Local elections and the “Festival of Local Democracy”

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Well…I might be a bit weird, however I am really excited about tomorrow! Why? It is an election day, which gives us ALL another wonderful opportunity to shape our local communities by electing District and County Councillors. There are also significant elections in Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament and in Wales, to the Welsh Assembly. Tomorrow will be a busy day for voters and quite a nerve-wracking day for all the candidates!

We often don’t realise but it is very true that even the smallest elections to the parish council affect the way we live our lives.

I often wonder what makes us vote, particularly in the local elections? is it because we want to see a real change in our neighbourhoods? Is it because we want to positively influence the so called “status quo”? Or is it simply because we simply like a particular candidate?

Is our voting based on our political alliances? Would we vote for any candidates of the main political parties in the local elections only because we support their national policies?

Do we vote tactically?

Or do we vote because we passionately believe in democracy and we want to be part of the civic process?

Equally, what are the reasons for not voting? Overall apathy or maybe tiredness of “negative campaigning”? How often have we seen a leaflet, which instead of setting an agenda for each party or candidate, focuses unnecessarily on “blackmailing” political opponents? Are we fed up with today’s politics, which doesn’t offer opportunities to build political dialogue but instead, re-emphasise division and greater polarization?

As a European national living in the UK for the last 16 years and in spite of these challenges, I hugely look forward to the election day. I am planning to visit the polling station with my family. Any elections, local or national, should be a moment, which unites us all in recognizing the importance of choosing our next political leaders. We become leaders and “game changes” by casting our vote.

Let’s all be part of the “Festival of Local Democracy”. Let’s use this wonderful civic tool to empower others and stay connected with issues, which are important and close to our hearts. Our voice matters!

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • John Marriott 5th May '21 - 8:24pm

    Yes, I know that people died to uphold democracy. Yes, I know that in the first universal elections in post Apartheid South Africa people walked many miles and queued many hours to cast their first vote. Yes, I get all that. However, where I live only one party will triumph in the County Council elections and, as for the PCC elections, I would beca hypocrite if I voted for a system I abhor. I certainly would NOT vote just for the candidate of the party of which I was a member since its foundation until a couple of years ago, especially as he, like his County Council candidate colleague hasn’t seen fit to deliver me at least one leaflet. Mind you, neither has any other party except, of course, the Tories.

    Had I been living in a more Lib Dem friendly area, I might feel differently. However, outside Gainsborough, there aren’t many of those around here. I write as someone, who gave many years’ service to the Lib Dems and devised a way of actually winning on a regular basis. For whatever reason, the local party though that it knew better. So, as I also want to see the abolition of both County and District Councils here and, as I am past the age, where I am prepared to travel miles to support candidates I do not know, I shall be taking a rain check tomorrow.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th May '21 - 8:25pm

    ‘Or do we vote because we passionately believe in democracy and we want to be part of the civic process?’

    I did. I expect I’ve cast my last vote. Civics has gone in any meaningful sense. What’s left is politics conditioned by narcissism and crass identitarianism, conducted by a public that has come to see politics (as perhaps distinct from government) as an exercise in the legislation of whims and the indulgence of prejudices. The internet has been a catastrophe and social media in particular has made our politics, and indeed us, as rancid as the untouchable social media barons. We now have a number of politicians who seem to think the job description is to be a social media celeb and just rile people. Performing seals basically, just without the cute.

    Government of course shoulders blame. We were dumb enough to hollow out our state and, for good or for bad, outsource vast parts of our politics and agency to supranationals who really couldn’t care a jot for civics or troublesome little things like static voters. What the referendum just showed was how glaring was the representation gap. Politics no longer is the allocation of power, rather just a ghastly strategy session with people in the way. Thirty years ago we’d have cared about the social, political, economic and cultural dislocations that have scarred us. Now we grind personal axes as a substitute for actually conducting worthwhile politics.

    And just for good measure we’ve all turned to authoritarianism, a kick to the crotch with a blue NHS logo on the boot’s toe cap.

    When I did my two politics degrees I was a true believer in politics as an inherently good thing. Looking back on good old days that never were? Perhaps. But what I want is politics and, vicariously, government out of my face, less gaudy and at least more pleasant than the cat-vomit-down-the-radiator mess we have now.

    It should never have got to this. I mean, ‘We become leaders and “game changes” by casting our vote.’ Seriously? Go on everyone, flog your hobby horses, order me around and smash my kid’s life – I for one don’t have the energy to care any longer.

    I do feel better for getting that off my chest.

  • @John Marriott

    “where I am prepared to travel miles to support candidates I do not know, I shall be taking a rain check tomorrow.”

    Stop Press:…. News just in… Someone has just invented this thing called a telephone…!!!! Mind you I am not sure about it myself….


    (OK – I do appreciate that you have been there, done your bit and got the t-shirt!)

  • John Marriott 5th May '21 - 9:12pm

    @Michael 1
    You can be sarcastic if you want. I don’t do cold calling. In fact, we used to be advised that it could be a can of worms. As you can probably guess, I am pretty disillusioned with the whole political scene. I spent most of my nearly forty years of political activity trying to get things done. If I couldn’t I at least gave it a damn good try. People do appreciate that. I could write much more; but people are probably fed up with my bellyaching. Yes, if it makes you feel good, go out and vote. My feeling is that many people, like me, will not be joining you.

  • “Yes, if it makes you feel good, go out and vote…”

    No I’ve given up – the Government always gets in!

    As I say I appreciate that you have done your bit – but I am not sure the old cynic role you play here is really quite you…

    But I hope it doesn’t squeeze the enthusiasm out of others – the best thing one can do is try in this very, very short life we have is to try and do something that makes this a better place each day of our lives – Did Captain Sir Tom Moore say I am 99 – and I could only raise a few pounds – no he did something with only very modest ambitions and look how it snowballed… – and if the Liberals of the 50s and 60s hadn’t been unreasonably optimistic against all the evidence – you wouldn’t have won as a councillor in the ’80s (or whenever) or me in the 2000s – always remember that. And that did mean going out and getting votes in very, very, very unpromising circumstances – may be just one or two – but one or two turned into three or four…. they didn’t harrumph in front of their keyboards (OK – keyboards didn’t exist then but you take my point) but went out…. But hey… I guess being a grumpy old man is your right…. !

  • Being realistic and checking probable performance against 2016/17 I expect overall losses, but live in hope. Will run round my kitchen naked if I am wrong.

  • @theakes. Stephen Tall, former editor of LDV, once famously made a similar promise/threat and then found himself running down Whitehall virtually naked on national TV. We will hold you to it …

  • Like John Marriott I live in a ‘one-party’ area…However, unlike John, I will be voting; not because my vote will elect the candidate I support but to cancel out the vote of people like the man interviewed yesterday who thought “Boris is a bit of a character!”..
    Yes, I know these are local electioins, but most of those I talk to don’t even know the name of the Tory candidate they’ll support…Blue = Tory = Johnson…

    BTW..I live near a fishing community and drink in a pub frequented by fishermen…Prior to Brexit I was the ‘lone remainer’ and non UKip/Tory voter..
    Despite how Brexit failed their industry, and with the Norway grounds closed to UK boats, I’m still the only non Brexit supporter and non Tory voter.

    I realy think that, as a country, we’re ‘Through the looking glass’

  • John Marriott 6th May '21 - 8:10am

    Of course you can vote if you want and good luck to you and tge candidate you support. But why be party to this charade? Only when we have a fairer voting system, where parties at least have the willingness actually to campaign for votes, and local councils have real power to change things locally for the better will voting in areas like mine be worthwhile.

  • I would expect nothing less, not much room in the kitchen though, not to be attempted when the oven is on!!!!!

  • John Marriott 6th May ’21 – 8:10am…………..John, I’ll vote because, albeit sadly, it’s the ‘only game in town’…
    Like in my local, I’m not going to sit passively by and let events go unchallenged..

    BTW.. In view of the UK sending gunboats to Jersey. to escallate a fishing dispute that will eventually (hopefully) be settled without bloodshed, today’s lunchtime beer should be interesting….

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th May '21 - 9:03am

    John Marriott.

    Proportional Represenation is a necessary condition to turn things round. It is however far from being the silver bullet many in the LDP think it is.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th May '21 - 9:31am

    @John Marriott
    “Only when we have a fairer voting system, where parties at least have the willingness actually to campaign for votes, and local councils have real power to change things locally for the better will voting in areas like mine be worthwhile.”
    How will you achieve a fairer voting system? Doesn’t failure to vote reinforce the problem? Why not go out and vote anyway – for candidate(s) from a party which supports a fairer voting system?

    Doesn’t failure to vote simply enhance the stranglehold the tory and labour parties have in those areas where their support is concentrated?

  • Nonconformistradical 6th May '21 - 9:36am

    “Proportional Representation is a necessary condition to turn things round. It is however far from being the silver bullet many in the LDP think it is.”
    Is anyone suggesting it is a silver bullet? Isn’t the main benefit of PR in forcing parties having entrenched support in particular areas to pay attention to the views and needs of those who don’t support their vested interests?

    If you agree that PR (whatever form) is necessary how would you go about achieving it?

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th May '21 - 9:56am

    ‘Isn’t the main benefit of PR in forcing parties having entrenched support in particular areas to pay attention to the views and needs of those who don’t support their vested interests?’

    No it isn’t.

    FPTP has often-overlooked strengths, however the basic problem with it is that it doesn’t give second prizes. What PR does is allow for a more meaningful vote to be cast. If the upshot of it all is a CON-UKIP-DUP coalition then so be it. This is not about vested interests, rather it is about meaningful votes. At the moment too many people have nothing put a protest pot-shot. This is not an exercise in over-representing those with minimal support, rather it is about giving second prizes where appropriate. Indeed I would favour a threshold under which parties would not be represented, as in Germany.

    The purpose of an electoral system is to convert votes cast into seats. It is not there to manipulate the outcome. PR (in most forms) does more meaningfully convert votes to seats than does FPTP. That is how you sell it to the public.

  • John Marriott 6th May '21 - 10:39am

    When I was a County Councillor (2001-2017) I not only made sure that every household got at least one election address, sometimes two, as well as at least three FOCUS leaflets per year. Of course, we canvassed when time and manpower allowed. I had been doing that since I was first elected to our local Town and District Councils in 1987. I did this with a team of dedicated deliverers, some fellow Lib Dem councillors and members, some just friends, who would never have considered joining a political party and whose support I did not wish to lose by trying to recruit them, which was, with hindsight, one of the areas where I got it wrong.

    I could clearly not have done this alone, especially had it not been for the patience of my wife, herself a Town Councillor for a number of years, who held the fort at home, especially when our two sons were small. It goes without saying that I also did my bit for other candidates in other elections and managed also to do my job as Head of Languages in a large 11-18 comprehensive.

    That I never lost an election, except in 1997, when I stood for the only time as a Parliamentary candidate in my local Constituency, would lead me to believe that, even in ‘true blue’ Lincolnshire, I was doing something right. However, it was clear in the latter years that my local party did not share my modus operandi.

    So, since I ‘retired’ from active politics in 2017, no FOCUS leaflets have landed on my doorstep, nor has any canvasser knocked on my door. This year, I haven’t even received a leaflet, although I know that all the major parties, in which I include the Lib Dems, are fielding a candidate. Although I did not renew my party membership a couple of years (I much prefer that phrase as, despite everything, I have not left the party – rather the party, at least around here, has left me) I still believe in PR, devolved Regional and Local Government and a Federal U.K., which is mainly why I joined the old Liberal Party back in 1979. I also believed in less grandiose schemes such as community politics – getting things done locally – I can point to several projects in my local area that almost certainly would never have happened without Lib Dems leading the way.

  • Peter Martin 6th May '21 - 10:45am

    “Proportional Represenation is a necessary condition to turn things round. It is however far from being the silver bullet many in the LDP think it is.”

    No it isn’t. The EU elections were held under PR and not many Lib Dems should have been too happy about that. Many were, because they did better that the Tories and Labour Party. But there is more to politics than just aiming to come second to the ultra right.

  • Peter Martin 6th May '21 - 11:01am

    Some may be amused to know that I ended up voting Green in the local elections. I haven’t switched my voting allegiance. The Greens are a bunch of neo-libs on bikes IMO!

    However, my wife used my postal voting paper by mistake. So the Green vote was actually hers but technically mine. To compensate her voting paper shows a Labour vote!

    Needless to say we are on opposite sides on the Brexit debate! Somehow this is my failing even though I haven’t changed my opinion since the early 70s.On the other hand, she has. These mixed marriages never work!

  • However inadvertently, you managed to vote for a more radical party than usual, Peter ?

  • Peter Martin 6th May '21 - 2:20pm

    @ David Raw,

    I don’t have a problem with environmental radicalism but I do trying to understand why anyone on the left thinks it’s radical to support a euro-Tory run neoliberal organisation like the EU. It’s a great pity that the Euroscepticism of the Labour Party largely passed away with Tony Benn.

    However, the Greens are a bigger threat to you than I’ve seen acknowledged on LDV. You get maybe 14% of the vote between you but that’s only 7% each if you run separate candidates and the vote splits evenly.

    Liberal Democrats and Green voters will be from similar socio-demographic profiles. ie University educated and to work in professional jobs. The Lib Dems were the protest vote of many on the left. Thanks to getting into bed with the Tories that is no longer the case. The Greens have also picked up such policies on ending university tuition fees. They’ve taken over your former pitch!

  • @ Peter Martin The Greens are no threat to me, Peter. You assume too much. I appreciate their contribution at Holyrood which is not insignificant.

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th May '21 - 6:55pm

    Peter Martin – ‘It’s a great pity that the Euroscepticism of the Labour Party largely passed away with Tony Benn.’

    Well…it’s not been remarked on much but Labour is now as divided on Europe as the Conservatives were in the 1990s. It’s not Starmer’s fault but it is his problem.

    Labour is going to have to choose whether it wants to rejoin or work with the current arrangements. It’s not totally beyond the bounds of possibilities that some form of Labour eurosceptic thinking will come to the fore.

    Certainly I see no one in Labour (or any other party for that matter) making the case for the single currency.

  • Peter Martin 6th May '21 - 10:55pm

    @ David Raw,

    On a point of information: The word “you” in the English language isn’t necessarily singular. It can be plural.

    It would possibly be better, and would remove any ambiguity, if the old singular for the second person hadn’t fallen into disuse. ie Thou, thee, thine thy etc. Most languages have continued with the distinction so it is curious that English has abandoned it.

  • John Marriott 7th May '21 - 9:24am

    @Peter Martin
    But not if you’re a Yorkshireman, as David Raw will probably tell you. As the late great Fred Trueman used to end his broadcasts back in the 1970s when he hosted that pub games show, whose name escapes me; “I’ll se the!”

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