Why Local Elections Are So Important

This was meant to be a quiet week in Parliament because of the local elections, with most MPs out helping their local candidates. That’s as it should be – you can’t have democracy without political parties who set out their stall and seek the votes of local people. When places like Syria are still fighting for basic democratic rights, it’s all the more galling when some people say “I can’t be bothered” instead of comparing the policies set out by different parties and looking at their record in order to decide how to vote. Local manifestos aren’t the product of some remote machine – they are the product of intense debate by local people who give up their time voluntarily because they care deeply about the sort of society we live in.

On Monday, David Cameron hoped to campaign in the local elections, but was dragged back to Parliament to answer Ed Miliband’s questions about the Culture Secretary’s relationship to the News International empire. And whatever you believe on the issue itself – and I’m not convinced by Cameron’s replies – it remains a strength of British democracy that the Prime Minister of whatever Party can be called to account for his decisions before the House of Commons.

And as it does make a difference, why do fewer and fewer people vote in elections? The media concentrate on general elections every 5 years, but we have votes that matter almost every year! In November, for the first time, we will elect a Police & Crime Commissioner for South Wales. We also have regular elections for the European Parliament, the Welsh Assembly as well as the important council elections.

Of course it can be confusing: as well as the Vale of Glamorgan Council, with 47 members for the whole of the Vale, we have Penarth Town Council ( www.penarthtowncouncil.gov.uk ) with 16 councillors who focus just on Penarth services like the town’s communal facilities (the Paget Rooms and the Kymin etc.) and the Penarth Summer Festival and Christmas events. Llandough also has its own Community Council.

Local elections get much less media coverage than the general election, but often affect our day-to-day lives day-to-day far more. If a tree gets cut down in a street, the buses change route, new housing is built, your recycling services change or your streets get cleaned at different times then this is all due to your council. And behind that are large and difficult issues like the Local Development Plan, the way the education and care services are run and issues like transport and economic development. So congratulations to those elected this week; you deserve our support and a degree of tolerance as you try to deliver what you promised on the doorsteps!

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