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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.


Your reaction



The right to suffrage was so hard fought for by our forefathers, that any opportunity to exercise it should be embraced at all times.

Daniel Cochran, Great Britain
The right to suffrage was so hard fought for by our forefathers, that any opportunity to exercise it should be embraced at all times. The fact that people choose not to vote out of sheer bolshiness is, in my opinion, a national disgrace.
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.
Scott, UK

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.
Paul, UK

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.
C F Wall, UK

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.
Annie, Reading, UK



We are not kept up to date with the issues being raised and neither are we told who the candidates are.

Marion Grenfell - Essam, UK
I am appalled at the lack of information that reaches me. I am an intelligent 16year old. I want to know all about the parties, what they stand for and what they will do for the community. I know that I cannot vote YET, but I can still see the lack of information. My parents receive one, maybe two leaflets from any party. We are not kept up to date with the issues being raised and neither are we told who the candidates are. I want to vote but not unless informed. My parents both have jobs that make voting difficult and if they have a meeting or dinner that evening it is impossible for them to get to the polls.
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.
Wendy Ford, Great Britain

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.
And yes I do believe that local elections are important, equally I believe that it is important to use the right to vote. Too many people it appears just can't be bothered to vote which seems like a huge insult to all those men and women who struggled so hard to get the vote in the first place!
Jane Berry, Temporarily in US

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?
Alex Banks, Wales



If we don't vote how can we expect to have any sensible basis to criticise/compliment the standard of leadership that affects our lives.

Neil, UK (temporarily in US)
Yes - of course voting locally matters. If we don't vote how can we expect to have any sensible basis to criticise/compliment the standard of leadership that affects our lives. However modern living does make voting fairly inconvenient - therefore why not adopt e-voting over the internet (as done in some areas of the US). It would simplify democracy, allow more informed decisions (e.g. click here to view policies) would increase accessibility for the elderly/disabled, would be more secure than postal voting and would actually be cheaper too!
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.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

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.
Tony, UK

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.
John Keepin, England

Local elections should be about local matters. All candidates should stand as Independents and should live in the ward they seek to represent.
Peter Mason, England



It is local government that manages the budget that educates our children, runs social services, decides many planning and transport matters.

Kris Hopkins, England
Very sad to read many of the comments made. The role of your local councillor is varied. On a ward level - I work to represent all the people (regardless of their politics). As an opposition councillor in Bradford Metropolitan Council I have the responsibility of challenging the ruling party and ensuring that they are accountable for the 1/2 £billion budget spent. Local Government is an important part and corner stone of our democracy. It is local government that manages the budget that educates our children, runs social services, decides many planning and transport matters. The right to vote is only a dream to many people in the world. If you do not like what your local council does, get involved and change it! I did!
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.
Phil Rackley, UK



Democracy should be compulsory.

Benj'min Mossop, Britain
Voting is essential to democracy. Equally as essential is compulsory political education in schools. The people of the world are becoming increasingly more apathetic towards participating in democracy which so many human beings fought so hard to attain.
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.
Brian Blackmore, UK



Most of the councillors I know from whatever party are hard working and honest ... Please do vote on Thursday.

Phil McLellan, UK
As a councillor up for election on Thursday I am disappointed but not surprised by many of the comments. Most of the councillors I know from whatever party are hard working and honest. Of course a few are not!
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.
The next is accountability, what is needed is recall, the power of the electorate to recall a councillor if they are not doing the job they were elected to do, in order that the councillor must resubmit to a mid term poll.
Finally the fact that voters have a choice not to vote, polling should be compulsory, after all in some parts of the world people are dying for the right to vote.
Chris Maile, UK



It would make more sense if electors chose between independents, and thus elected those who they felt would be best for their council.

Stuart Sanders, Canada
I think it is a shame local politics is viewed by the major parties as a test of their popularity, and now voters often view them the same way. As a result, I do not think local issues get properly addressed, and so electors become frustrated and alienated.
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.
Paul Griffiths, UK

To combat low voter turn outs, why not have the polls open for a week rather than one day?
Peter Robinson, England

Politicians - "self interested professional liars".
Brian Silvester, England

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.
Anne, UK

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 ???
Carl, Wigan, England

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.
Robert, Wales

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!
June Harrison, U.K.

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.
Kate Sanders, S E London

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?
Joe, England

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.
Stephen, UK



Town and County councils are nothing more than powerless talking shops which do not impact the local community in any way!

Richard, Wales
The amount of apathy you get in local elections is not surprising! Town and County councils are nothing more than powerless talking shops which do not impact the local community in any way! The cities, counties and states in America have far more power which include law making and tax varying control, creating more interest and awareness in local and state government!
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!
Richard, Wales

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.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

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.
Robert P, United Kingdom



If people don't vote, they have no right to complain about who gets elected or about government policy.

Jeff, USA
Any election is important. It is an opportunity for people to make their wishes known and to have their say. If people don't vote, they have no right to complain about who gets elected or about government policy. If you don't vote, you may lose your right to vote.
Jeff, USA

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.
Steve Foley, England

No point in voting, they never change things. All that is promised by politicians never comes true.
Jake Langley, Hertfordshire/UK

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!
In some places councils get in through small voter turnout exactly because people like that don't vote. If you don't vote don't whine when the council doesn't perform. Vote and do something to change it - or perhaps get involved directly and try to stand yourself.
Graham McDermott, UK



Those of you who have your votes be thankful. Thousands of students/recent graduates don't get them because they simply move house too often.

Claire, UK
When I moved into my house about 1 year and a half ago, I found I'd missed the deadline for the electoral register by a few days. I completed it anyway. Now the council recognises me enough to charge me £700 per year in council task but not enough to give me or my husband a vote. Those of you who have your votes be thankful. Thousands of students/recent graduates don't get them because they simply move house too often
Claire, UK

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.
Nick Long, UK



All I see is some over-suited, uncaring moron come to my front door and ask me if I want to join the rest of the public in subsidising their ego-trip.

Paul Charters, England
I am one of the many young people who believe that there is no point in voting in local elections (and to be honest general elections as well) simply because we never see any real difference. Locally, roads are never maintained properly, young people have nothing to do and all I see is some over-suited, uncaring moron come to my front door and ask me if I want to join the rest of the public in subsidising their ego-trip that does nothing good for the people.
Paul Charters, England

You have to make every vote count in elections. Proportional representation might be the saving of local democracy.
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland

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.
Can I just inform the Lib-Dem candidate that just because I am 20 years old does not mean I have no interest in the, albeit flawed, local elections; that I am a member of the Liberal Democrats and that I put the poster in the window. Not a good way to get votes, is it?
Líam Pennington, UK



Local elections should be about the local area and the local politicians you want to represent you.

Alan J, UK
Apathy is not caused by lack interest in local politics. It caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding of what the council does. Regrettably there is no longer genuine detailed reporting by local media. Our local press very rarely attends the Local Council meetings and if they do the reporters barely know the subject matter. The best we may get is a biased pronouncement from the editor who normally displays as little knowledge as his reporters.
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.
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland

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.
Gordon Joseph, UK

Elections on May 4th? What elections? Where? Who? Why? Ahhh...never mind ....ZZZZZZZZZ
Bob, UK



No one party reflects my views, they say anything to get elected and never do what they say when they do get elected.

S J Woolley, UK
I don't bother voting at all now as I truly feel that my one vote makes no difference whatsoever. No one party reflects my views, they say anything to get elected and never do what they say when they do get elected. All politicians are interested in is getting in power and staying in power, that's all. Democracies don't work, full stop.
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!
Dan Peters, UK



I can't be bothered to vote. The whole local election process is a sham.

Bill S, England
I can't be bothered to vote. The whole local election process is a sham. There is no such thing as democracy. Just look at my local council - Ipswich. Labour controlled, they get rid of councillors who disagree with official policy, the public can't get access to meetings where important decisions are taken, you can't get access to their finances (our council tax!) and there is corruption on a massive scale regarding closure of the airport. Democracy? Don't make me laugh.
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.
It is no surprise that this has resulted in voter apathy. There is no point trying to increase voter interest without increasing the power of the local authorities.
Gerry, UK



I always look forward to examining and considering the candidates in order to make an informed choice.

Guy Robinson, UK
I think that local elections are important and I always look forward to examining and considering the candidates in order to make an informed choice. However I know this is rare and people probably do feel disconnected as they know they could not stand themselves due to the commitments in terms of the time it would take if elected. As a result we almost have a disparate local political class that people feel remote from.
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.
I'd rather see competing private businesses take over the role currently fulfilled by local councils - then at least we'd have a choice of what to pay for.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK



There is a widespread pessimism about the capacities of mainstream politicians to make a positive difference to ordinary people.

Jonathan Davies, UK
I don't think that local politics matter very much. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, central government, despite rhetoric to the contrary, has gained more influence over local decisions than ever before. Local councillors have little say over local policy. Secondly, there is a crisis of legitimacy within mainstream politics. This applies nationally as well as locally.
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.
Simon, UK



Local elections only matter when things start to break down ... then look out.

Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
Some years ago I lived in Cowbridge, South Wales, drinking in a local pub with friends. Somebody introduced me to the local mayor ... I did not know what political party he represented, his name, his views or, quite frankly, anything whatsoever about him. I told him this but added that I would vote for him every time.
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.
Even more worrying, the rights we had to be given information relating to previous councils will not apply to the new structures - leaving them meeting in secret and not releasing information that we the public should have a right to know about. And this from a Government who claim to support Freedom of Information!
Martyn Williams, UK

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