Stewart Golton: Let’s put the ‘local’ back into this election Leeds

POLL POSITION: But political parties need to respect the electorate says Stewart Golton.
POLL POSITION: But political parties need to respect the electorate says Stewart Golton.
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May 3rd gets ever nearer, and party activists of all persuasions are wearing out shoe leather delivering flyers and knocking on doors to get their message across to the electorate.

Unfortunately, given the fact that only half of those who turn out for a general election actually bother to turn up to the polling station for local council elections, it would imply that the parties aren’t entirely successful in giving people a reason to go out and vote for them.

The irony is that decisions taken at Leeds Civic Hall or far more likely to have a direct impact on people and their neighbourhood than any law passed in Westminster.

Moreover, a lot of the decisions taken at Westminster actually get passed on to local councils to deliver, and the way councils choose to interpret how those policies are implemented can vary hugely, with very different results.

Do people stay at home on local Election Day because they don’t realise this?

On the other hand, I get hundreds of people contacting me to sort out issues that the council is involved in, and a controversial planning application or a school or care home closure can mobilise people in their thousands.

So there is pretty good recognition of how important the council is.

Is the problem with low turnout therefore less about the voters’ indifference to local issues, and more about the disinterest of parties themselves in selling their local vision?

After all, how can people be expected to make an informed choice if we as local parties don’t tell them what we will do in their name in the council chamber?

Too often local issues are ignored in the leaflets and social media issued by party HQs and MPs.

Too often at local election time, parties tell voters use their vote to “send a message” to whoever is in power in Westminster on the burning national issue of the day,or to back Brexit, or stand up for the NHS.

It cheapens local democracy to treat it like an opinion poll in this way, and patronises the average voter who is perfectly capable of voting on local issues and the quality of their local candidates if we only give them the information in the first place.

This year’s local elections are arguably even more important than usual as all the council’s 99 councillors are up for election at the same time.

The last time this happened, the reins of power in the city changed hands.

Those parts of the city that have Liberal Democrat councillors know what we are campaigning on locally because we deliver regular newsletters to their homes.

However, our party membership in the city is now the biggest for a generation, 
and many of those new members will be standing as Council candidates for the first time.

As a Leeds party we don’t just take our policy from national conferences, we discuss and absorb new ideas from our members.

We make a commitment to publish a manifesto for Leeds, and this will be launched this week.

It’s called Communities in Control, and the only message that we are asking Leeds people to send, is that they will give their vote to the party that respects them enough to lay out a positive path for the city that reaches every citizen.

* Stewart Golton is Lib Dem group leader at Leeds City Council.