Do the councillors elected earlier this month really have a mandate? Political editor WALTER CRONXITE has seen the turn-out figures, and they don’t make happy reading
A look at the ward by ward turnout figures from this month’s local elections, as published by Croydon Council, show that many of the borough’s Labour councillors have reasons to be bashful, when it is clear that in some places, 7 in 10 voters couldn’t be bothered to exercise their democratic right.
It could even be argued that councillors elected in the Selhurt (27.32 per cent) and New Addington North (29.58 per cent) wards, where turnout was less than 30 per cent, really don’t have a credible electoral mandate.
There are other Labour-held wards, too, where the “not-bothered-to-vote” party almost topped 70 per cent.Fairfield ward only just limped over that low bar with a 30.46 per cent voter turn-out. Only 2,580 people cast a ballot across the whole area that runs from South Croydon to West Croydon and the Island Tower. There were just 860 voters for each councillor elected.
There are seven Labour-held wards, represented by 20 elected councillors, where the turn-out was between 30 and 35 per cent. That band is topped by Bensham Manor and Woodside, where even the presence of council deputy leader Alison Butler and council leader Tony Newman, respectively, was met with a shrug of indifference by electors. Or maybe it was the very presence of Butler and Newman on the ballot papers which deterred two-thirds of the electorate from turning out to vote.
Croydon’s political parties neglect to do much courting of voters outside the more closely contested swing wards: Fairfield, Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, New Addington South and Waddon. So the borough’s politicians hardly bother to campaign in what they regard as “safe” wards.
With that attitude and approach, it’s hardly surprising that voters reciprocate by not bothering to schlep to the polling station. After all, their vote is unlikely to overturn the huge majorities enjoyed by Croydon’s two parties in those wards.
By contrast, in Addiscombe East there was plenty of party political love and care dished out to voters. The higher 46.77 per cent turnout in that hotly contested ward, where the parties ended up winning one councillor seat each, shows the difference it can make to turn-out if the parties go to some effort.
The low turnout in some Labour wards is also a reflection of how less privileged communities with grinding poverty in Tory austerity Britain are less able to take part in elections.
Tory Sanderstead, with many residents enjoying more stable livelihoods, had the highest turnout at 47.21 per cent. This Sanderstead turnout was getting on to being close to double the turnout rate in Selhurst. More than a thousand extra people turned out for each Sanderstead councillor elected than in Fairfield – 1,878 per councillor.
Local government keeps asking national government to give it more powers, but there seems little point when the democratic mandate is so frayed by a governance that fails to engage. It’s no wonder that both the main English national parties have tried to encourage the creation of directly elected mayors elsewhere in London, as well as in Manchester and Birmingham, to try to re-connect with voter interest.
If every vote counted across the whole borough towards electing that single person to run the council, a vote in Selhurst would be as important as one in Addiscombe East.
But a directly elected mayor would not be in the interests of many of the councillors, who’d rather keep local politics a minority sport and the £1.5million of public money spent on them each year as “allowances”, rather than encouraging greater voter participation and better local democracy.
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