Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Equality of the Count

The Count for the local elections this year was the second one I've been to, and it's been a really odd experience both times. It's often the only time you meet and talk to your political opponents (apart from hustings), and you're all in the same boat - you just have to stand there and watch all the votes being processed. There's nothing you can do to change the result, you just need to stand there next to an opposition member and watch.

If you stand or are heavily involved in an election, the relationship with your political opponents is a strange one, and it's taken me a while to get used to it. Often the only communication you have is through leaflets and twitter, and it's really easy to think of them as 'the other' whom you have to beat - it's a trap I've fallen into several times before. This is exacerbated if there's attacks on you or your party in the opposition literature, or if there's members of the opposition team who, because you're with a certain party, attack you simply for getting in their way.

However, the truth is that most of the people working in the opposition party are doing it for exactly the same reason as you - because they want to make their area and city better, they want to help people. Sure, they may disagree with you about what that means or what the priorities are, and may make some decisions that you think are bad, but their intentions are (generally) good.

But it's difficult when there's attacks in the literature and online. The campaign in Romsey was quite positive on all sides (and my thanks to Noel for that), but there have been some shocking attacks and leaflets elsewhere in the city. Local politics in Cambridge has a tendency to be rather adversarial, and there are many people - some from historical experience - who interpret all opposition work as bad or wrong, just because it's the opposition. And that results in a negative atmosphere all round, to the detriment of all.

But they're the opposition, and democracy forces us to compete. I want to make a difference to my local community, I want to help make people's lives better. But, often, the only people who actually have the power to fix things and to set overall priority are the councillors. Of course, I email the council, or the officers. Maybe a junction needs to be redesigned, or some trees need pruning or moving. Often there's no reply from the council, or there's no money, or it's not a priority. After all, I'm just a local busybody sticking his nose in.

So to really make a difference, to improve people's day-to-day lives, I need to be elected, because councillors have that power. Unfortunately, there are other people who want it as well, and there's only one seat in the council chamber.

So you campaign - putting out your different opinions about what should happen, what needs to change, what you have done and what you will do, so the electorate can choose. There may be policies or decisions taken by the opposition that you feel are wrong or detrimental to the area, or there may be an issue they've ignored - and so that's one of your campaign points. But sometimes those campaigns can degenerate from positive campaigns about you and what you've managed to get fixed, and turn into negative attacks on the opposition, or even personal attacks on the candidate directly, and local democracy quickly turns poisonous.

It's a really tricky balance, and it's so easy to turn negative. But, ultimately, you all want the same thing, and you'll all end up at the count, watching those ballot papers move across the table, just waiting for the result.

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