County Council Elections 2009: Let’s stop this electoral manipulation now!

I like to think I’m a patient man. When you’ve been a Liberal / Liberal Democrat for 35 years you have to be.

But if there is one thing that makes my blood boil, it’s the constant interference of this Government with the electoral process. After 11 years of Labour interference in our democratic fabric, we have a plethora of postal vote scandals and overlapping legislation which manifestly fails to prevent a pattern of defamatory statements and nasty, negative campaigning. Yes, and different voting systems across the country.

Now, the powers that be, in this case the Department for Communities and Local Government, are putting out a consultation paper entitled ‘Moving the date of English Local Government elections to the date of the European Parliament elections in 2009’. This paper is launching a consultation (Labourspeak for: we’ve already decided, but let’s go through the motions…) and says:

This consultation seeks, in particular, views of councils and other stakeholders on where the balance of advantage lies – holding the local and European elections on the same day or on different days four weeks apart. The results of this consultation will help us reach a decision as to whether or not the 2009 local elections should be moved.”

Some people might think this is logical enough. After all, the elections are only four weeks apart, and some civil servant with a preference for neatness has decided that these two could easily grouped together, especially now there is little risk of Gordon calling an election before 2010.

But I think this should be opposed, root and branch.

The local elections which risk being delayed in 2009 are mostly the County Council elections. The County Council elections for 2005 were held on the same day as the General Election. As they were in 2001 and in 1997. This means that electors in these areas have not had an election to these important local authorities where the issues could be discussed, unclouded by other elections, since 1993!

And now the Government wants to merge the 2009 elections with those to the European Parliament, so instead of debating issues like Education, Social Services, Regional Planning, Local Transport and the Environment we will be swallowed up by the endless inane debate between the Euro-idiots on one side and the Euro-fanatics on the other.

There are also brand new unitaries whose first election risks being about straighter bananas rather than the issues facing their communities for the following four years.

So, if you live in any of these areas, protest now. Make sure your local party, Lib Dem, Labour or Conservative is campaigning against this, Make sure your councillors on these authorities are demanding a real, fair say for residents. Write to your local papers. Anything. But let’s not accept another Government manipulation of local democracy.

Let’s be allowed to campaign, discuss and have our say about the important issues covered by these important authorities – for the first time since 1993. Or are we going to have to wait until 2013, twenty years, before we can have a real debate? A real election?

These are the authorities affected:
Bedford Borough Council (new unitary authority)
Bristol City Council
Buckinghamshire County Council
Cambridgeshire County Council
Central Bedfordshire Council (new unitary authority)
Cornwall Council (new unitary authority)
Cumbria County Council
Derbyshire County Council
Devon County Council
Dorset County Council
East Sussex County Council
Essex County Council
Gloucestershire County Council
Hampshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council
Isle of Wight Council
Kent County Council
Lancashire County Council
Leicestershire County Council
Lincolnshire County Council
Norfolk County Council
North Yorkshire County Council
Northamptonshire County Council
Nottinghamshire County Council
Oxfordshire County Council
Shropshire Council (new unitary authority)
Somerset County Council
Staffordshire County Council
Suffolk County Council
Surrey County Council
Warwickshire County Council
West Sussex County Council
Wiltshire Council (new unitary authority)
Worcestershire County Council

* Martin Land is a Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrat activist.

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This entry was posted in Local government and Op-eds.


  • I think LD’s care a lot about the EU.

    But we also have to keep things in their correct proportions. Average expenditure per inhabitant by the EU is £245 per person – and not much of that is spent in my county! The budget controlled by our county council is equivalent to £1350 per person.

  • I think you’re missing the elephant in the room. By merging these election dates, it allows Gordon Brown also to hold a snap General Election on the same day.

    His calculation will be that they will get slaughtered in the counties, so can’t launch a general election campign on the back of it, but he thinks (wrongly in my view) that UKIP will be able to beat up the Tories about Europe in a general election held on the same day.

    So while I agree with everything you say about the problems of holding different elections on the same day – this is actually about giving wiggle room to the dear leader about the date of the next general election.

  • Dan, County Council elections are ‘principal’ elections; you cannot hold more than two on the same day.

  • Thanks Martin – I didn’t know that. But I can’t imagine it’s much of an obstacle for a determined government with an overall majority.

  • Martin Land 28th May '08 - 1:18pm

    It’s always been my understanding that you cannot hold more than two principle elections on the same day. In other words you can have any two, but not three.

    However, council by elections are exempt as are Town / Parish elections.

    Having said that, Dan, I wouldn’t put it past the government to change that too.

  • I was with you until your 8th paragraph which I found unnecessarily offensive. Now I don’t give a toss frankly.

  • Andrew Duffield 28th May '08 - 1:30pm

    If this allows the UK to move to holding elections on a Sunday like the rest of Europe, and prevents shutting schools down for the day, then I’m all in favour.

  • Hywel Morgan 28th May '08 - 2:46pm

    “I was under the impression that it was normal to merge UK elections with EU elections”

    2004 is the only time this has happened.

    “Besides, elections are not fixed in this country.”

    Elections for everything other than Westminster take place on a fixed date.

  • I’m a bit disappointed and depressed that governance issues are being consistently merged with and subordinated to economic issues.

    Elections should be a public holiday, and I’m sure that many members of the overworked public would be more than thankful to get a day off to enable us to demonstrate our willingness to responibly undertake our civic duties.

  • Martin Land 28th May '08 - 9:37pm

    A Councillor emailed me with the following tonight.

    “It may be worth noting that yet again the government is paying not a blind bit of notice to reports it commissions (like the Lyons Report). This time it’s the Councillors Commission which reported to DCLoG last December. Recommendation 18 states clearly, inter alia, “Local elections should not take place on the same day as national or European elections.””

  • David Morton 29th May '08 - 12:43am

    The Philadelphia lawyer in me has considerable sympathy with martins article. However we all know the party will be as bad as anyone else at fighting the Euro’s on anything but Europe. My slightly selfish reason for wanting to seperate them would be to allow experimentation on new list PR camapigning techniques and devoting resources to dead areas (see on of lynne featherstones suggestions on a previous thread)

    I’d be interesting to take every mosiac catergory as a differnet constituiency and see if we could build a brand/narrative with key non geographical groups rather than the usual Post Offices/Dog poo etc.

  • passing tory 29th May '08 - 3:53am

    I take Martin’s point, although at the same time if I was an average punter (as opposed to a political nerd for whom there could never be too many elections …) then I might be somewhat concerned at the prospect of two big elections just a month or so apart. Would my recycling bin be big enough to chuck all the literature spewing through my letterbox??

  • Roger P Allen 4th Aug '08 - 2:22pm

    Wouldn’t it be nice just for once if elections were fought on the issues. I am sick to death of the lies and misinformation that spew forth at election time particularly here in my home town of Gosport and guess what, It’s the Lib Dems that are the main offenders.

  • Whatever day the elections are held there won’t be much of a debate about the issues.

    I fear that the combined election days are the least of local governments problems – if they were more relevant, then the day of the poll wouldn’t matter.

  • stuart gregory 28th Sep '08 - 7:45pm

    im not lib dem but i think this idea is stupid and is trying to save the labour party from two big kicks in their privot areas, in doing so they hope taking a double kicking will limet the damage but as we all know both the lib dem and the cons are making gains every where and the labour party has know where to hide from a luming exit from govenment in a few years time.

  • Thomas Hemsley 28th Sep '08 - 8:13pm

    I am particularly worried by the possible merger of the election dates. It could lead to, for example, Cornwall having UKIP councillors which just wouldn’t be on.

  • Hywel Morgan 28th Sep '08 - 9:55pm

    “I am particularly worried by the possible merger of the election dates. It could lead to, for example, Cornwall having UKIP councillors which just wouldn’t be on.”

    At the joint election in 2004 UKIP – at the height of their success – only won 3 seats so I’m not sure how big a factor that would be.

  • Liam Pennington 29th Sep '08 - 8:00am

    It is terribly short-sighted of you to ask that County Elections are somehow “ring fenced” from any other vote. The facts are quite clear; turnout is falling. Anything which can be done to help increase turnout should be encouraged. Having more than one election on the same day helps. Asking voters to turn out twice in, say, 5 weeks does not.

    I can think of no opposition here in Preston. It makes the whole thing far easier for us to campaign. We’ve had County elections in Lancashire ”piggy-backed” for the past two times, doing it again in 2009 is not an issue.

  • Hywel Morgan 29th Sep '08 - 11:26am

    “Surely we should consider switching all local government elections to June,”

    Not the worst idea. Warmer and lighter evenings.

    If you combine the Euros with the counties the dominant discussion will (based on 04) be about the local elections.

  • Cheltenham Robin 29th Sep '08 - 12:09pm

    Having these 2 elections on the same day makes perfect sense to me. I can’t be bothered with 2 different elections in the space of a month and quite frankly neither will the electorate.

    Having the Euro elections on the same day as the County elections will up the turnout for the Euros.

    Otherwise the only people who will bother to vote in June will be UKIP and Tories (who have a higher PTV)

    Upping the turnout for the Euro elections may mean we will be able to get a 2nd seat in some areas

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