February 11, 2021 4.12 pm This story is over 16 months old

John Marriott: Why bother this year with the local elections?

Stay at home or spoil the ballot

It looks as if the local elections are going ahead in May after all. But, apparently, if we decided to risk a trip to the polling station, we are being told to bring our own writing implements and, of course, our masks.

Much as I am against the idea except if circumstances preclude a visit, on this particular occasion I would have thought that voting by post for all might have been a better idea; but I’ve been reliably informed that Royal Mail can’t deliver on that (no pun intended).

I am a big fan of local government, even in its current emasculated form. I want to see it given more powers. I want local government structure and finance to be reformed. After all, the council tax, which was cobbled together to replace the dreaded poll tax, is still based in England on 1993 property values. Then there’s the confusion in three tier areas like Lincolnshire about which council does what.

However, we live in unusual times. If we behave ourselves, we could be back to something like normal, whatever you think normal is, by the end of the year. So, why add to our problems and therefore why not park the local elections until next year?

As the government intends to plough ahead, there will apparently be voting for candidates for the Lincolnshire County Council, for the Police and Crime Commissioner and a few district council by elections. As far as the county is concerned, with the possible exception of Lincoln City, there will only be one winner, and that is the Conservative Party. There might be a few Tories masquerading as Independents, who slip under the wire.

Indeed, back in 2013, the last time I was elected, (thanks largely to a UKIP candidate, living in a care home, who never emerged not even at the count; but whose votes probably denied my Tory opponent victory) the surge of UKIP managed for only the second time in the County Council’s history dating back to 1973 to prevent the Tories from getting an overall majority. By 2017, those Ukippers had disappeared and those that survived had donned the blue rosette.

In the past four years since I retired from the County Council, I have heard nothing at all from my Conservative county councillor, who, I believe, lives in Skellingthorpe. In fact I haven’t heard from any other party or individual either. I wonder if he will be standing again. Mind you, his party will certainly have the funds to mail me a few leaflets, whose hand delivery, I believe, may be outlawed because of COVID.

And as for canvassing, that was becoming a dying art even before the virus struck. In any case, who is going to open their door to a stranger, especially with a clip board and possibly sporting a rosette, at the moment? There’s always social media, you may say. And who do you think has got that tied up? Given the ‘vaccine bounce’, as most people get their information from the media, either local or national, there is surely only one show in town.

Then there’s the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), another bright idea from across the pond, shoehorned into this country and worked out seemingly on the back of a fag packet, at the expense of democratically accountable Police Authorities and whose support via the ballot box barely makes double figures.

Surely the saga of the suspension and reinstatement of our former Chief Constable some years ago, at no small cost to the tax payer, I might add, and the recent musical chairs appointment of our latest one should make you ask why the judgement of a single person should carry so much weight.

I believe that, once elected, the PCC appoints their Deputy, who, as far as I know, has no electoral mandate and yet could take over if anything happened to their boss until a replacement could be voted in. Is that really democracy?

So, what do I do? Yes, I will hopefully have had my two jabs by then, but I could still be carrying the virus. I’ve been pretty careful for nearly a year now so, why risk anything? What if I just happen to forget to bring my pen or pencil? I suppose I could apply for a postal vote; but, under normal circumstances, I’m not in favour of them.

If I did decide to go to the polling station, judging by recent history, I would probably spoil both ballots anyway, given what I’ve already written. I know that some people disapprove of this action, so I hope that they exercise their democratic right. You know, I think I might just stay at home on polling day, and I reckon many people might do the same. Why break the habit of a lifetime as far as local elections are concerned?

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.