If I’m not very much mistaken, election season has got under way in Bury St Edmunds.
May 2 still seems a long way off to me. On the domestic front, we have various birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate, there’s an Easter egg hunt to be had and, if all goes to plan, we’ll have two or three new chickens strutting around our garden by that date. Nationally, England still have two matches to win before they pick up the Six Nations grand slam, British Summer Time will arrive and, hopefully the Queen will celebrate her 87th birthday.
But for some candidates seeking election (or re-election) to Suffolk County Council, it seems that two full months are needed to acquire those precious votes.
Followers of Twitter will have noticed a sharp increase in activity from our local politicians over the last week or two, issues that were half forgotten have bubbled back into consciousness while others seem to have taken on a new-found importance..
I think perhaps they need to pace themselves; possibly hold off for a few weeks. Any canvasser knocking at my door this week will be long-forgotten by May 2 and leaflets pushed through the letterbox will have completed their journey from hall to recycling box to composting facility, via the shredder.
After more than 30 years spent observing local government, I have a certain respect for councillors but can’t help feeling they are on a hiding to nothing.
Other than the really local and practical help they give through work their locality budgets – about £10,000 to spend like a municipal Father Christmas – it seems a pretty thankless task.
However well-intentioned the decision, who’s going to say ‘well done for axing our child’s school’ or ‘thanks for closing my mother’s residential home’?
As our elected representatives, they are doing a balancing act – toeing the party line, following officers’ advice, listening to electors, tempered by their own judgement, experience and conscience.
Then, of course, they’re effectively hog-tied by central government and its agencies which set the rules and hold the purse strings.
My biggest bugbear at the moment is the armlock the Government has on councils over Council Tax and the regulation that if a local authority wants to increase Council Tax by more than 2%, it has to hold a referendum. Why? Surely, when we elect our councillors, the vote we give them holds just as much weight as any vote we give an MP? If we disagree, we can vote them out at the next election, just like Parliament, which doesn’t offer a referendum on tax increases.
No, I wouldn’t be a councillor – even if you paid me.