With all the media coverage about the European Elections at the end of May, it might well have escaped your notice that there will be local council elections across England next Thursday (2 May).
Persuading the electorate to put aside their apathy and vote in local elections has always been a difficult task, with turnout rarely rising much above 35 per cent. That task is likely to be even more of an uphill struggle this year with the media and the political parties opting to focus instead on the European Elections that are (somewhat unexpectedly) taking place three weeks later. The two new political parties, The Brexit Party and Change UK aren’t even fielding candidates in the local elections.
Having worked in local government PR on and off for more than three decades now, I can well understand the electorate’s apathy. The standard of candidate at these elections is rarely inspiring.
A generation or two ago being a local councillor was something which the great and good of the community did out of a sense of civic duty. The job was unpaid and only took up a few hours a week of their time. That situation has changed over the years with many councillors now relying on their council allowances (often the equivalent of a decent full time salary) as their only source of income.
In my experience Councillors now fall generally into one of three categories. Firstly you have the ambitious ones, mainly bright young boys and girls with a social sciences degree, who see being a councillor as a stepping stone on the road to Westminster. Then you have the ones who have used their family or social connections to get themselves a safe seat because they find it difficult to hold down a job in the outside world. Finally, you have the old school types, often retired professionals and trade union officials who want to keep active in their autumn years.
If the political parties want the electorate to vote in council elections then they need to give them a reason to do so. For starters they really ought to be seeking out a much more diverse range of candidates and stop simply choosing the friends and relatives of existing councillors. The electorate are bored with seeing the same names on the ballot paper at every election.