Tuesday, 7 October 2008

June elections

Local Government Minister John Healey has just told the Commons that there will be no local elections in May, they will be in June to coincide with the Euro vote instead. Apparently it is to avoid voter fatigue and to cut costs.

I have a real problem with this decision for a number of reasons:

- I think democracy is worth paying for. The Government's view that all money must be scrimped and saved is wrong-headed. Sure, let's cut back on un-necessary spending, but it is worth spending a few extra quid on ballot safety, for example. It is also worth paying to avoid...

- Voter confusion. If you combine Euro and local elections onto the same day then what messages are people going to receive about the campaign? Through their doors they may receive a modicum of Euro literature and quite a bit of local election stuff, but only if they live in a target ward. The TV and radio will only be talking about the Euro polls and so the debate will be on the duo of misleading subjects - straight bananas and a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (a treaty that is already dead as other have pointed out). I would like to see people voting on the basis of the elections that are actually happening. This is difficult enough when many people just want to give Brown a kicking, but almost impossible when UKIP - who are likely to stand virtually no local election candidates - are part of every debate and there is no reference to local polls. In Cornwall, we will have elections for the new Unitary Council. These are going to be tricky enough (for both voters and parties) without being muddled with the EU elections.

- Extended terms. I'm a believer in fixed term parliaments. I am also therefore in favour of fixed council terms. The ability of the Government to mess around with polling days at a whim (this is NOT the same as the foot and mouth postponement) runs contrary to that principle.

- By moving local election date to June, they appear to dismiss local elections as being of minor importance. This appears especially to be the case for County (and unitary) elections. County councils have not taken priority in terms of elections for the past 15 years. On every occasion since then the Government has decided that the General Election should fall on the same day. Fair enough in those cases because we do not have fixed terms Parliaments. But to arbitrarily subjugate the County elections yet again makes a mockery of these polls. It's a silly point, but did they ever think about the possibility of asking the EU to bring forward the Euro-polls?

- This decision will allow developers and others to get away with murder. It is bad enough during normal elections, but in early April the County and all six district councils will simply cease to be. The new Unitary Authority in Cornwall will take over responsibility with no democratic control. Canny developers and licensees will time their applications so that the Council will have to make a decision when there can be no oversight by elected people. The default option for the council officers will have to be to allow anything dubious or risk huge costs awards from the courts. Although not likely to be hit by this hiatus, there are set to be applications in the near future for a speedway track in Bodmin and for vast developments in Newquay (as well as the potential for lap-dancing applications). I'm not saying any of these are necessarily good or bad, but they should have democratic oversight.

It's a bad decision and the Liberal Democrats should vote against it.

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