Parish Politics – Gone to the Dogs!
A Letter to the Editor from Steve CROSBY, a Parish Councillor in Osgodby, North Yorkshire, making the case for a keener public engagement in local non-party politics.
The image of British local governance is synonymous with the Vicar of Dibley, Jeremy Clarkson’s planning ordeals and the chaos at the Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting. Has local politics gone to the dogs?
Local Town, Parish or Community Councils in England are the first tier of local government and are statutory community and neighbourhood bodies. They are independently elected and raise their own precept, a form of council tax. There are 10,000 local councils in England covering 30% of the country, and 100,000 Councillors with over £1bn being invested in these communities each year. Their remit is working towards improving community well-being and providing better services by representing the local community, delivering local services and striving to improve quality of life.
Local council responsibilities range from allotments, burial grounds, community transport, crime reduction measures to litter bins, traffic calming measures and managing commons and open spaces. This is a far cry from Brexit trade negotiations, CO2 net zero targets, controlling our borders, infringements of our personal freedom and gender wars. Is there a time when intense conversations throughout our nation translates itself to actively taking back control of our own affairs?
We have all met well-meaning candidates contesting elections who have net zero experience of voluntary community activity, expecting their electorate to vote for them because they advocate ideologies which unfortunately do not directly affect their daily lives. This usually results in a low poll and heartache for the campaign team. Is the challenge to engage in grassroots politics a waste of time and energy or the first stepping stone to greater responsible decision making?
Having spent over 30 years in voluntary community roles I was presented with the opportunity to serve as a Parish Councillor in North Yorkshire. Twelve months have elapsed since my election and true to form I have encountered those who believe they have the hereditary right to be a Councillor, others who reminisce on their free meals at the ratepayers’ expense and the challenge of welcoming others to 21st Century technology.
We can all decry corruption in politics but we must remind ourselves of the age old quote “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men (or women) do nothing”. By engaging with the electorate through a twenty question survey, and holding public meetings in the local pub discussing their concerns I have ignited local democracy. Through empowering their voice and starting the slow journey to build confidence and transparency at this level of governance our Parish is experiencing significant progress to resolving local issues. One person recently thanked me for hosting informal meetings where they felt able to speak rather than in a formal setting in front of well-dressed Councillors. Perish the thought, is this the embryo of a hybrid style of Swiss direct democracy?
Next year there will be Town Council elections in Harrogate and Scarborough. Turnout is traditionally low and some will even spoil their ballot paper as they feel unable to support any candidate. So what can be done?
Rather than perfecting keyboard-warrior skills or pontificating at your local, maybe its time to gain valuable experience as a voluntary community member and consider becoming a Councillor https://www.local.gov.uk/lga-independent/our-work/be-councillor
Please check the eligibility to stand in either of these areas for the 2024 elections. Even if you work, own land or premises within the ward or live within 4.8km of the boundary you will be eligible.
My time as a Councillor has resulted in new challenges. When my daughters ask their Mum where Dad is she informs them that he’s taking the dogs for a walk and that means he won’t be back for some time as it will involve numerous parish-related discussions with the neighbours. Local politics will go to the dogs if we do nothing, or we can engage and go for a walk with the dogs and start restoring local democracy. The choice is yours, one small step at a time we can change politics for good and make North Yorkshire great again.