By Jim Rae
Horsham District and Sussex County Councillor
By and large our county of West Sussex has three levels of local administration, Parish Councils, then Town, District or Borough Councils and finally the upper-tier the County Council; each of these levels of local government are served by elected members who have put themselves forward to try and solve local issues for their local residents – I believe this to be an admirable and commendable calling.
Of the three levels our Parish Councils are unique in that they are apolitical, generally the other levels are based upon the political party system with elections every 4 years; those elections are contested with each party publishing its manifesto as to how it promises to tackle significant local issues faced by local residents.
Those issues could well include amongst many the good running of schools, the provision of quality leisure and arts facilities, keeping an area safe in which to live, the dreaded word “potholes”, planning issues, future housing numbers or simply getting one’s refuse or recycling bin emptied on time – all of these have one thing in common – they are local issues.
Regardless of party politics, given the national financial situation all local authorities face; I for one genuinely believed that on the whole our elected authorities have been doing a good job of living-up to their various manifesto pledges. In our minds let us just look around at our own patches, are they safe from serious crime, are the bins being emptied, is the environment being protected, are our parks clean and safe, are our leisure facilities open and of good quality – yes they are.
Planning and housing numbers, these issues were always going to “generate heat at the local level”, valid data indicates even dictates that we will need additional housing for our local residents over the next 20 years, yet nobody wants to see the field next to them built upon – to top things off the vagaries of planning law and the Localism Bill do not help local authorities to fulfil residents’ aspirations.
Housing sites considered inappropriate by your elected members are being permitted upon appeal by The Inspector because the law of the land is skilfully and ruthlessly being used by developers to the frustration of your local representatives – but your local representatives are working hard to solve those local housing and planning issues.
Utopia does not and never will exist; our nation’s finances are not likely to improve for at least another 5-8 years; yet despite all the pressures I believe we collectively here in West Sussex are coping well compared to other areas.
So what happened on May 2nd?
Was it good for the electorate to “let-off steam”, or could the very obvious protest against “Westminster Policies” seen at our County elections be detrimental to local residents and the delivery of quality local services?
What we saw on May 2nd was an “electoral hissy fit”, we saw the manifestation of very real voter anger; not necessarily against the running of their local area – but in frustration that their voices were apparently not being heard or heeded by those in Parliament that make and enact national policy.
As a direct result of that electoral protest some very hard working West Sussex County Councillors of all political hues were literally “swept away by a tidal wave of voter anger”, only time will tell if the residents in those areas come to rue venting what they believed to be their valid national anger upon their high performing dedicated local representatives.
Electoral protests are nothing new, but on May 2nd we saw voter anger reach new levels of intensity. Electoral protest is totally valid if that protest is directed at the true source; if protest is ill-directed a “message may well be delivered to Westminster”; but at what cost to local representation and service delivery – cost that every resident will have to live with for the next 4 years.
Over the coming years I am sure with the national economy in the doldrums, with the debate on the EU and a referendum continuing, with the immigration issue still likely to be causing “electoral heat” and THAT matter of “Gay Marriage” causing ill-feeling – then voters will again want to show their displeasure at the ballot box.
The question for the electorate is of course, “Will that displeasure be vented indiscriminately regardless of its effect upon local representation and the solving of local issues; or will any displeasure only be directed at the true source of voter angst – Westminster?”
As is my usual style I leave the reader with a thought upon which to ponder, “Can political protest against national policies become self-harming to representation and service delivery at the local level?”
That is for you the reader to decide!
These are the personal opinions of Jim Rae and are not intended to represent those of either Horsham District or Sussex County Councils.