK is the "Party Whip" system. When a politician is told how to think by party chiefs then there is little or no chance of the councillor representing the interests of the local community.
It would make more sense if electors chose between independents, and thus elected those who they felt would be best for their council. Maybe it is naive of me to imagine people would even vote at all if they didn't have a recognised party to make their minds up for them!
Stuart Sanders, Canada
I am astonished at some of the views expressed about local councillors! Anyone reading this would think they are some kind of alien life-form. Councillors are just ordinary people like you or me, who want to contribute to their communities and have the gumption and stamina to stand for public office. Every critic in the discussion should certainly vote; those who think they can do better should stand for the council.
To combat low voter turn outs, why not have the polls open for a week rather than one day?
Politicians - "self interested professional liars".
To all of those who can't be bothered voting: don't complain if things go wrong. If you can't be bothered voting in the first place your views are already lost.
Get out there! It makes all the difference.
Oh, and I would like to ask the government and media to encourage people to vote. We are turning into a nation of whingers who aren't willing to take action.
I do not vote in local elections for 2 reasons.1. They hold them on week days when I am at work, I get half an hour for dinner and the nearest voting point is 25 minutes away! And 2. none off the councillors for my ward actually live in my ward so how can they claim to be a local candidate. By the way can anyone tell me what a councillor actually does ???
When I recently asked my local councillor to let me have a synopsis of their regular meetings so that I can assess how they are spending my money and in particular, the justification for their inflated allowances I was informed that it was not protocol to do so. When I retorted that I regarded the councillors as the "board" of my area and myself as a shareholder the reaction was "oh I hadn't thought of it like that". I guess those who can - do; those who can't - become councillors. Maybe we should reverse the adage rather than moan about the results it produces.
I have never really been all that interested in politics at all, local or otherwise.
The reasons are already apparent. As other subscribers to the net have already pointed out,
politicians rarely keep their promises. We only see them, when they want our votes. The rest of
the time, they all disappear into the woodwork, until the next election! Gordon Brown did nothing for us, as usual. My husband, Ron,and I have a handicapped son of 31,and as carers we don't get any help. Everything has been taken away from our son, so he can give help to single mothers. If I thought my vote would do any good, and that the politicians acted a little more fairly
I would go and vote. But until pigs fly, I won't!
I agree with Martyn Williams & Dan Peters et al, who eloquently highlight the disempowerment we citizens have experienced. I too shudder after contact with local councillors, they are as bad as the party they represent, worse because they are petty tyrants who prefer to be big fish in small pools. It is through email like this that we get a taste of freedom of information. We are being alienated from local and national government. I often disagree with how my local council is run by the old boys network. If Labour was more open and ready to implement reform Blair would do it, instead of endlessly talking about it. I feel there is little equality only more hypocrisy, cant and posturing which doesn't help us.
Why on earth should we give power to people who make decisions that heavily impact our lives and now they will be able to make these decisions in secret?
The comments that have been made so far shows the public's ignorance and apathy to local government. You are paying for this whether you vote or not. Just don't start moaning when your council taxes rise.
Now that we in Britain have devolved parliaments, city mayors, and more power to be established to local authorities maybe we should follow America's example (with a tax protection law of course). The amount of apathy in the 1997 Welsh referendum and assembly elections is a prime example that no one really cares about pointless bureaucracy. I'm Welsh and still have not felt the impact of our new National Assembly!
Local elections of mayors and police chiefs etc. higher council officials and binding national referendums are a very basic corner stone of democracy and has a huge importance, if allowed for.
As far as any elections are concerned (in England at least), they are completely pointless. Until we have a truly democratic system like the one in the USA, where the politicians are fully accountable to the public, and actually act in their electorate's interest, not theirs, I don't see the point in bothering with any of it.
To all real Socialist supporters, here is the chance to hit Phoney Tony where it really hurts. Go out and vote for the party most likely to win against the Blairite Candidate, unless of course you are fortunate enough to have a Traditionalist Old Labour Councillor seeking re election or a similar candidate. If you are in London, vote for Ken Livingstone. I will certainly use my vote to punish Blair for what he has done to the Working Class on May 4th.
No point in voting, they never change things. All that is promised by politicians never comes true.
Comments like that from Paul Charters and
"Bob, UK" really get my goat. It is people like that
who complain loudest that the council isn't
doing their job, then when it comes to their
opportunity to change anything they say that
their vote doesn't count!
Without PR in local elections it is not surprising that few vote in local elections when in most areas the result is already known. Introducing PR in local elections will allow a viable opposition to develop and allow many more people to see people elected who reflect their politics.
Paul Charters, England
You have to make every vote count in elections. Proportional representation might be the saving of local democracy.
The candidate for my ward in Preston knocked on my door yesterday. She asked whether or not the owners of the house were in, because she wanted to meet the people who put her poster in our window. When I informed her that the owners were not in, she quickly made her exit.
People will not take part in something they don't understand or will vote for the wrong reasons, not to pick or oppose a local party of their choice but to give the national government of the day a view of their feelings. Local elections should be about the local area and the local politicians you want to represent you.
Alan J, UK
No they don't matter. No elections matter
because the government always wins.
Would you want to give your neighbours power over your life? It shouldn't be any surprise turnout is low for national and local elections. It's a sign that people have had enough of being ruled.
Elections on May 4th? What elections? Where? Who? Why? Ahhh...never mind ....ZZZZZZZZZ
S J Woolley, UK
I have had to meet with local councillors in the past and I can't really say much that's nice about them. They seem to be just mini tyrants who think that a few votes make them into experts on your business, your home and your life in general! I think that's partly why people don't vote. If I do vote it will be for the person who does the least, just sits there and spends nothing preferably!
Bill S, England
The power of local authorities have been reduced steadily. They no longer have control over much of their spending, with money being ringfenced for specific uses, and the vast majority of their income being from central government.
Guy Robinson, UK
Local elections don't matter. Whoever gets elected, the council-tax
still goes up, the roads remain unmaintained, and the rubbish isn't
collected on time, while the elected councillors spend
their time playing politics with their own pet issues in order
to either score points off their opponents, or to engineer
a nice photo-opportunity for the local papers.
Livingstone's popularity in London is based on the belief that mainstream politicians cannot be trusted to do what they are elected to do. Despite Livingstone, turnout is predicted to fall in the forthcoming local elections. I think that there is also a widespread pessimism about the capacities of mainstream politicians to make a positive difference to ordinary people. In other words, can any politician honestly claim that voting will bring about a better future?
Jonathan Davies, UK
The government likes to treat low local turnout as a problem for local government alone. The truth is that turnout is falling for all elections. As local elections are annual, it should not be surprising that fewer people turn out than at the general election.
Local turnout in particular has declined because people feel local government does not have much real power to change things for the better. This is largely a problem caused by Westminster.
He asked me why I would do this if I did not even know what he stood for. I replied that I really did not care because everything important to me (garbage collection, schools, clean streets, local facilities, etc.) worked admirably, and did so without me having to pay any attention to his rhetoric.
Local elections only matter when things start to break down ... then look out: people like me come out of the woodwork and do so with a vengeance.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
Interest has fallen in local government as it has lost its power to make a difference. The fear with these proposed new arrangements is that they will further centralise power and leave people even more uninterested.
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