I expected to lose the elections, so I'm not at all surprised I did. The turnout was down to 32% (in my ward, Grangetown), which means 68% are not interested in local politics. The predictable results across Cardiff were more an opinion poll on the national government than a choice of representatives on the Council. Indeed, on the doorstep I had many people saying they liked what we've done in Cardiff & Grangetown, but wouldn't vote for us because of the Westminster government.
This is a problem. Not for me because I'm happy I had the opportunity to serve and change things for the better for eight years. I have also received very sincere praise from my political 'opponents' over the years. So I'm satisfied. The problem is one to do with democracy.
If voting is used as a way to voice an opinion, rather than choosing representatives, representative democracy loses legitimacy. It highlights the following issues:
- People want to express their opinions and influence government, but the only chance they get is by putting a cross on a ballot paper every so often.
- People do not follow the local news or do not feel a particular attachment to the locality. This is partly to do with the economics of the media (little space for niche and independent media etc.). But also on how the media select, present stories, and reaches its audience. There will be people who do not think they're interested in the local picture, but they might want to know about issues that have a local aspect. They need to be targeted differently (perhaps through online communities).
- If voting is unrelated to actual performance (be it if national issues impinge on local elections or the other way round), then I fear political parties will fall prey of short-term visions that follow the national 'narrative' rather than what is needed locally.
The way democracy is today is most unsatisfactory. It's not the 'fault' of political parties, the media or the electorate (although they are all culpable in part!). We are at the height of a technological revolution, which will take a long time to unravel. The democracy of tomorrow will be very different. I hope we'll see a deepening of democracy rather than a descent into populism. The only way to do that is for every single one of us to take responsibility and work for all the communities which we inhabit.