The Telegraph today has a leader item urging us to vote in next weeks local elections.
As they point out, we are, in theory, much closer to our local councillors than our MPs - each councillor representing around 2000 people compared with the 60,000 an MP is supposed to represent. But that's just a theory. In reality, I'm no more able to approach or communicate with my local councillor than I am my MP - less so in many ways.
The Telegraph then makes the ludicrous suggestion that we can influence councils and that a failure to vote means that we have no right to complain.
The public needs to ensure not just that councils provide the services expected of them, but that they provide the services taxpayers want. By voting for the most financially prudent candidates, we can directly affect what we pay. And if we don't vote, we forfeit much of our right to complain.
This is just nonsense. In the vast majority of wards the voters will have a "choice" between 3 parties who all pretty much offer the same things. The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are so close to one another there isn't a fag paper between them. In many instances - my ward being one of them - there will only be a choice between two parties and the "choice" will be even more limited.
Given a choice between a Liberal Democrat or a Labour councillor - neither of which I support - who am I supposed to vote for? It makes no difference either way as they'll do whatever they want anyway, but The Telegraph seems to think I have no right to moan about it!
I have and I bloody well will. As it happens, I will vote. I'll toddle along to my local polling station, take my voting slip and scrawl "I vote for none of you lying bastards!" across it then shove it in the box. Another election, another wasted vote, another disillusioned and disenfranchised voter.
Who knows what they'll be voting for anyway? The coverage in the media has been pretty slim. Anyone bothered to read the local election manifestos? No need. The Lib Dems are promising to do away with "open necked photo ops", the Conservatives are promising to be nice and Labour are promising not to have Tony Blair as leader - which is about the most persuasive policy any of them have put forward so far. The vast majority of people will just vote the way they always vote and the parties know this - which is why so little effort is put into campaigning, policy making and electioneering.
As far as actual policies are concerned they will all promise pretty much the same thing. Top of their agenda - that's THEIR agenda, not mine - will be "environmental" issues. I wouldn't mind that so much if the "environment" they were concerned about was the local Slough one, but their concern is actually for Arctic polar bears or the biodiveristy of the Amazon rain forest. As if I care! If that's such a big deal for them, why don't they bugger off to the frozen wastes of Nova Scotia or the jungles of Brazil?
What I want, from an environmental policy, are clean streets, no graffiti, no broken glass everywhere, properly maintained and pleasant green spaces, traditional architecture, less noise and my bin emptied every week regardless of what I put in it.
What they want is to stop me using my car, make me sort through my own rubbish before I throw anything away, make me pay EXTRA for what I do throw away and then lower the level of service to fortnightly.
They'll all make the same promises on crime. There will be talk of "partnerships", accountability, commitment, "community" or neighbourhood policing and every other new catchphrase under the sun.
What I want is to see local policemen on the beat - night and day - patrolling the streets on foot as a visible deterrent preventing crime and maintaining order. I want safe streets, an end to vandalism and petty crime. When I dial 999 and ask for the police, I want to talk to a policeman - not a call centre operative - and I want the police to respond quickly; not a couple of days later. I want a local police station manned and accessible 24 hours a day.
What they want is more centralisation, more speed cameras, more traffic "calming" speed bumps, more statistics, more collators, fewer but larger police stations, more gadgets, more control - and more money.
They'll all promise to provide the priority services we need, but my priority needs are those outlined above plus a couple of others. Theirs are more 5 a day coordinators, more smoking cessation officers, more "streetscene" directors, more drug outreach workers, more LGBT support workers, more equality and diversity enforcers, more snoopers, watchers and CCTV.
I don't mind voting when there is a choice and when there is someone standing for the things I believe in. What's the point when there isn't?