It’s almost a year to the day since I wrote this post, urging readers to take up their democratic right and vote. I thought about this again today, on the eve of local elections and the referendum on the Alternate Vote. I considered all the things I could write; the noble sentiment I could wax lyrical over. The guff I could spout about playing a part, about fulfilling the democratic prerogative. I decided all that was just bollocks.
My view hasn’t changed – to me, it’s imperative that we all vote. I don’t care who you vote for, even if you go into the polling station and spoil a ballot, just do it. People fought for this right, and as a working class man I will cast my vote with pride. I cannot reject that – I cannot criticise the result of a process I haven’t taken part in. To do so would be hypocritical.
Never has this been more important than now. I remember the Thatcher years well, and I know cruel, cold wind of monetarism when I feel it. However, there seems to be a nastiness about the current political dynamic that I find frightening, even beyond Thatcherism. Our prime minister is a man seemingly given over to outbursts of temper and petulance, and the petty vindictiveness of his pronouncements scares me. I see my country under threat from a government of rich men who’ve no idea what it’s like to scrape by and only just survive. For a fragile, faltering coalition, some awfully radical measures are being put in place to dismantle many of the institutions that made this country great. I’m fearing for the future, from a government seemingly without a popular mandate.
In no part of the social structure is this demolition by attrition more keenly felt than in public services, particularly local authorities. Here in Walsall, our Council has to make huge cuts, and despite pronouncements to the contrary, it’s already the poor, the vulnerable and the aged who are suffering. Services the authority has traditionally excelled at – Libraries, culture, street cleansing, neighbourhoods – are gradually being pared back ready for closure, disposal or outsourcing. In the Walsall of the future, as envisioned by our leader, Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird, he won’t have to trouble himself with many staff, messy departments or social care, it’ll all be performed by a willing miracle mix of commercial partners and well meaning voluntary groups. Sadly, there seems to be a slow take up by said groups, who are also suffering bitterly due to the very same cuts. One can see this in the mess that resulted from the Walsall palliative care disaster and the withdrawal of meals on wheels.
I’ll put this plainly. Our council is led by a man who doesn’t even bother to fight for his town, and has meekly accepted, with his customary oleaginous smugness, the cuts he is told to make. This is a man happy to schmooze at Downing Street, but seemingly unable to understand simple economic forces. The only light on the horizon is that his pronouncements have now become so bizarre that he’s clearly becoming a liability to his own group, who appear to be jostling for position in the background. Who can forget the great leader expounding his immense worth to a bewildered townsfolk, or the ridiculous conceit that advertising on the Walsall Council Website could raise £1,000,000 a year. Recently, he appears to have been shocked that people are choosing to park and shop at the very Tesco he willingly prostrated himself to facilitate, in preference to the rest of the town centre . This has gone beyond shambles to farce.
Meanwhile, the Labour Group leader still appears to be asleep at the helm, seemingly unable to take a shot at one of the biggest open goals in Walsall political history. His group is still split from internecine feuds of the nineties and seemingly suffering paralysis. Over in the Liberal Democrat tent, Ian Shires prepares to be kingmaker and deal with the devil should the council swing back to no overall control. Mirroring Nick Clegg, the smell of power seems certain to dilute the political resolve. Don’t expect principles there, this guy has form.
There are many great Councillors of all political persuasions in Walsall, both serving and prospective. I have deep respect for several, and know of their community spirit and willingness to engage, although the reappearance of Marco Longhi on Walsall’s social media channels just a few weeks before the poll after a two year hiatus seems a bit convenient – however, his willingness to debate and join the community is welcome. Were it only that others were so digitally engaged. I just hope it’s not a PR push for his prospective group leadership.
With all this in mind, there is also the vexed question of AV. Listening to the ‘No’ camp, I’m apparently too thick to understand it, and a system which is fine to install in other countries and for choosing leaders like David Cameron, but is not for simple folk like me. Here in Brownhills, that falls a bit flat. We’ve had the same Tory MP since 1979, Richard Shepherd, Member for Aldridge North and Brownhills. Richard has always understood his constituency dynamic, and with an unassailable majority, has never once in 32 years felt the need to hold a surgery in Brownhills, preferring to hold them in Aldridge. Whilst we see our MP at fetes and openings, he is not a high profile character and I doubt many of his constituents would recognise him in the street. Anything that challenges such complacency has to be good – in this mega-safe constituency, my vote simply does not count. That needs fixing, for all of us.
I will go and vote tomorrow – as always, but I will do so with a heavy heart. As I walk to the polling station, I’ll reflect on this town, and on the borough, and it’s political representation and process. I am fearful for the future of my this place I love, for the provision of the social state and it’s auspices that bought me, like so many other working class kids, to a decent, educated adulthood. Having cast my vote, I’ll wait for a day or two for the confirmation of what I fear but cannot change. We need a government, both nationally and locally that cares for us.
The ones we have, do not.