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TONY TRAVERS - KEY TOPICS HAVE BEEN IGNORED

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So what failed to make the news during the election campaign of 2005? Which of the subjects that fascinate LGC read...
So what failed to make the news during the election campaign of 2005? Which of the subjects that fascinate LGC readers have been off-limits? While the NHS, immigration, law and order, schools and, from time to time, Iraq have dominated the headlines, what was absent from the morning press conferences?

The local environment was missing, for a start. Although binge drinking and anti-social behaviour orders had their day in The Sun, the issues that burden councillors' mailbags, notably litter, abandoned cars, parks and pavements were strangely absent from the bitter debate between Messrs Blair, Howard and Kennedy. Optimistically, this absence may reflect the very local nature of these questions. More likely, silence suggests little priority - and relatively little money - will be devoted to these issues when the dust settles come 6 May.

Social services remained similarly invisible during exchanges between the parties. Neither a spate of tragic incidents in recent years, nor the Labour government's commitment to new arrangements for children's services were sufficient to generate any discussion between the parties about the quality or delivery of personal social services. Of course, social services clients - unlike doe-eyed school children or uniformed police officers - do not create a particularly telegenic backdrop for the party leaders as they pause for photo-shoots.

And whatever happened to transport? After all the 10-year plans and the billions poured into the railways, surely the future of roads, buses and trams might have flickered across our television screens? Sadly, none of the parties had much to say.

Planning also remained off the radar. Despite the continuing struggle over the future of house-building

and green land in the south of England, the question of how the country should accommodate its growing total of households has barely received half an hour of top-level debate since the election was called. Yet the way councils control the use of land and buildings in crowded Britain is arguably the biggest issue facing public policy in the years ahead.

Of course, party managers will cite opinion poll evidence as to what influences the way people use

their vote. The NHS, immigration, law and order and education are at the top of the pollsters' list of election-turning issues. But surely politicians should lead as well as follow. Moreover questions such as Iraq, international development and the environment have featured in the election even though they fail to score very highly with voters.

Sherlock Holmes worried about the dog that didn't bark. As 5 May approaches, we should all be concerned about a winner-takes-all election in which so many important questions failed to be debated. With tighter public expenditure limits in the years ahead, today's silent political issues risk becoming tomorrow's noisy ones.

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