By Martin Walker
A fairly brief question on our Facebook page was enough to provoke a mini outpouring of opinions recently, which suggest the general public is indeed disillusioned or disconnected with local politics.
Less than one in four of us turned out for the Durham County Council elections, while the turn-out for the Aycliffe Council elections were no better.
The best in the County election was Aycliffe East, with a 25.75% turn-out, while Aycliffe West had 23.09% and Aycliffe North and Middridge 21.38% respectively.
It represents an alarmingly ever-decreasing figure, and it begs the question, do we care about local politics?
In a brand new feature on Aycliffe Today, Aycliffe Councillor John Clare – newly-elected to Durham County Council – answers some of the views, opinions and questions posed by our readers.
The big question is what do you think needs to be done to get people more people interested in politics and to drag the electorate out to vote?
In a very frank and honest reply, John says…
“The truth is that I am very pessimistic. Politics is not the only community-activity which is struggling – there is a danger that the political party ‘branch’ is going the same way as the church and the local pub as social norms change.
“We live in a society where ‘celebrity’ is respected far more than old-style ‘authority’, so politicians no longer command any automatic respect. Meanwhile, the power of the media in this is pervasive, and they continually churn out what is in effect propaganda stereotyping politicians as incompetent and corrupt.
“The only way, in my opinion, for local politicians to turn this around is for them to go out and approach people – and to do so at times other than elections, and to ask – not just what people vote – but what people think. We need to create, not a community which votes Labour, but a ‘Labour community’… a situation where people are continually consulted and automatically see themselves as involved in the decisions which affect their community. Knocking doors is one way, but we can also use digital media. Aycliffe Today, for example, is doing a wonderful job with this online feature.
“Also, Aycliffe Labour has what is in effect an ‘online Branch’ where people can discuss issues on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/nalabour/ Although I am afraid it only has a dozen-or-so active members, it has many more people who ‘look in’ on it, and I would love for more people of whatever political persuasion to go on and have their say.
“Finally, however, there has to be a change of attitude amongst the public. There is too much of what used to be called ‘pub-politics’ – people making (often ill-informed) simplistic statements, and then disengaging in a huff immediately they are challenged.
“People need to appreciate that politics is not a solution, it is a dialogue.
“I would wish people to realise that political decisions change their lives, that politicians like me actively want them to engage and contribute.”
John Clare is a Labour Councillor, representing the Byerley Park, Horndale and Cobblers Hall wards of Great Aycliffe Town Council and the Aycliffe North and Middridge ward of Durham County Council. The views expressed in this feature of John’s own opinion, and not necessarily Aycliffe Today’s.