Thursday 5 May 2022

Aiming for the Moon. And missing.

There is a certain inevitability about the way that local elections are reported on, and interpreted, through the prism of ‘national’ politics. It’s not a particularly new phenomenon, although the extent to which it happens seems to have increased in recent years. It stems, ultimately, from the belief that ‘national’ (i.e. Westminster) elections are the only important ones and that everything else is a side-show, a mere indicator as to how opinion might be moving ahead of the next ‘national’ election. It's a pity in many ways; from experience, I’m well aware of many dedicated councillors (from all parties) who end up losing their seats because of the overall state of their party despite their record on behalf of their communities; and conversely, I’m aware of plenty of lazy and incompetent councillors who are only there because they’ve been dragged in on the coat tails of ‘national’ swings. It’s a pity in another way, as well: for those of us who believe that decision-making could and should be more local, and that there’s nothing wrong with two neighbouring councils following radically different policies if that’s what the citizens vote for, it leads to increasing expectations that parties will propose common platforms across the whole country, rather than having more freedom to propose county-wide manifestoes under the broad principles which their parties support.

It also leads to that truly horrible idea that electors should use local elections to ‘send a message’ to national politicians rather than to think about what they want for their own communities within the limited powers which local councils possess. Given the extent to which overall local policy can only be implemented within the financial straitjacket set ‘nationally’, there’s an inevitability about that as well; but it means a stifling of debate about whether local councils should have more power and more financial autonomy. Long gone, it seems to me, are the days when Plaid, for instance, used to argue for the ultra vires law to be replace by an intra vires law – basically meaning that councils would be able to do anything not expressly forbidden rather than only those things expressly allowed by central legislation. These days, parties seem to be more interested in giving more direction to local authorities than more discretion.

It also produces some outlandish claims about what a vote for a particular party might mean. My own favourite from this round of council elections is the Tories’ claim that “Only by voting Welsh Conservative can you stop Labour’s plan for more politicians in Cardiff Bay”. The precise mechanism by which electing Conservative councillors would change the plans for expanding the Senedd is – probably wisely – left unexplained. In truth, even if the Tories won every seat on every council in Wales – an outcome which some might think impossible given that they’re not contesting every seat (although for a party prepared to disenfranchise supporters of other parties and take direct political control of the Electoral Commission, not contesting seats doesn’t necessarily look like an insurmountable obstacle to winning them) – they would still have zero impact on this issue. It looks more like an attempt to scoop up the residual anti-Senedd vote than a serious policy proposal. They might just as well promise to mine the moon’s cheese reserves. At least that might show some innovation and initiative.


dafis said...

The blame for dragging local elections into the "national mess" and often skipping matters of genuine local concern must lie with the parties themselves especially the big Unionists and our Plaid who are quite fond of these antics. MSM then feed on this nonsense as they thrive on confrontation and point scoring.

Plaid got into an arrangement with Welsh Labour that was far too cosy for my liking but the slagging of each other that has gone on over recent days and weeks is even more distasteful. In some cases it has made it easier for Tories to get off the hook and made Lib Dems seem half decent, as it's easy to point to the squabbling between Plaid and Labour as evidence of their insincerity. Not that honesty is all that plentiful anywhere right in the political arena right now.

Jonathan said...

Local does matter. The more local the better. Thanks Borthlas, for all you did when on Dinas Powys Community Council, and for showing the rest of us the way. I thought then and am more convinced now that what Americans call 'Town Hall' meetings are at the core of politics. No wonder other politicians downgrade them. Stick at it!