Anthony Zacharzewski on the missing 10%

Live-blog-elections2014-3

As part of our live coverage, we’re collecting thoughts from a panel of a local gov experts. We hear from Anthony Zacharzewski, Chief Executive of demsoc, who explains why modern political journalism’s focus on politics, rather than policy, is a disservice to local services and local politicians. Local councils need to communicate with citizens at a local level – and find the missing 10%.

It has been a very strange local election campaign. Local government is what wonks like me call a “secondary election” – one that isn’t a general election. Normally that relegates them to the status of “big opinion polls” on national governments, but the rise of UKIP and the European debate seems to have pushed local council elections into third place in the priority listings for the media.

The BBC election night show certainly demonstrated how little they saw the “local” in local elections. MP after MP was rolled out, plans for General Elections critiqued, and the only candidate interviewed was the UKIP candidate who was the face of the Croydon carnival fiasco (which clearly mattered because it was on the national news). Other than that, in four hours of BBC coverage, not a single local council leader or candidate was seen, except milling around in the background.

This does local services and local politicians a massive disservice. Once the UKIP caravan has moved on, and the general election is the focus of the political world, the councillors elected tonight will be helping constituents, shaping services, and leading their councils. They deserve a little bit more of the limelight, and the Westminster bubble a lot less.

The problem is, modern political journalism is so much more about politics than policy that there is no prospect of local services coming to the fore. Maybe I will be proved wrong tomorrow, I hope so, but no-one watching the BBC would have the faintest idea that there might be a difference between Oldham and Barnet in the way in which they deliver services, or that the elections in Hull and Tandridge might have different local factors in play.

It’s time for local councils to get messages out a new ways, and to make sure that the policy debates at local level are being communicated to citizens. It’s pretty clear that the mainstream media won’t do it for them.

The disillusion with politics that has been shown in the election results tonight is a risk to every politician, but particularly at local level. More than 50% of people believe that they can influence things at local level by taking part in community action, but fewer than 40% were voting in most areas. Where is the missing 10%? Who are the people who think they can influence their area by community action, but not by choosing their councils? Those “close disengaged” are the ones that we need to be focusing our attention on over the next few years.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone

    1. “It’s time for local councils to get messages out in new ways, and to make sure that the policy debates at local level are being communicated to citizens. It’s pretty clear that the mainstream media won’t do it for them.”

      This is especially so when dealing with an area like Tameside where the local media are owned and controlled by the dominant local Housing Association, New Charter Housing Trust Limited, that’s working with it’s Council partner through the Tameside Strategic Partnership, which is largely off-limits to plebs like me. Unlike with Council meetings it is not open to the public and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The same goes for the quasi-public RSL New Charter Housing Trust Limited who now own the local Tameside Reporter & Chronicle and Tameside Radio. They censor what appears. However, to be fair it is equally difficult trying to get a letter published in the local rags, and especially so if you are not one of those in the favour of the local Decision-Makers.

      What policy debates? There are no policy debates in Tameside which is a dominant Labour controlled area. The Council have no reason or wish to allow anyone else any influence whatsoever over what they do unless absolutely necessary which may then be for legal reasons ie that they are legally required to hold a consultation. Otherwise not.

      “More than 50% of people believe that they can influence things at local level by taking part in community action, but fewer than 40% were voting in most areas. Where is the missing 10%? Who are the people who think they can influence their area by community action, but not by choosing their councils? Those “close disengaged” are the ones that we need to be focusing our attention on over the next few years.”

      I hear ‘discussions’ about this constantly, or rather form filling exercises after various meetings conducted by Community and Voluntary Action Tameside (CVAT) [the allegedly Third Sector representative body in Tameside], often commissioned by TMBC, where participants are asked whether they feel that they can influence the Decision-Makers. I always put NO!

      This has not, however, stopped me from being a political and community activist for the last 25 years. I know that they ignore people, particularly people like me, as much as they possibly can. There is no open door policy of involvement or engagement beyond the bare minimum legal requirement and the occasional giving of information. It’s been this way all my political life.

      I am a Red-Green-Spiritual Political & Community Activist.

      Among other things I campaign for some form of Direct Participatory Democracy as a way of widening democratic engagement such as it is beyond the current limited archaic form of so-called Representative Democracy. But why should those with power bother listening to those without power? I well remember the letter I got many years ago from Roy Oldham the late leader of Tameside Council. “When you are a power to be reckoned with, then, and only then, will I give you a forum.” How nice!

      I’ve previously stood in council elections but not for over 10 years. This time I stood as an Independent. I’ve previously stood as a candidate for a local community group. I’ve also previously stood for the Green Party but I no longer believe in Party Politics.

      I am poor and could not afford the £125 needed to have a descriptor next to my name. I am much too poor to be able to stand as an MP. I’ve never stood as an MP. I do not have the necessary £500 entry fee, and if I had I could not afford to lose it. It is a Market Democracy that excludes the poor. I have to choose between eating and heating struggling with both the Bedroom Tax and Council Tax.

      Love, Light & Laughter
      Steve Starlord

    Comments are closed.