To say Labour was the winner in the May local elections is to take all the power and fun out of the word “winning”. With slumping turnouts around the country, the best that can be said is that Labour did the least worst of the parties standing. Two-thirds of voters ignored the exercise.
That’s not just because Labour’s policies, where it has them, are often so close to those of the Liberals or the Conservatives. It’s because the people of Britain have twigged that local democracy is fast becoming a thing of myth and legend: all the important decisions are being taken by central government – or by the private companies that have been given lucrative contracts to run services.
Those who did turn out offered one spectacular rebuff to Cameron: overwhelmingly, they rejected the idea of directly elected mayors. It’s not hard to see why, since the concept leads to one more highly paid local dictator and even less point in electing a local councillor.
People have had enough of freeloading politicians. Ten cities held referendums on 3 May on whether to replace local council cabinets with directly elected mayors, while Doncaster voted on whether to keep its elected mayor. Nine cities resoundingly said No.
Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford all voted No, with Bristol voting Yes and Doncaster opting to keep its mayor. Bradford said No (on a 35 per cent turnout) even though the self-admiring new MP George Galloway pronounced himself in favour of the idea. Bristol, meanwhile, saw a turnout of just 24 per cent, less than one in four. In one ward, Filwood, just 9.9 per cent voted. One voting station in Cabot ward recorded just 6 per cent turnout. Bourgeois democracy in action.
Commentators are quick to dismiss low turnouts as signs of voter “apathy” (as if anyone but the candidates could get truly enthusiastic about it all). But one result shows that this is probably not the case: Thurrock. Yes, this Essex town managed just 27.15 per cent turnout across the 17 wards involved in the local elections – down from 35 per cent last year, and lower than the lowest ward turnout of 2011. Yet in April 30.4 per cent had turned out when the People’s Pledge campaign organised a (completely unofficial) referendum in Thurrock on whether there should be a national vote on staying in or leaving the EU.
So people do care about politics, just not about bourgeois politicians. And the last thing we want is more of them. ■