Why have this year’s local elections been such a turn-off for voter?

The Green sheep at Cotton are one of the few signs there is an election on this year. Picture: ANDY

The Green sheep at Cotton are one of the few signs there is an election on this year. Picture: ANDY MELLEN - Credit: Archant

Today we have the chance to vote for who we want to represent us for the next four years on our local district or borough council, not to mention the parish and town councils dotted around rural areas.

In normal times, I’d be urging people to go out and vote for someone, whoever, to represent them in the council chamber – what’s the point of whingeing about your council if you haven’t had your say?

But this year, for the first time ever, I’m beginning to think I see the point of sitting on your hands and not voting – especially in the rural parts of the county where political debate seems non-existant.

Even in Ipswich the campaign seems to be more low-key than usual, although all the main parties are concentrating on the seats they believe they have a chance to win (or lose).

What has really surprised me, looking at the list of candidates, is how difficult many parties still find it to get candidates to take on council seats.

Throughout Babergh, Mid Suffolk and the old Suffolk Coastal area there are vast swathes where there are no Labour or Liberal Democrat candidates.

There are an increasing number of Green Party candidates – and in much of Mid Suffolk they are the only challengers to the Conservatives.

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But there are eight seats in West Suffolk there are no elections happening today. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and every other political grouping under the sun are too weak in these wards to find anyone to challenge the Conservatives.

What an appalling indictment of the state of politics in this part of the county!

The local Conservative associations do deserve credit for fielding a full slate of candidates across the county – in West Suffolk I bet they couldn’t believe their luck when they saw that they wouldn’t actually have to campaign!

In some of the other parts of the country the lack of opposition parties standing might actually harm the Conservatives.

In rural Mid-Suffolk there are several seats that are a straight Blue-Green contest. If you don’t want a Conservative councillor and you want to exercise your vote, there is only one alternative.

There are other rural areas in the county where the Liberal Democrats provide the only opposition – and in several places it is an Independent that gives voters a choice.

But the fact is that in much of the country democracy really isn’t working that well. I know Labour stands little chance in rural villages, but in elections gone by they would usually try to put up at least a “paper” candidate to give their dedicated supporters someone to vote for.

There’s no deposit required for a council election, and the date of them is known years in advance so there really is no excuse for serious political parties not to get a name on the ballot paper.

I’ve spoken to people from across the county who tell me this is the lowest-profile election they can remember. There are few posters, they’ve received few (if any) leaflets from candidates – and they say the whole thing feels like a non-event.

Even in Ipswich it’s been quiet. Yes, I understand there has been campaigning in Stoke Park, Rushmere, and Holywells wards where tight contests are expected.

But elsewhere? I live in the town and I’ve received two leaflets this time around – both from the Labour candidate who expects to win what is a fairly safe seat for the party. That’s all. At least my blue bin isn’t being filled with election literature this year!

There are a number of reasons why the election is proving such a damp squib.

Partly, I suspect, it’s because people are fed up with politics after all the rows about Brexit. But Brexit is something people are talking about – yet this election has nothing to do with that subject. It’s a very difficult message for politicians to sell.

Then there’s the feeling that this year’s council elections are a very poor support act for “main event” – the European elections which will see Nigel Farage and other new parties entering the fray.

That’s a real mistaken belief – your local district or borough council can affect your life much more than an MEP!

Finally I fear there’s also a belief that when it comes down to it, no new councillors, no new council administration is actually going to change way things work in this country – and for that reason many people think it simply isn’t worth dragging themselves out of their armchairs and down to the polling station for these elections.

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