Sunday, 6 May 2007

UK local elections - narrow crack in the window of change

Yesterday I scrolled through the blogs that exist beside mine and was pleasantly surprised that within a handful of clicks I had seen blogs in most of the world's major languages (including textspeak used on SMS and blogs, it seems). So, I am very conscious, that even though no-one is coming to my page it is hanging very much in a global context. Hence, I feel I have to apologise for its parochial nature. I suppose though, we are the parts that you can make a sum of, so if you are interested in picking up the fragments in English about the state of society and politics and one man's wellbeing, in the UK which has 1/70th of the world's population then read on.

Yesterday, 5th May 2007, was a day for local elections in the UK. Not every seat on every council is elected each three year period, so you only get a patchy voting picture across the country. However, these elections are usually taken to be a vote of confidence or no confidence on the party in power. Though Labour lost 460 seats across the country, and the Conservatives have the largest number since 1978, that kind of thing is typical for a party coming to the end of its third term in office. There were the 'national' elections for Wales and Scotland too and for the first time, the SNP (the Scottish party wanting independence for Scotland from the UK) became the largest party with 47 seats to 46 Labour seats in the Scottish Parliament. They may form a coalition or be a minority government or in theory a Labour-Liberal Democrat (the Liberal Democrats got 16 seats, the Conservatives 17) coalition could rule. The UN said many years ago it would give Scotland a seat in the general assembly if a pro-independence party won more than 50% of the vote in Scotland and that day might not be far off. The rise from having less than 10 MPs in London in the 1970s has been swift(ish) and strong, partly helped by New Labour becoming a Christian Democrat party leaving the SNP on its left and many of the most radical left-wing politicians, agitators, etc. in the UK have always come from Scotland and public housing has always been more common, so Labour has left the SNP a lot of popular ground there to seize.

The Liberal Democrats did the worst really through gaining very little and losing quite a bit. As the smaller of the major UK-wide parties they have always been strong locally and people who would not vote for them for government would often support them for their town council, not now it seems. Such people have gone to the Conservatives who seem to have shed their Thatcherite clothes and the blandness of the 'small, quite man' era of John Major, William Hague and Ian Duncan-Smith and David Cameron looks terribly like Tony Blair did 10-12 years ago and he has been clever in portraying himself as being green too. I hate the Conservatives for what they did to the UK in the 1980s and 1990s and making my life and that of millions filled with fear and uncertainty. Many millions clearly disagreed with my view of the period or have forgotten it. Whilst I do not see the Conservatives winning the next general election, expected in 2009, the one in 2013/4 might be theirs.

Back to the Liberal Democrats. The inter-relation of national and local politics is always hard to disentangle, but it seems that public image is playing as big a part as ever and after losing their previous leader Charles Kennedy due to alcoholism, his successor Sir Menzies Campbell seems too aged and staid to catch the interest of the electorate, though ironically, voting among the under-25s is at an all-time low, so he must be near to the age of the majority of the people who actually vote, but clearly they prefer someone who looks like their son-in-law rather than the leader of the residents' association. It is interesting what phases we go through, in the early 1990s there was a fad for leaders who looked like bank managers, John Major as prime minister, had actually been one, and John Smith leader of the Labour party at the time resembled one. Now the fad is for men who look like young lawyers, Tony Blair was one and David Cameron looks like one; even Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP could be said to fall into that category.

Locally I have had a run in with the Liberal Democrats after they sent round patronising leaflets telling me my hedge should be cut back and the refuse bin lids must be closed (where they think we should keep all the rubbish that we cannot fit into the bin each week, I do not know) and the Conservatives and Labour have similarly treated us no better. An Independent had posters out but strangely did not appear on the ballot paper. Torn between this choice of very similar candidates all trying to treat me like a child, I spoilt my paper. It hurts me to do that because I know how long people fought for the vote and how few people in the world have a vote at all, but I could not offer to support to any of the arrogant incompetents laying before me. In my town, the Conservatives took every seat from the Liberal Democrats on offer this year, so clearly I was not the only one upset by their publicity. I used to prefer it when I lived in London and you had about 20 different parties to choose from and had to roll up the ballot paper. I do not like anarchy, but neither do I like stagnant politics with parties all offering the same and sneering at me because I have no other choice. At least this election seems to have opened up the field by a chink and Scotland will be interesting to watch.

One thing that did hearten me is the minimal progress of the BNP (British National Party) the main fascist party in the UK. They gained 10 seats but lost 8 seats across the whole country. That is 10 seats too many, but at least their progress is slow. They certainly cause trouble wherever they make progress and it is for the peace of the country that it is good that they remain marginalised. Fortunately, it seems that all of those who spout racist statements unapologetically (usually started with 'I'm not a racist, but these immigrants/asylum seekers/etc....') cannot be bothered to vote. Turn out was 30-40% depending on the area of the country which suggests about 2 out of 3 voters do not care who runs their council, though you can guarantee they will moan when the town moves to fortnightly waste collections (as many are doing) or increases parking fees or closes a school.

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