Another day, another vote. Once again, I failed to see any local election leaflets – apparently my street is too dingy for anybody to bother venturing up it, but that’s OK, local party activists are in short supply these days – so once again I turned to the web for my guidance. At work, I could spare an hour.
First stop: the Liberal Democrats. Hmm, well, it doesn’t look good on the front page. Sidebar mention of elections in Scotland and Wales, but nothing in England. Try a search for ‘local elections 2003’ and the first hit (after two unlikely biographies) is for a press release linking to the elections manifesto. Beyond that, every hit I can see is for last year’s elections.
The manifesto is – commendably – presented as plain HTML rather than a download of a needlessly glossy PDF. It rattles on about how the LibDems would ‘transform local government,’ and makes a big deal of abolishing council tax in favour of local income tax. Now, this might be a good idea, actually, but it’s a national and parliamentary issue, not something my local councillor would have any impact on. Help get a few potholes filled and press for a spongier playground surface – yes. Overturn swathes of tax legislation – not bloody likely. In fact, there’s nothing here that’s remotely local.
Right. Next – the Conservatives, hilariously (to me) still on a US commercial/corporate domain name, though at least the more correct ‘conservatives.org.uk‘ does now redirect to the mothersite, which it didn’t last time around. OK, this is better – there’s a picture of a ballot box for a start, which is looking promising. ‘Party Chairman gives local elections message,’ it says. [click]
It’s a puff piece. There’s a manifesto link, however – a needlessly glossy PDF of 380Kb; 4 pages including glossy cover photo of cute kid on playground roundabout. Awww. Now, the manifesto is… actually, it’s garish, but that’s an entirely subjective design judgement. It’s fine as far as it goes, but I note that each page has a banner footer ‘Local issues, local action.’ Commendable… so, what are the local issues, and what local action would my candidate take?
Oh, look – on the front page, there really is a link to an ‘English Local Elections‘ page, hidden in text on the right. It contains a link to… the manifesto. And incidentally, when I searched for ‘Local Elections 2003’ earlier today, the top match was for 2002. But at least somebody’s paying attention and has fixed that… even if the polls are now shut.
Labour. First story: ‘Why you should vote Labour today, 1 May.’ A trifle blunt, perhaps, but at least it’s visible. The following pages are fairly stuffed in comparison to the other parties’, but it’s the same old same old. The obligatory ‘Ballooning [insert name of target party] council tax’ page could well have been written by the same person for each site. Actually, that would be a clever efficiency saving.
There is one killer feature of the Labour site, however, and it’s been there for years, and astonishingly nobody’s copied it: a search box for your postcode. ‘What Labour’s done for you‘ proclaims the resulting page proudly. Apparently 396 people in my ward have come off benefit. Since when, or why, I don’t know, but I’m genuinely pleased for each and every one of them. Via the local contact information link, I can find out who my local MP is (Paul Truswell, take a bow), who my MEPs are, and what the 2001 General Election result was. But not a whole hill of beans about the local elections. In fact, not a single bean.
No other parties presented candidates in my ward.
So I walked to the polling station, presented my card, took a ballot paper, and finally, in the booth, read the names of my local candidates for the first time. Each, doubtless, would pledge to work diligently on my behalf, righting local wrongs with local action taken locally. I have no idea who any of these people are, what they’re like personally, nor what priorities they would have if they were elected.
With the weight of democratic responsibility pressing on my shoulders, how can I possibly cast a vote in favour of any of these people?
I spoil my paper, post it in the box, and walk out.