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Inside Out: Sector leaders need to reach out to real people

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Let’s promote councillors as an example of people’s democracy in action

The number of seats Ukip won in local government will not make much difference in the council chamber, but their success in the polls will.

I went to a community dinner dance last weekend. It was a great event and was packed with people who the Conservatives, not that long ago, would have called Big Society. Chatting over a glass of wine, it made me think of the wider implications of the reasons many people voted Ukip.

The first factor is attitudes to national politicians. Everybody I spoke to thought they were all the same – posh people who had never had a “proper job”, distant from the realities of life who couldn’t listen as they don’t understand the plight of ordinary people.

Compare that with councillors. They live and work in the local community. They know the price of the weekly shop and you meet them in the supermarket buying a loaf of bread and a pint of milk. Let’s promote councillors as an example of people’s democracy in action.

Second, governance is a voter issue. Whether it is the EU or the UK, who makes decisions on things that affect people’s lives is on the agenda. Where is the LGA when this is discussed on the TV? I fear that the leaders of our sector spend time speaking to the wrong people about devolution to local government, ie the national politicians who have most to lose. We need to engage with the public debate and show the critical role a strengthened local government sector can play in empowering people and communities.

Third, Ukip is picking up concern about the speed of change in our communities. At the dinner, when discussing the EU and immigration policies of Ukip, occasionally there were racist xenophobic undertones, but mostly the concerns were about the speed of change in the local community; language and cultural differences; jobs; wages; schools; health and benefits. They are largely our issues where we have a fantastic experience of listening and supporting communities to become stronger while addressing real resident concerns.

The Ukip vote is based on real issues residents worry about. Our unique selling points – our politicians, closeness to communities, practical wicked issue problem solvers – have a key part in addressing their concerns. Over the coming weeks I hope I see our LGA leaders on the TV and in the papers making our case for stronger local government.

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The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…

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