Are you local?

If the local elections were summed up in footballing cliches, you could say Labour defended manfully for the first 45 before becoming overran by the Conservatives in the second half, while the Lib Dems showed flashes of what they could be capable of, but lacked bite in midfield and somebody in the final third who could really pull the trigger.

I’d absolutely love John Motson and Alan Hansen to front the next election coverage. And transfer Peter Snow to the European Championships while you’re at it.  Both would be equally entertaining.

But I’d question a couple of points raised. Firstly by the Adam Smith Institute Blog, who take issue with the BBC’s coverage. Sole commentator Josh is probably about right in some of what he says – getting a full picture isn’t always easy and it wasn’t until about half three that I’d say I had any idea what the full picture was. Actually, I’d have probably gone with the ‘Labour losses not as bad’ line until about 4am ish.

Anyway, DK also doesn’t think Labour were handed a kicking either. I’d guess everybody was expecting them to get completely annihilated left, right and centre that anything less didn’t look as bad. Pessimists not being disappointed and all that.

But then, I’d also disagree with DK’s assertion this was completely about party politics.

That might seen a bit daft at first, given that most councillors are standing under some form of party banner. But Chris Dillow puts forward the suggestion that politics may be a minority interest due to the low turnout. Pseudoymous goes further in the comments:

What difference does it make who you vote for in a council election?

Probably hardly any of the people who did vote know who their councilor is or whether they are doing a good job.

You’re always going to get the party loyalists turn out, and that’ll account for a significant proportion of the vote and, given Chris’ figures, seems to fit about right with the turnout.

But, especially in the more rural wards, people know people. Well, duh, I hear you say. But in small villages and towns there, chances are you’ll know somebody who knows somebody who’s running for elections, and will probably vote accordingly. The end result is much like student union elections, only on a larger scale. Whoever’s got the most friends, or is involved in the most activities stands a better chance of getting elected.

Same in rural areas. If you’re active in your community, you’re more likely to be the kind of person who’ll stand for elections and because you’re a regular volunteer at jumble sales, the bowling club and are on the local carnival committee, say, then people will know your name, and names count for a lot.

That’s obviously going to be less of an issue in more urban areas where chances are you’ll only know somebody who lives two doors down from you if Royal Mail continue to insist on posting your post through their letterbox.

But there are still people who go to their local councillor if they need help or advice, or have a complaint of any nature. And if that councillor is sympathetic or helps get something done, regardless of party political persuasion you’ll vote for them.

My ward didn’t have any elections, but I often come into contact with city councillors on a regular basis. Given that I’ve no party affiliation, and more often than not don’t decide who to vote for until I get my ballot slip, I’ll tend to pay a lot more attention to the person, as that usually counts more on a local level.

At the moment, party-wise, I’m unlikely to vote for Labour. But there’s at least one Labour councillor in my city, who got re-elected, and rightly so. The times I’ve talked to her, she comes across as genuine, committed and talks about the local issues rather than the party. If I lived her her ward, she’d get my vote purely for what she did at a local level, rather than party politics.

Similarly, there are a few people I’ve met from all parties that, while I’ve voted for their party in the past [1], I come away from meeting the individual with an absolute conviction that short of turning into a combination of celebrities and politicians I admire, and achieving world peace, hell would have to freeze over before I voted for them. And even then, that wouldn’t be a guarantee of my vote.

If you’re a quiet, effective councillor who earns the respect of those you help and don’t come across badly in the media, then you’ll probably stand a good chance of retaining your seat no matter what party. It’s noticeable, certainly in my city, the two councillors to lose their seats were two of the highest profile ones [2], and that seemed to be a running theme across the country.

And ultimately, if the council has done noticeably badly or gone out of its way to arouse the ire of residents, then they’ll probably be at risk. As The Guardian points out, Lib Dems in Torbay gave themselves a 60% rise in expenses, which isn’t likely to go down well no matter what party you’re from.

So, in conclusion: who knows why, and who cares, wins. Sometimes. Not always.

[1] Not that my vote is particularly consistent. I think I’ve only ever voted for the same party twice in two consecutive elections. 

[2] And even then it’s debatable if they lost their seats because they were simply a name or if there was genuine dissatisfaction with the job they did. I’d incline towards the former. 

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