Don't just dismiss the local elections in May – they directly affect your life
PUBLISHED: 21:34 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 21:34 11 April 2019
Maybe you’re bored by politics given the ongoing Brexit saga. But don’t forget to vote in May’s local elections, they are probably more important, says Iain Dale
So, are you excited by the thought that there are local council elections all over Norfolk and Suffolk on May 2? Thought not. I’m never surprised at the lack of interest in local elections, but they are actually quite important, given the fact that councils spend billions of pounds on our behalf every year. The actions of local councillors not only affect your pocket, but also many aspects of your life. And yet the turnout out in local elections rarely climbs about 30%. Given the Brexit paralysis, this year may be different, but I doubt it. In theory, we should all be voting on local issues, and giving our verdict the performance of our local councils and elected representatives, but I suspect the majority of us will vote on national issues. The results in many areas of our region may depend on how much of a kicking we want to give the Conservative government.
Many of the rural councils in East Anglia have such huge Conservative majorities that only a political earthquake could change that. Breckland Council in Norfolk, for example, has 49 councillors, of which 38 are Conservative. In most seats it’s a straight fight between the Tories and Labour. The LibDems are only standing in one seat.
In North Norfolk, it is rather different. Every vote really will count, with the Tories and the LibDems currently on 19 councillors each, with nine independents, most of whom are former Conservatives. The Tories are contesting all 48 seats, the LibDems all but one, with Labour only putting up candidates in 27. Interestingly, there are 11 Green Party candidates and 11 Independents. If the LibDems sweep the board here, they may well turn out to be the big winners throughout the country on May 2.
Great Yarmouth is a council to watch. It is currently under Conservative control, but has in the past been a strong Labour area. The Tories are contesting each of the 39 seats, while Labour are targeting their resources in their stronger areas with ten fewer candidates. UKIP, which in 2014 gained 41% of the vote in Great Yarmouth, has collapsed. They now have no councillors at all and are standing in only three seats. That’s three more than the LibDems, who have no candidates whatsoever in Yarmouth.
Norwich has effectively become a one-party state again with Labour holding 31 of the 39 seats. The Greens will be looking to make a comeback and given all 39 seats are up for election, they will aim to at least double their haul to ten. The Tories are standing in every seat but are unlikely to improve on their current seat total of zero. In Ipswich Labour hold 34 of the 48 seats, with the Tories on 12. Expect that gap to widen.
Elsewhere in Suffolk St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath Councils are combining into one council, called West Suffolk. There were 72 councillors between the two former authorities, but I was disappointed that this number is only being cut to 64. Surely if Norwich can manage with 39 councillors, so could a rural district council. Indeed, Waveney & Suffolk Coastal are combining too, and reducing the number of councillors from 90 to 55, saving the Council Tax payer more than £250,000 in allowances and administration costs.
Over the next few weeks you’ll be getting election literature through your door from all the parties. If you don’t get any, it’s because the local parties lack the volunteers to deliver it. If you get a knock at your door from the parties’ canvassers, do please give them a fair hearing. Yes, let off steam about your political frustrations but just remember, the party representatives standing at your door are public spirited people who are giving up their free time to promote the political cause they believe in. It may not be yours, but politeness costs nothing.
There was a brilliant cartoon by Matt in the Telegraph recently, depicting a party canvasser approaching a voter and saying: “Excuse me, I’m your Conservative candidate. Can you spare a moment to rant at me?” Many a true word, spoken in jest…