Thursday, May 01, 2008

All politics is (not) local

Apart, perhaps, for the London Mayoral Election contest, most of the other 150+ council elections seem to be driven by the popularity of the national parties and their leaders than the desire for a assemblies or councils to be run by specific individuals or parties. The media are focusing on the 'kicking' Gordon Brown will receive with the Express reporting that "Labour insiders expect the party could lose more than 200 councillors in a punishing response from voters to Mr Brown’s blunder-hit first 10 months in his job". The Conservatives are also promoting the notion of sending Brown a message, in a campaigning email and video 'David Cameron' tells subscribers that "Every Conservative vote today will help send Gordon Brown a message".

It strikes me as a bit of a shame for the many Councillors and AMs who have done an excellent job but whose careers hang in the balance due to the performance of a party leader whom they have little influence over. But is it their fault, should the campaign be more intense and personalised, or is there nothing that can be done to ensure Council elections are about election a strong local team not sending messages to the top. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is the problem with representative democracy that we have so few ways to participate, or give voice to our feelings, outside of an election, that most people take the only chance they have to message the prime minister.

But it could also be due to the demise of ideology. As the parties increasingly bunch around the centre, offering almost identical solutions, the only differentiating factor is trust in the competence of that party to deliver. If there are no local personalities, with a recognised track record, or who promise something different, then many who wish to vote may only be able to judge the party as an entity and use the leader as a reference point to assess competence.

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