Another year another damp squib of an election in Bristol. As usual, with only one-third of the seats up for grabs in the city, any changes to the political make-up of the city council are likely to be marginal with just a few seats changing hands here and there.
This is the perfect electoral system for all the main parties and the right of centre political consensus they have all signed up to. With the people of the city deprived of the opportunity to turn out and elect the council they want en masse on a clear programme, all the parties involved can shift their focus away from serious matters of governance – on which they all agree – and focus entirely on the ‘dogshit issues’ – micro-issues of little importance outside of a specific ward.
Let’s face it. If you’re all exactly the same the last thing you want is any kind of major election that flags this up. Much better to have elections where you can talk about the local park, the local swimming pool, traffic calming measures and the lack of corner shops and appear to have some differences.
Unfortunately such methods also attracts a certain kind of candidate of a certain kind of calibre. Where once local government might have attracted people with a knowledge of education or local government finance or social services or transport; this is no longer required or even useful to the political class. Instead your average candidate is the silly old sod from ’round the corner who is constantly moaning about dogshit in the park.
All well and good but are these the people best able to to take decisions for the long term benefit of the city? In fact, are these people capable of taking any decisions at all?
So far in this election none of the parties, as usual, have attempted to clearly articulate their position on the real issues at stake in these elections – the ongoing privatisation of public services, the dismal state of secondary education in the city, airport expansion, hospital closures, the south Bristol ring road, ongoing corporate regeneration, future housing development on green space, transport, congestion charging – because they will all do exactly the same… Whatever they are told.
You are not being invited to elect politicians to implement a programme because they don’t have one. You are being invited to elect politicians to manage a pre-existing, although largely unmentioned, programme developed by an unholy alliance of central government, regional quangos, local government officers and civil servants and handed to elected politicians to rubber stamp.
Whoever you elect will simply implement what they’re told to in return for a few networking opportunities, a little influence at the margins, some prestige in petite-bourgeois circles in the city and life time access to the members tearoom at The Council House.
Some choice eh?
For meaningful elections to take place in Bristol one of two things needs to happen:
- one election should take place every four years in which all 70 councillors are elected.
- the councillor system should be scrapped and replaced with an elected mayor with some real powers.
Strangely, despite some lip-service from councillors of all persuasions about increasing participation at local elections – where turnouts are not even 40% – you will find none will be proposing either of these measures. From their point of view: “if it ain’t broke…”
Despite this, over the coming week The Blogger will be taking a closer look at some of the wards up for election that might generate some interest. Such as Whitchurch Park where Bristol Labour Party are throwing all their resources to try and save their leader Helen Holland. Southville, where the Greens will attempt to get a second councillor and Easton where Jerry Hicks’ Bristol Respect bandwagon is beginning to roll…