Blog : Posts tagged with 'local government'

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More seriously…

In which there is some serious election stuff to talk about


Despite yesterday’s post, I do still indeed live in a safe Labour seat which is still a safe Labour seat. As predicted, shifting my vote in any direction would have made zero difference to the electoral outcome. And, as I implied yesterday, we live in a country where the majority of voters don’t seem to support the agenda of the largest party, partly because, I suspect, this election has been driven by negative pressure: people voting to try to stop Outcome A, rather than to cause Outcome B.

A couple of things have occurred to me, about the election result, over the past two days. Firstly, this parliament – however long it lasts – is going to be a very bad parliament for individuality of representation. In other words, MPs are going to get hardly any chance to vote conscientiously. They’re rarely going to get to express an opinion, and they’re never going to get a chance to represent their constituency over their party. Unless, of course, the government whips aren’t going to worry about losing votes, or the opposition whips aren’t going to worry about winning every vote they can, the whole of parliament is going to be reined in very tightly, and the whips will always expect party allegience to triumph over everything else.

Secondly, there’s lots in the news right now about polling station chaos, voters being turned away, ballot papers running out, and so on. And this can, really, only be down to one subject which has been avoided as an election issue: local government budgets. They are, in most parts of the country, pared down to their absolute minimums; and the constant shaving-off of any extraneous costs is inevitably going to hit elections. Councils, trying to save a little cash, will have cut down on polling staff; that inevitably limits the throughput of each polling station. They might have trimmed their ballot printing runs, figuring that 100% turnout is never going to happen. Unfortunately, the more slack you trim, the less space there is if you’re wrong, and we end up with a system which can’t cope with 4,000 more voters per constituency.* If we’d had the same turnout as 2001 or 2005, then maybe most seats would have coped; but that, to be honest, was never likely to happen. If council budgets keep getting frozen, the same problems are bound to happen next time too.

* The figure there comes from Sheffield Hallam, one of the constituencies that reported trouble, which reported a 5.8% turnout increase, up to 51,135 or just under 74%.

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The Politics Show

In which FP goes through a few voting-related topics


I’ve been quiet about politics here lately, save for that post about revolutions the other day. The more noise there is about politics in the press, the less I want to add to the “debate”. All I feel like doing is pointing out the endless opportunism and hypocrisy of all, and that’s so plain it doesn’t need to be said.

We did vote, though. However apathetic I might get about politics, I still keep an eye on the news and the policies; and voting’s important. To get back on to the French Revolution, it’s one of the rights that Robespierre fought for even as he was also fighting for the right of the government to purge anyone he considered to be in the government’s way. I know I keep harping on about the French Revolution, but it’s still rattling around in my head a lot and I’d like to get it out of the way to make room for normal things again. Getting back onto the topic: lots of people would say that the European Parliament isn’t important, that despite the laws that emanate from it, most of the work done there emerges from the back room of the Commission. To that I’d say: voting for part of a partly-democratic system is better than voting for none of it. Moreover, I have my own view of Britain, and how I’d like Britain represented in the wider world,* and the MEPs that represent us form an important part of that.

The city elections made the news, being the one yellow blob on the map surrounded by a sea of blue; but we didn’t get to vote in those. Due to the city electing by thirds, only two thirds of the city wards participate in each election. This year, we were one of the wards which took a holiday from electing.

I did hear, a few months back, of a campaign to end the “by thirds” system in Bristol and move to all-out elections. It seemed to be a Labour Party led campaign: at least, I first heard about it via a now-former Labour councillor, who had started a petition for it on the council website; and it emerged just after the council’s minority Labour administration had resigned. I could see partly why the Labour party might be attracted to the idea: although they only held about a quarter of the seats on the council, at the elections, over a third of the seats up for election were Labour seats. They lost heavily, as they were predicted to do, at a time when they were the party with the most to lose. What goes around comes around, though; at the next election, things will be a little more balanced, and Labour will only be holding about 20% of the seats up for election.**

I’m not convinced that there’s any need for all-at-once elections. It might make it hard for some parties, some of the time, to gain control of the council; but often those parties find themselves in the position they deserve. Moreover, it can be a good thing for it to take several elections for a party to gain control of the council, and the overall time taken is no longer. All-out elections would only make sense if proportional representation was brought in at the same time; and I can’t see the local Labour Party being in favour of that. Maybe they will be after the next council elections, though.

* not to mention the regions I have particular attachment to

** still a higher percentage than they now hold across the full council.

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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Voter Participation

In which there is still nobody worth voting for


About a year ago,* I wrote about local elections, and why I wasn’t going to bother voting. I didn’t think it was a particularly good post myself, but it was good enough for the Guardian to quote it, so more people probably read that post (or that part of that post) than anything else I’ve ever put on the site.

Well, this year, I’m going to vote anyway, even though I have no idea who the candidates are, or what they are standing for. In fact, I’m not really sure why at all, other than a vague feeling that, you know, really, I should make the most of my rights. As I said last year, though, we get the politicians we deserve. I might not have managed to set up the Symbolic Forest Party in the last twelve months, but I’m going to go out and vote for someone today, and then (if they get in) I’m going to see what they do. I’m going to keep an eye on them and see what good (or otherwise) my voting has actually done.

* in fact it was a year ago tomorrow – I used a bad Star Wars related pun in the post title

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Vote early, vote often … so long as it’s worthwhile

In which there’s nothing to vote for


As I said yesterday, I’ve been pondering the rather rubbish choice we have in the forthcoming local elections. Checking the candidate list in the local paper, I discovered that in our ward there is a grand total of two candidates for the available seat: one Labour and one Tory. Oh, what a choice I have.

At least, if I don’t vote, I don’t have to worry about letting in any of the Nasty Parties in this ward. The reason we only have a choice of two candidates is that we currently have a hung council governed by a Tory-Liberal coalition. To try to ensure at least some slice of the pie, the local Tories and Lib Dems have agreed that neither can beat Labour on their own.* They’ve also agreed not to compete against each other; each seat has a Labour candidate, and a Tory-Liberal Coalition candidate, although of course they’re careful not to say that out loud.

Now, I know that local politics is important, and should be all about local issues, nothing to do with national politics. The current Tory-Liberal council was elected on local issues – largely, the enormous deficit run up by the previous Labour administration. Nevertheless, on Friday morning, all of the party leaders will be trumpeting their results as being a vote of suppose for their national policies. I can’t bring myself to vote for a party that wants to bring in an expensive and repressive identity-tracking database; and neither can I bring myself to vote for a party run by Norman Lamont’s old sidekick. Right. That’s my vote out of the window, then.

People always complain about voter apathy, but I’m not being apathetic here. I’m making a deliberate choice to abstain, because my choices range from bad to worse. The problem is: I want the parties to realise that I’m not apathetic. So, the plan** is: write to the candidates and tell them why I’m not voting for them. Write to the local Lib Dem leadership and ask them if they really think that their effective merger with the Tories is really a good thing for local democracy. Write a sarcastic letter to Lib Dem head office applauding their “let’s not stand against the Tories” attitude, and asking if they plan to continue it at the next general election. Above all, make sure they all realise that just because I’m not voting, it doesn’t mean I don’t care, or that I’m not interested in local politics. Let’s see if I get any replies.

* The local council follows the standard county-wide voting pattern: red on the council estates and in the Victorian terraces; blue as soon as you get anywhere near fields or big gardens; odd patches of yellow in suburban villages.

** Assuming I am not too lazy

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Time for the political post again

In which we look at political motives


The new Tory leader has jumped right in to the job, and is trying to persuade Liberal Democrats to cross the floor and join his party. Presumably he thinks that the Tory party itself has no hope of attracting new blood – or that politics itself is always a zero-sum game – so is trying to mind-meld. Maybe it’s working. Although there’s sometimes national-level talk of Labour and the Lib Dems working on a similar wavelength, out in the country they are usually fighting like rabid wolves, and Lib Dem-Tory alliances are far more common. In fact, my own local council – the worst local council in the country – is one.

Not only does Cameron’s plan imply he’s given up on attracting new people into politics; but it also makes it look as if he’s already given up on winning the next election outright. His current “I’m more liberal than the Liberals” positioning is paving the way for a hung parliament in 2009 or 2010. In case that happens, he wants to be first in line in the Lib Dems’ doorway. He seems to be hoping that modern politics is all about words, not deeds.* If Cameron says: “I’m a liberal!” he hopes that the voters will all believe him, even though there is little evidence for it in his present and past policies.**

* to be fair, this is after all what governments have been getting away with for the past 25 years.

** to be fair, there’s little evidence of anything in any of the recent ones.

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Success

In which the local council gets a prominent score


Today’s big news: the Audit Commission has published the latest Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which sounds like a new teenage exam but is actually about local government. More specifically, how well each council is doing at standard local government stuff like mending potholes and emptying your bins.*

Now, many councils didn’t do very well in the CPA. However, I felt a perverse pride in the fact that only one council in the country scored a nice round zero. My local council. Hurrah! If we can’t be good at something, we may as well be famous for being spectacularly bad at it.

The council themselves, of course, are saying that things are actually a lot better now than when the Auditors were doing the actual research, which is a handy thing for them to say because it’s almost entirely unprovable. If there’s one thing not many politicians will say, it’s: “well, yes, now you mention it, we are a bit rubbish at everything.”

* I might be simplifying a little here.

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