What’s left of local democracy is fading away…

In the least surprising piece of news we’ve heard recently, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) are increasingly concerned about the ability of councils to hold the local elections this coming May because of the ongoing cycle of lockdowns and tiered restrictions: Diminishing chance of local elections in May. This is despite a number of councillors in Thurrock (and presumably other councils) calling for a full postal ballot to be held in May rather than have yet another postponement: Call for postal vote election as Covid looks set to delay polling again.

Local elections were suspended last year. If they’re put back to this coming October as has been suggested by the LGIU, what guarantee is there that more ‘variants’ of the coronavirus wouldn’t be appearing with another ‘crisis’ coming along to yet again put the elections back to 2022? A fair number of councillors who really needed to be held to account back in May 2020 would be getting a stay of execution of at least 17 months and quite possibly 2 years. Back in March of 2020, it was ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’ and now towards the end of January 2021, it looks as though this crisis is never going to come to a sodding end.

While many people have been focused on the coronavirus, the measures put in place to deal with it and the roll out of a variety of vaccines, a lot of other changes have been taking place in our society as this crisis rolls on and on, many of them irreversible. There are a lot of players with dubious and questionable agendas who are not letting this crisis go to waste. They don’t give a shit about our interests. We’ll be writing in depth about them over on our sister blog, Estuary Stirrings, as we move through 2021.

One of these changes is the fading away of what’s left of local democracy which was already in a pretty parlous state. Regular readers of this blog will be in no doubt as to what we think of Basildon and Thurrock councils! In both councils, there are councillors and senior officers who are probably quite happy about yet another postponement of being called to account by pissed off residents for their arrogance / hubris / incompetence.

In Basildon, the imposition of the town centre masterplan which would see a lot of the existing one demolished to be replaced by high rise apartment blocks is a sore point. Many residents opposed to this were looking forward to giving councillors supporting the scheme a kicking at the local elections in May – that opportunity looks increasingly likely to be denied to them.

In Thurrock, there’s the crisis caused by the council’s questionable borrowing and ‘investment’ strategy that has already given us a massive hike in our council tax and threatens us with more austerity: How much damage will this financial black hole do? A lot of us residents want to hold the councillors who agreed to this strategy to account. We’d also like to hold the senior officers to account as well but they’re a law unto themselves – that’s a story for another day! Also, there’s Thurrock Council’s abysmal record with overseeing infrastructure projects: Accountability?

With our anarchic leanings, obviously we have little faith in the charade that’s local democracy. Particularly when unelected, unaccountable senior council officers are allowed to have too much influence over the direction of council policies. However, flawed and imperfect it is, what we have is a lot better than what could be coming our way where apart from a few cosmetic ‘consultations’ for show purposes, we’ll have absolutely no say in how our communities are governed.

If the local elections are postponed until October and we get there and a new ‘crisis’ prompts a further delay until May 2022, we’ll be in a position where the already barely flickering flames of local democracy face an increasing risk of being extinguished altogether. With local government increasingly doing the bidding of the government, their corporate backers and the developers, there will be a lot of people at that level and higher who’ll be quite happy with accountability at the polls being deferred again and again until people end up shrugging their shoulders and reluctantly accept the situation.

We want to head in completely the opposite direction where power comes right back down to the grassroots and residents actively engage in and control the decision making process that sets the course for how our communities develop. Suffice to say, there’s work to do to not just hang onto to what we have but fight for something a heck of a lot better…

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