None of the local parties deserve my vote today

Suffering the effects of living under a rubbish Labour council? Bad luck. You may well be stuck with it. However, if your rotten borough is a Tory controlled one, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

The party is run by a narcissistic liar, who declared his vainglorious desire to make a mark on history while at Eton. Congratulations, Bozo, you’ve done that by screwing the country and becoming the first sitting prime minister to have paid a fine for committing a criminal offence while in office. Go to the head of the class.

The local elections traditionally provide voters with the opportunity to deliver a richly deserved kicking to the party in power if – and when – it’s making a mess of things. Sometimes just because ruling parties need and deserve one.

Whether their local council deserves it or not, well, that is a different matter. But, wait, does it matter at all?

After years of Whitehall centralising power, you can make the case. Take financing, via taxes, which is crucial. Here’s what the Institute for Government, a think tank, has to say on that subject: “Local government in England has very limited revenue-raising powers compared to other wealthy countries. In 2014, every other G7 nation collected more taxes at either a local or regional level.”

The overall proportion of local authority revenues raised through council tax has risen as the money from central government grants and retained business rates (set by central government) has declined. But their room for manoeuvre is strictly limited. They can only increase council tax by 2 per cent a year. And increasing it at all in the midst of a cost of living crisis is not a popular thing to be doing.

Those which provide social care – unitary authorities, metropolitan boroughs and district councils – are under a statutory responsibility to do so. With rapidly rising demand, this is where the budget inevitably gets concentrated. The discretionary stuff ends up binned.

Cheerio libraries and leisure centres! This also explains why your local park has become a fly tipper’s paradise, and why the last remaining swimming pool is full of piss.

A change in political control of the council won’t do much to change that. So you might as well use your vote with a view to deliver a bloody nose to a government that’s due one. The graveyard of empty bottles despoiling the local rec is as much its responsibility as your local council’s.

But there’s still policy. And it’s here that the failings of local government with respect to some very vulnerable groups cut across party lines.

It can come as a nasty surprise, but it isn’t just the Conservative Party that tends to view disabled people as second class citizens. Over the last year, I’ve highlighted repeated incidences of miserable behaviour by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens with respect to their disabled citizens and towards children with special needs.

Some commentators have lately been talking up the virtues of a progressive alliance, of power-sharing and cross party cooperation. There’s a certain logic to this, with the Conservative Party free to indulge in its worst instincts courtesy a minority of voters – all thanks to the UK’s electoral system.

It’s just that the “progressive alliance” doesn’t look so progressive from a wheelchair. Ditto other disabilities. This explains why voting, and voting locally not nationally, in local elections can still make all sorts of sense.

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Councils still have powers they can use. They have the ability to shape policies locally. They also, let’s not forget, have the potential to make a god awful mess of things. That’s more likely when councillors have no fear of blowback from voters, as they don’t in far too many boroughs.

The fact that a few long standing Tory councils may change hands today is a welcome development. It’s harder to cheer their advance in a place like Sunderland, given the desperate state of the party nationally, but it wouldn’t do Labour any harm to experience kick up the backside there. Which, I suppose, is about the best we can hope for from today.

However much the government deserves to get duffed up, as a SEND (special needs and disabilities) parent, no one locally deserves my vote – and it’s only the two main parties putting up candidates in my ward.

Voting locally, even if that means protesting with a spoiled paper (which are counted), matters if we want better local government. And we should.


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