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.
Sheffield Green Party