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The slow death of local democracy

The slow death of local democracy seemed to accelerate on May 5th. People received nothing through their letterbox from the council to explain the new ward boundaries and why they would have 3 council votes instead of the usual 1. Local election media coverage was almost non existent as the European referendum dominated. Hustings events were down to a handful across the city.

After the change to individual registration, 1 in 3 of a reduced size electorate actually voted. Few students were registered to vote at their current address. Many people arrived at polling stations unaware they would have 4 or 5 votes and it showed in some strange voting patterns witnessed at the counts. Candidates appearing at the end of long alphabetical ballot papers were even more disadvantaged than usual.

It would be wrong to suggest that voters gave a thumbs up to Labour on street trees, bus service changes, schools consultation and the devolution deal. These issues were not front and centre in the Labour campaign. On the doorstep Labour asked people to support a Jeremy Corbyn led opposition and send a message to David Cameron. Labour have 57 of 84 seats and they will continue to run the council with a big majority. In May 2017 we will elect a Sheffield City Region mayor – despite 65% voting against an elected mayor for Sheffield in 2012.

Massive cuts to community support organisations have placed more responsibility on ward councillors. They can offer practical help to vulnerable people struggling to survive in food bank Britain. Councillors have an important role in local communities but increasingly they win or lose their seats in elections that are “state of the nation” opinion polls. The many dedicated and effective ward councillors deserve better.

Even though some voters may have had national factors in mind when they voted, many local issues won’t be addressed at Westminster. We need a good city council, coupled with active individuals and community groups to influence and challenge that council. I hope people will work together to make sure that the Council serves us all well in the future.

Eamonn Ward,
Sheffield Green Party

Topics: City Wide, Council, Eamonn Ward, Elections, Featured

There are 3 Responses to The slow death of local democracy

23rd May 2016

Your letter raises several interesting points. Concerning voting patterns I and many other people consciously chose to split their vote between parties. Police Commissioner -1st choice Labour because I respect Alan Billings, 2nd choice Libdems. Brightside and Hillsborough By-Election-Liberal Democrats- I’m not a Jeremy Corbyn fan, Lib Dems making some sense nationally and their local candidate Shaffaq Mohammed seemed decent. Greens were a possibility for me but as you didn’t deliver a leaflet-and as an ex SDP member I appreciate the constraints of people and money mean you have to target your efforts. Council elections in Hillsborough -2 for Labour-I don’t have much of a problem with the way they run the council-and the cuts aren’t their fault and I had some dealings with one of their candidates-Josie Pazek who I voted for-when I was a council employee. Third vote-Christine Gilligan (Green)- I liked her profile on your website as an expert in renewable energy who also seemed clued up on the business side of things.

For me as a pinkish/yellowish/pale greenish social democrat it means there are things about Labour/LibDems and Greens I like and also don’t like.

If I had to give you some friendly advice I would say you need to drop your opposition to the City Region Mayor. Like you I voted against Sheffield having it’s own mayor-I couldn’t see the point-but this is something different. If it has a role promoting employment and transport I can see how a Green candidate would have relevant things to say there. Some things are region wide not just city or town specific.

I liked the way you came up with a properly costed alternative budget, unlike the Lib Dems whose proposal for a lower level of council tax would have just meant more cuts. I think it was a bit mean spirited of you to propose cutting senior council officer salaries-as an ex council employee I never thought my managers were overpaid. You rightly say society is too unequal, but the 10:1 salary ratio you suggested is too restrictive. The gaps in the wilder realms of the private sector such as banking are the ones that need redressing. I see the chief exec of the Co-op has taken a voluntary cut in his salary. I think in Europe a ration of 40:1 or 50:1 is normal and that should be something we work to here?

If I did have a problem with the campaign generally it was the negative nature of some of it. The six Labour leaflets we had just slagged off the Tory government. The two Lib Dem leaflets just slagged off the Labour Council. UKIP leaflet was their usual drivel, Tories a token effort.

I do congratulate your candidates who were successful. I did think you might get a few more than you did. I would say to you as well there are people with environmental concerns whose position isn’t to the left of the Labour Party and whoever becomes your new national leader does need to think about this.

There does seem to be some advantage in having a name at the beginning of the alphabet. Perhaps the candidates should have been listed in alphabetical order of their parties rather than their names?

    23rd May 2016

    Thanks for this thoughtful response. I live in Hillsborough, supported Christine Gilligan-Kubo’s campaign and received the leaflets from the other parties! Our lack of leaflet was partly about timescales – Labour knew when the election would be called, we didn’t. But also about fully focusing on the council elections.

    You can read the Green view on devolution at Natalie Bennett says ‘we’re seeing responsibility for things devolved without the actual funding to do them’. At the Festival of Debate meeting last week on devolution the inclusion of health in Manchester, but with a £1.1 billion budget shortfall, was highlighted. Anyway, our council leaders have signed up to this and we now need to focus on fighting the election. London has shown that the role can expand into the areas it needs to over a period of time.

    23rd May 2016

    Thank you for the thoughtful response Simon, oh and for your vote!
    Our share of the vote went up, which is good but yes a few more councillors would have been good. And correct we don’t have the funds to do everything we would like in elections.
    I think as always there is a lot to think about after an election. Have to say I wont be changing my mind about opposition to Mayor. I went to a really interesting meeting last week, Devolution now what. Its clear that no one apart from maybe George Osbourne is happy with the deal. So many concerns about it. Some feeling yes its bad we can work on it, others like me far more cynical. No one seems to understand either what powers the mayor will have, and how these powers will affect in turn the power of councillors and MPs. There us also a concerns about what sort of person could get elected as Mayor. We don’t have very democratic systems anyway, this top down imposition will only make it worse. Any funding coming with it, boils down to not much when spread round and goes nowhere to make up for huge cuts to council budgets.
    All the best Rachel, Green Party member.