We are now just a few weeks away from the local elections which the media and national political parties will argue demonstrate the state of – no, not local democracy - the national political parties of course!. What do their election broadcasts, out a few days ago, tell us?
Labour decided, perhaps wisely, to keep Ed Miliband off the screen: instead one of the most trusted set of professionals in Britain did their talking for them (a celebrity doctor). They decided to mention nothing about local government at all, and instead made their pitch all about the NHS. So it doesn’t matter whether your council is good or bad, they want you vote in the local elections on a national issue – albeit one that people do care about more than local government, and where government has made a pigs ear of reform.
Ukip, who had a recent flurry of excitement when they briefly overtook the Lib Dems in the polls, focus briefly on SOLACE members’ pay but then talk about the Armed Forces’ budgets, national anti-smoking legislation, the European Union, income tax, immigration, the state of the economy, and foreign aid. The poor voter who watches this one is likely to be very confused about how Bloggsville Council is going to change any of these things.
Nick Clegg, who is as unpopular as Ed Miliband, is allowed on screen, in the Lib Dems broadcast – in fact we see little else other than him, but the pitch is about cuts to income tax for working families – down at the town hall Lib Dem councillors may be wondering how they achieve this.
And then we have Eric and Dave, for the Conservatives. Here at least the Minister with the brief is on screen, and does talk about Council Tax. He spends a lot of his time bashing town hall pay rates under Labour, and various Labour controlled councils, but also talks about localism, and local people deciding. The focus on local spending decisions is at least in the right ballpark in our age of austerity (remember last year Eric delivered an increase in Tory votes in local elections: the first time since 1979 that a ruling party increased its share of local votes following a general election victory).
Now, most people won’t vote on May 3rd, and certainly won’t watch these broadcasts, but I wish more of the debate and reporting about local elections was about local government. To the footsore foot soldiers of all the parties – good luck!
Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos MORI
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