Wednesday, 14 July 2010


It takes a fair bit for me to scream at the television (yes really, I gather some people do it constantly), but I found myself yelling at Ed Miliband on Question Time the other week.

He was commenting on the coalition’s spending cuts, which is all fine and good – that’s his constitutional job, after all. But what got me yelling ‘That’s disgraceful!’ at the set was his comment ‘and the British people will show what they think of these cuts at next year’s council elections’.

If ever there was a case of bringing democracy into disrepute, this is it. The contempt he has for local government encapsulated in such a brief statement is breathtaking.

Next May’s local council elections have nothing, repeat nothing, to do with national politics. They are a vote on who runs your local council, in our case Wealden District Council. Is the council well run financially? Is it well run democratically? What is one party offering by way of a local programme for the next four years? How does that compare with what another party is offering? These are the questions that should take centre stage at council elections.

OK, a bit of realism here. I know there are a lot of people who vote in council elections on the basis of national politics. A lot of people don’t know who runs their local council, indeed many don’t know the name of their council – it’s easier just to blame everything on ‘the council’. Many even think the MP is the leader of the local council.

This situation isn’t helped by the demise of local media. Because of financial pressures, local newspapers are often run these days with one news reporter, who’s looking for the granny-rescued-by-the-fire-brigade story rather than scrutinising the local council. But that’s no excuse to encourage local elections to be run on national issues.

There are some brilliant councillors – of all parties – who put in four years of hard work, stand for re-election, and are then unceremoniously dumped because their party nationally isn’t flavour of the month. This is a tragedy for good local decision-making – a tragedy that’s being fed by Ed Miliband’s cavalier attitude, just because it suits his purpose to attack the coalition for doing the dirty work it has to do.

There could be a second ulterior motive to Miliband’s skulduggery. Next May’s council elections will probably feature another vote, the eagerly awaited referendum on changing our voting system.

Could it be that Miliband the Younger is trying to get people to protest about the coalition through voting against the move to a fairer voting system? After all, the chances of his party getting an overall majority would be somewhat reduced under the Alternative Vote system, but deep down he – like every other Labour and Tory politician – knows there is no moral defence of the current first-past-the-post method.

Any government formed after the 6 May election would have had to take the harsh decisions the coalition is taking. And yes, it will be unpopular for a time. But if anyone uses that as an excuse to sacrifice hard-working local councillors working on local issues, and a long overdue tentative first step at reforming the voting system, they will be guilty of the most disgraceful opportunism.

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