Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Step Backwards in Suffolk

Local party politics can be pretty dire. Here in Bury St Edmunds we've had a by-election for the County Council due to a Conservative standing down early. In his stead, they put up the former Tory Councillor who I, as a rookie newcomer, beat into third place in the neighbouring seat in 2009, a retired gentleman of unquestioned good character but, I think he would admit, not quite his younger self. In a sane political world, this chap should have lost. But he won, adding yet another Conservative male of advancing years to the Council's already limited gene-pool.

Now, the reason he won isn't because he got lots of votes. In fact he got just 28% of the poll. He narrowly beat a popular and capable local independent who got 27% - a man with a strong local track record who personally delivered 10,000 leaflets. Making up the rear were Labour, the Greens and us all with between 300 and 550 votes - or under 15% each.

Before the election, some of us were making the case for standing a couple of candidates down so to give the Independent - who was a clear front-man - a chance to beat the Tory. This made sense. In a Conservative-dominated county, the electoral arithmetic, under the FPTP system, guarantees big Tory majorities on all of our councils. Winning this one by tactical withdrawal might, we thought, set a healthy precedent. If we can collaborate in power at national level, surely we can do so at local level?

Well no, apparently not. All of the parties put people up in the mis-guided belief that not doing so makes them look weak or somehow, lowers their profile for the future. Noises are made about giving people a proper choice but it's really about not losing face and, in some cases, reflects low-feeder personal rivalries.

I sound hacked-off I know. If this stuff really, deeply mattered, I perhaps would be. Were the stakes that high, it would be worth a few hours of grumpiness. But it is, at the end the day, a by-election that alters very little here in Suffolk. My principal disappointment comes from the realisation it gives me that the Tories will probably run this place on their own forever and a day while the rest of us scrap for second place.

This wouldn't be so bad if our councils were vibrant, diverse, politically balanced places. But they're not. They are homogenous, incurious dead-zones, unrepresentative and non-plural. It's bad for politics and, ultimately bad for the people. Pluralism, diversity and challenge means better politics and sounder decision-making. This week's result felt like the opposite of this. A step backwards.


Andy Brady said...

Never mind, at least the Liberals didn't get in, we know what happens when they get a sniff of power ;-)

Hope the new business is doing well - shame about the SEEE dinner, would have been good to catch up.

David Nettleton said...

It was more like 12,500 leaflets as I did a late reminder A5 to targetted areas not tribally committed to Labour. This was a run of 5,500 leaflets but I had five helpers so I only delivered 2,500 personally.

In all, I walked 500 miles starting on Sunday 10 October, wore out one pair of shoes - a replacement pair is on order (size 12's are not routinely kept in stock) and only one pair of trousers still fits me due to weight loss.

The whole exercise cost me over £500 (including £84.99 for the shoes) and being Independent I have to pay that out of my own pocket. Still, it's better than belonging to a political party!