The Guardian asks what took the UK so long:
“We should not expect too much of them – experience in many countries suggests that they rarely change the public’s already-half-made-up mind. Despite the politicians’ collective insistence that they will thrash out the issues that matter, there is bound to be a good deal of cheap point-scoring. Even so, they should not be so regulated that they become boring. For all the predictable flaws, the new debates are a step forward.”
Michael White also in the Guardian says the style of the debates will be key:
“Whether Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown will face direct questions from voters, vetted if not scripted, or be quizzed by pundits in the American fashion while the live audience sits in silence with no clapping allowed, is one of several important details still being negotiated.
Naturally the broadcasters want as much audience participation as possible to help make 90 solid minutes more bearable to the X Factor generation.”
The Independent says the televised debates offer a tonic to apathy:
“At home and abroad, televisual skill is an asset for a politician. There is no point in lamenting a supposedly purer form of politics. Televised debates could be just the tonic British politics, and the jaded British public, need.”
Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail is sceptical that the debates will pull in viewers:
“The stunning bore scenario should certainly not be ruled out. A modest wager on a rapidly declining number of viewers might be worthwhile.”
However, the Daily Mail editorial says the debates are necessary and long overdue, even if imperfect:
“Children, children! Enough! Yes, the Mail accepts that the three-way debates will not be wholly fair. And, yes, regional and minor parties may have a legitimate grievance, which the broadcasters must do all they can to redress elsewhere during the election.
But in this less than ideal world, it’s impossible to devise a format to please everyone, from the mainstream to the Monster Raving Loonies, without producing an unwatchable and unilluminating cacophony that would drag on for days.”
The Telegraph points out where the US debates and the UK differ:
“The American (or the French) presidential debates work because the nation is choosing a person; in this country, we choose parties even if they rely heavily on the popularity and competence of their leaders.”
Matthew Norman in the Independent predicts Nick Clegg will shine and Gordon Brown will not:
“He’s a telly catastrophe. Disturbingly unnatural and unnervingly weird, with the top lip of The Joker, eye bags the size of Caligula’s imperial couch, waxen flesh the hue of unwashed grey flannel, and the rictus grin of a jackal in its death throes, he is by light years the least accomplished television act of the trio.”
Mr Norman’s comments are without doubt my favorites!
Box Clever Group, a local developer and Simons Developments who carried out the recently opened Marriots Walk development in Witney, can now announce an agreement with the principle land owner in the centre of Carterton.
R&D Health Care, the owners of the Market Site and the adjacent Care Home in the town centre have signed an agreement with the Developers to allow their land to be included together with land owned by the Town and District Councils, The Co-Op and Wadworths to enable a comprehensive redevelopment of the centre of Carterton.
The Developers state that they intend to regenerate the town centre by the provision of a new retail-led, mixed-use scheme which will include a major supermarket and a variety of other shops in addition to the provision of new homes. The scheme will reinvigorate the town by providing greater choice for shoppers and an enhanced shopping experience for residents and visitors to Carterton. In addition to a major long-term investment in the centre, the scheme will create a significant number of new jobs.
The District Council clearly states in its Local Plan policy that it wishes to promote the redevelopment of Carterton town centre to ensure the longevity and vitality of the town. The enhancement of the town centre will be a key element in ensuring the town’s medium to long term growth. It was on this basis that the Town Council objected to proposals by Sainsbury’s for an out-of-town supermarket in September this year. The Developers are clear that following the latest agreement regarding the assembly of the town centre site, it can now be demonstrated that there is a viable and deliverable alternative to an out-of-town store. It is anticipated that an outline planning application will be made in the New Year.
A survey of local election candidates was recently conducted by a British university, it continues to provide valuable information about the types of people that compete for office and some flavour of their campaign experience. The survey covers many aspects of the electoral experience, from the moment a person decides to contest a council seat, the support network that sustains them through the campaign and the time for reflection after votes have been counted. Having studied the survey in some depth I have extracted the salient points.
As a ’30-something’ Independent councillor and serving member of the Royal Air Force; I am passionate about the need for greater social diversity in local and national politics for that matter and I believe the face of local government is changing, albeit slowly.
The issue of social diversity on council benches continues to be a challenge for local government generally. The survey to which I refer offers a glimpse of the problems that political party organisations face in broadening the social base, encouraging more women, people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups and younger people to stand for election. Candidates continue to believe that local authorities have a key part in publicising the councillor role but there is little support for the idea that parties might select non-members to contest seats.
A real strength of this year’s report is that now we are able to compare the types of people that contest elections across the range of local authorities – London and metropolitan boroughs, district and unitary councils and, in 2009, the remaining English counties. This should tell us whether the problem of under-representation affects all types of authority or is restricted to some but not others.
Another useful distinction that can be made between candidates is the kind of electoral experience that they have. Some are experienced campaigners, incumbents seeking re-election, but others are people fighting their first local election.
Real and significant differences between these would suggest that the battle to transform the existing local councillor stereotype is succeeding. Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case. The survey findings show that while there is progress on some fronts; more women and younger people standing as first time candidates, the evidence is that there is still a very long way to go – particularly in the recruitment of ethnic minority candidates and younger people as well as those outside the professional/managerial occupations.
Among the candidates contesting the 2009 local elections 71 per cent were men, the average age was 57.3 years, and 98.3 per cent were of white ethnic origin. One in three candidates has a university degree and a further 23 per cent have also obtained a higher degree. Fewer than one in 10 holds no formal educational qualification.
Almost four in 10 candidates are retired from work, between a quarter and a fifth are in some form of full-time employment and around a fifth are self-employed. More than half holds a professional occupation and a further 28 per cent are occupied in some managerial/technical role. Fewer than two in 100 works in an unskilled occupation.
Six in 10 candidates are resident in the ward that they contest. Among incumbent councillors seeking re-election the percentage rises to 64 per cent but falls to 52 per cent among candidates contesting their first election. Candidates are well-connected in their local communities. Around six in 10 are, or have been, officers in their local political party. Half have been involved with charitable organisations and a similar proportion has been involved with a community-based organisation.
For a fifth of candidates contesting in 2009 this was their first experience of standing for election. By contrast, a quarter of the candidates standing were doing so for their sixth or more time. One in 10 had been elected on at least five previous occasions.
Three in every four candidates prepare an election campaign leaflet but only 57 per cent of these people delivered it to every ward address. A fifth canvass by telephone but only a small minority use the Internet for election campaigning.
A third of candidates contact local media to publicise their campaign but only a quarter believe that local reporting of the was adequate. Almost three in four thought that national rather than local issues dominated the election. A majority maintain that national party leaders should keep a low profile during a local election campaign.
The average candidate is active for approximately 18 hours per week of the three week campaign. Independents are the busiest candidates, averaging 25 hours per week. Half of all candidates campaign on behalf of colleagues in neighbouring wards. A clear majority enjoy campaigning and would volunteer to stand for election again.
Approximately one in three makes his or her own decision to stand the first time; two in three candidates stand after being approached by someone else, mostly a fellow party member. Support from fellow party members is vital; 58 per cent reported very strong support from this source but less than a third received similar support from their partner.
A large majority of candidates contest on behalf of a registered political party; three-quarters have been party members for five or more years. Only one in five candidates faces competition for the nomination. Having a good reputation is the most frequently cited reason for selection. Some four in 10 owe their selection to being the only volunteer and a slightly larger proportion than this after revealing a willingness to stand as a paper candidate.
A two-thirds majority believe people don’t stand because the councillor role is too time consuming. Intrusive media coverage is also supported as a reason but only a quarter think that parties should recruit non-party members as candidates.
Although a half support the idea of more women and more people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups on the council benches, a larger proportion, 75 per cent , support an increase in younger people. It is the general perception that under-recruitment among such groups results from a failure to come forward for selection. A large majority want local authorities to publicise the councillor’s role and to include information about standing for election with the council tax notification.
More than eight in 10 candidates believe that a large fraction of one-term councillors resign because of time pressures. The problems of balancing a political career with family commitments and difficulties in securing time off from work are mentioned by a clear majority. Only 17 per cent think that councillors retire after achieving what they set out to do.
The report also contains some comparisons of candidates from across the range of local authorities (London and metropolitan boroughs, shire district and unitary authorities in England and Wales and the English county councils). These comparisons consider sex, age, ethnicity, education, occupational, employment status and place of residence.
A further comparison is made between people that feel younger people are under-represented because they are not interested in politics outnumber by two to one those taking the opposite view. Four in 10 agree that they lack the confidence but the same fraction disagree. A majority believe that whatever the cause of under-representation it is not because younger people put family before politics. Similarly, the confrontational style of local politics is not regarded as an obstacle to standing. Local government’s image does seem relevant; six in 10 candidates agree that younger people are discouraged from standing because of councillor stereotypes. There is also clear agreement from two thirds of candidates that parties should do more to recruit, but rather more, 86 per cent of all respondents, put the blame on younger people for not coming forward to be selected.
Another salient issue affecting local government is the willingness of many councillors to serve beyond one elected term. Having acquired some vital skills and experience from sitting on the council benches for four years a sizeable fraction voluntarily decide to stand down. The candidates were asked to select the reasons that might cause councillors to stand down. The most popular reason, chosen by 82 per cent of respondents, is that being a councillor is simply too time consuming. This is closely followed by the problems of balancing a political career and family commitments and the need to request leave from work, each of which is selected by three-quarters of respondents. Less than a majority, 46 per cent , thought that the trigger to stand down is a lack of power among councillors while 36 per cent think the catalyst is either insufficient expenses or party political domination. Only one in four feel that is either intrusive media coverage or insufficient support from the local authority that produces early retirements. The least selected option, councillors retire after achieving their aims and ambitions, is chosen by just 17 per cent of respondents.
Overall, about a third of candidates are retired from work, another four in 10 are either employed full or part-time while one in six are self-employed. Generally, four in 10 incumbents are retired, compared to just half that number amongst the first-time challengers. The percentage of self-employed is the same for both categories but first time candidates are rather more likely to be employees. The detailed evidence reveals a significant larger proportion of retired people contesting elections in the shire counties and in district areas with whole council elections, many of which are in rural or suburban areas. By contrast, only one in five candidates that contest a London borough election is retired. The self-employed are more in evidence at shire council elections than in those for the metropolitan boroughs. While employees comprise a majority in London they are only a third of the candidates contesting the shire county elections. Of course, much of this patterning reflects local employment patterns but it does serve to highlight that blanket descriptions of local councillors (and candidates for that matter) are not terribly useful in understanding the broad issues of candidate recruitment and councillor retention.
One of the major difficulties faced by parties affects the supply of candidates – it is seldom easy to find sufficient people willing to stand for the available vacancies. Whilst local parties probably prefer to select candidates that are resident in the ward this may not always be practical, particularly for some of the smaller parties.
A majority, 55 per cent, of all candidates that stand for local election live in the ward that they contest. Geography impacts quite considerably on the ratio between residents and non-resident challengers however. In the English counties and shires areas with whole council elections, around six in 10 candidates reside in the wards that they contest. But in London (where wards are geographically compact) that percentage drops to 42 per cent while it is a little higher, 48.5 per cent, in the metropolitan boroughs.
There are also marked differences between incumbents and first-time candidates; 64 per cent of all incumbents are ward residents but only 52 per cent of first time candidates meet that criterion. In every type of local authority a majority of incumbents reside in the ward which they represent on the council. The range between the highest (67.3 per cent in the whole council districts/unitaries) and lowest (56.1 per cent London boroughs) suggests that all local parties with a realistic chance of winning the seat prefer candidates that are also ward residents. By contrast, first-time candidates are somewhat less likely to fulfill a residency requirement. This is particularly the case for the smaller political parties, many of whose candidates live outside the ward that they contest.
The problem of under-representation of certain social groups in our democracy shows no sign of abating – it is an issue that affects a future House of Commons as well as local councils. This report shows that the situation in 2009 continues the trend – not enough women, people of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, and not enough younger people, are contesting and winning local elections. What this report also suggests is that there are no simple solutions to this intractable problem.
National party leaders presenting a case for positive action measures risk alienating the rank and file activists. It is these activists that stand as candidates for local election. Affirmative action also runs the risk of being a quick fix that ignores the underlying causes of under-representation. Correctly identifying those causes presents a difficult task. People acknowledge that local political parties could do more to recruit among some groups but the prevailing sentiment is that, for a variety of reasons, people either do not present themselves for selection or reject overtures to stand. There are some well-publicised examples where targeted recruitment drives to attract more women, BAME and younger people have been successful but the investment in time and resources is heavy. Overcoming a common prejudice about life as a councillor and the pressures this seemingly puts on people’s private lives will not be achieved overnight. But, if recruitment drives by local political parties aimed at diminishing the dominance of white middle-aged men are to succeed then more attention has to be given to removing the obstacles, real and perceived, that discourage people from standing.
A start might be made by publicising the evidence that candidates overwhelmingly retain a positive feeling about their experience. The hours are long on the campaign trail and most, of course, do not succeed in their bid to be elected. If there is disappointment in falling short the candidates do not show it; indeed, a large majority are pleased to have stood and would do so again. These are not empty expressions of fake enthusiasm. Many candidates stand more than once, even though by the second and third time around they are aware of the time and resources required. For so many to repeat the experience suggests that the benefits of standing outweigh the costs. A majority of candidates are asked to stand and do so for reasons that include a wish to give something back to their local community, to assist their party in a time of need or to lend their voice to some issue or another.
These positive stories of political engagement are the ones that should be widely circulated if the pool of candidates is to be expanded and the face of local government altered in the future.
We all know that we have to live within our means and pay our bills. The same is true for businesses, local government and even, in time, national government.
Gordon Brown has tried everything he can to avoid admitting the truth – but it’s now clear that hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money will need to be saved to pay HIS bills.
Sadly, we also know that much of that will come from cuts in public spending.
Oxfordshire County Council has laid out its plans for “major efficiencies”. Around two-thirds of the money it has any choice over spending comes from government. They’ll get a lot less in future, whoever wins the election.
There are two options here – put up our council tax by enough to make up the difference or work to change the way they do business.
OCC have already indicated that there will be cutbacks in some of the services they provide. But where will these savings come from?
Their aspiration is to cut out £106 million of spending from areas where they think they “could do it better”. That means the council will have hard choices to make between now and February when the budget will be set.
I agree with the aspiration to have a smaller, more efficient council which spends money on the things we want and gives us real value for money. My fear is that we will lose essential services, which we so desperately need in Carterton and the surrounding area, such as the provision of youth activities. With a population now in excess of 15,000; we cannot afford to lose our one and only Youth Centre! I will be lobbying the County Council and fighting to save our Youth Services in Carterton!