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Mick Temple’s Blog

WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU VOTE

19-04-2007

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst

Why aren’t local elections held every four years wonders Mick Temple. It would create a sense of occasion, and might wake the voters from their slumbers.

Two weeks to go before the local elections. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly sleep at night for the excitement.

Just like me, the whole country seems abuzz – old ladies in Cheltenham bus queues have come to blows on the relative merits of Clegg and Cameron, I spotted two hoodies in the Potteries Centre sporting I’m Backing Brown rosettes, and the battery in my door-bell needs replacing from all the canvassers soliciting my vote.

Back to reality. Very few people give a monkey’s about these elections – and as my facetious comments above indicate, where people do care it’s because of what the results will tell us about the standings of national party leaders.

It’s pointless councillors protesting that local elections should be decided on local issues – they very rarely are. The local election party political broadcasts of the three main parties have all concentrated on selling the national leader, and if I see any more footage of Gordon attempting to keep up his smile I can’t promise to keep my homicidal tendencies under control.

One of the few places where ‘election fever’ has even established a base-camp is London. There, the contest matters and the personalities involved – Johnson, Livingstone, Paddick - are known to everyone.

By contrast, few electors outside the Great Wen know who leads their local council and even fewer know who their councillor is. The exception tends to be where there is, like London and Stoke-on-Trent, a directly elected Mayor with considerable powers.

Also, with one or two exceptions such as the new authorities in Cheshire, only one-third of seats are up for grabs. With little prospect of real change, it is difficult for the electorate to get worked up about a slight change in the balance of power on a council. In both Cheltenham and Nuneaton & Bedworth, half the seats are being contested and it is no coincidence that the possibility of a change of leadership has boosted interest. The Tories must take overall control of both to claim progress.

I wish we could go back to the days when the whole council was elected every four years. We’d be spared this yearly electoral cycle in which all the parties appear to be able to claim some sort of success.

The Electoral Commission also supports this so that a ‘clear and consistent pattern’ can be established. I’d add that four year fixed elections for the national parliament should also be established – the local elections could come halfway through that cycle, guaranteeing their high profile.

What great nights there would be at Birmingham Council House and other centres around the country. Think what interest such elections would arouse, both for local issues and as barometers of public satisfaction with their government.

As it is, the nation outside London will slumber through an event that should be one of the most exciting on the political calendar.

Should we have local council elections every four years? And fixed term parliament? Leave a comment on the Message Board.

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