Has UKIP’s success in the Local Elections undermined the credibility of local politics?
As the results of the local council elections poured in on Saturday afternoon and the ‘clowns’ and ‘fruitcakes’ took up their positions as local councillors the ring master could afford himself a smile. Many expected a strong UKIP result, both coalition partners are unpopular and the British electorate are far from sold on ‘Red Ed’, but to end the 4th May with 147 councillors and 23% of the vote represented gains that were bigger than the Cheshire cat grin of leader Nigel Farage. Coupled with a valiant showing in the South Shields by-election, having gone from not fielding a candidate in the General Election to coming second with 5,988 votes at the by-election, suddenly people were talking about a four party system! It was not too long ago that some laughed at the idea of a 2 and a half party system. Yet how have a party that on the face of it are a ‘single issue party’, in this case the national issue of EU membership, gathered so much support in the local council elections?
The first issue to address here is what do local councillors actually do? Some view local councils derisively but in reality they are responsible for a considerable amount of amenities that are hugely prominent in our day to day life. As well as waste collection and recycling the state of our roads is in the hands of the local government. Add to this several facets of housing and issues such as crime reduction then suddenly who we elect to be our local councillors is an important decision.
So what do UKIP have to say when it comes to these issues? Severing ties with Europe has little to do with when your bins are collected and when the tire shredding pothole on the way to work gets filled. The UKIP ‘local manifesto’ is indicative of a party who have no plans to become a party of power anytime soon. The first page of the manifesto is littered with EU facts and leads with the relaxing of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration. Lack of focus on real local issues persists as a letter from Farage continues to concentrate on his parties Euroscepticism and any mention of local policy is nonspecific. When local issues are outlined its essentially just a list of valance issues; UKIP promise to fill in potholes, reduce taxes, stimulate growth, improve health care, upgrade public transport as well as a host of other stances on issues that a voter would blindly want. So how do UKIP plan to pay for all of this? The Earth doesn’t come cheap and that’s what they’ve promised! However payment plans are vague and at times bizarre. UKIP launch an attack on renewable energy programmes calling them ‘scams’ and claim their local government policies would be partially funded by cutting the money spent on renewable energy schemes.
Having established UKIP are thin on the ground in terms of credible local government policies why then did people vote for them to be in control of these issues? The term ‘protest vote’ has been thrown around in post election discussions which UKIP have obviously distanced themselves from whilst many have tried to link these election results to the performance of the government and predictions for the 2015 General Election.
This brings a serious question to the fore; are local council elections about who we want to run our local councils or just a barometer of public perception of the goings on in Westminster? Surely local government elections should be about deciding who provides your essential local amenities and not passing judgement on a typical unpopular government in the middle of its term. It has to be considered that people genuinely believe that the raft of eccentrics UKIP has put forward as local councillors are who they want to run their local councils. Yet it appears local council elections have been reduced to being nothing but a bloated opinion poll that acts as a suggestion box for those in the corridors of power in Westminster.