Home Page Get out and vote, but find out about the candidates first 26/04/13

Haverhill Poll
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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

We are often told that people are becoming disillusioned with politics and, particularly, with individual politicians. Sometimes I think this is a good sign because it shows people are thinking for themselves and not just accepting what they are fed, as in the past.


But where does it end up? I was quite shocked to discover the other day how a friend of mine has become depoliticised. From being an outspoken proponent of political values and policies with which I heartily disagree, he has now lost interest in all parties.


What happens if we all do this? Some may say it has already happened. Last November the new police and crime commissioners were elected on a turnout of around 15 per cent. This is not only ridiculous but, in its way, criminal.


It is less than the electorate of the mid-19th century, before most of the battles for suffrage were fought. And the most curious thing of all is that this was an election where voters could make a difference.


In this area, the turnout follows an inverted formula. The smaller the chance of having any effect, the more people vote. The chances of ousting a Conservative MP around here are microscopic. Even in the 1997 Labour landslide, there was still a comfortable enough Tory majority.


Nevertheless the turnout is mostly pretty good, up around the 70 per cent mark. When local authority elections are held on the same day as a general election, they benefit from an equally high turnout.


But when they are not, as next week, when Suffolk County Council elections are being held, there will be the usual miserable turnout of around 30 per cent if that. The ludicrous fact is that this election is vital to Haverhill and, in the current climate, there is the possibility of affecting the outcome.


Most of the things you are likely to be concerned about, the things which affect your daily life, are in some way connected to Suffolk County Council. Traffic regulations, transport infrastructure, public transport, economic development, youth provision, policing, education, care of elderly or vulnerable people, public health, the list is endless.


The county takes by far the largest proportion of our council tax, and it operates from about as far away as possible, in Ipswich, so it is crucial that Haverhill elects committed and effective representatives to make its voice heard.


What’s more, county councillors get £10,000 a year allowances, from our money – or £20,000 if they become part of the central decision-making elite – so it only makes sense to have a say in who gets that cash to support their work.


There is a widely-held view that people only become councillors to further their self-interest in some way, or to build their own little empires, or to swan around at posh functions and feel important.


In my long experience of councils and councillors, there have been few of any of these. Much more common are people who naively become councillors thinking they can make a difference and then either cannot fully understand the issues and make the arguments, or get ground down by the political system against which they are not courageous enough, or confident enough, to speak out.


Much as I could not abide Margaret Thatcher, her refusal to let any political system grind her down was much to be admired. She said what she thought needed doing in the simplest possible terms and wouldn’t accept any obfuscation from civil servants who tried to blind her with science.


Not every local councillor is going to have her intellectual capacity to make the arguments which will cut through the inertia of bureaucracy and political systems, but a willingness to say directly what should be done and not take no for an answer is a good starting point.


Ambition is fatal for local councillors because, sooner or later, in order to curry favour with the senior councillors, novices find themselves arguing for, and voting for, something they don’t believe in. Once you do that, your electorate lose faith in you. You may think you can hide it, but you cannot – at least, not for long.


Often this sort of compromise is carried out with the best of intentions – ie, if I vote for such-and-such, the leaders will back me in something important that I need. Anyone who falls for that one has not learned the lessons of Tony Blair and the Iraq War.


On the other hand, being too dogmatic can also be a failing. It is important to be open to new ideas and new solutions, as long as they have been thought through properly. Too often we see policies created in a desperate lurch from one idea to another, all of which invoke the law of unintended consequences.


So, if you are going to the polls on Thursday – which I sincerely urge you to do – make sure you find out a bit about the candidates, rather than just checking on their political colour. Most who stand as councillors in Haverhill do it more as representatives of the town than of their political parties.


In the end, that is what we are looking for. But the best outcome for Haverhill would, of course, be a hung council, in which the political wheeling and dealing can be used to our advantage by canny and clear-sighted representatives. So get out and vote.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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