Did you know that on April 4 this year, 214 councillors were elected to towns and parishes throughout East Hampshire? Yet not one person has voted for these candidates who will now be their parish councillors from April 5. In our area, only 35 out of 329 town and parish councils will face an actual vote. Polls are to be held in only 11 out of 56 wards.
Even worse, despite this, even after those few seats that will be voted for are filled, there will still be 80 vacant town and parish seats. There are parishes where only half, or fewer, than the required number of councillors are elected. In Alton, only one ward will vote, for two councillors. In Petersfield, two wards will vote for three councillors.
This threatens the very legitimacy of this level of local government.
Among those who have been elected, without a vote, will be many ‘paper’ candidates. People who have put their name forward to stand for an election who had no intention of becoming a councillor.
The absence of enough candidates makes a mockery of local democracy in our towns and villages.
The question is why are residents not willing to stand for public office in our towns and villages?
It is true there are many local councillors elected unopposed who do a good job and do their best for their areas. But the chance of change is what keeps our democracy alive. It is the very possibility of losing their position that keeps councillors focused.
Where did all the politicians go?
In local elections across East Hampshire:
- 35 parish and town seats out of 329 will be voted for, fewer than 11 per cent.
- 214 parish councillors have already been elected without a single vote, 65 per cent.
- 80 seats will remain vacant after May 4, 24 per cent.
Some specific examples:
- In Alton (pictured right), three seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Bentworth, four out of eight seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Bramshott and Liphook, five out of 12 seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Clanfield, five out of ten seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Lindford, five out of nine seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Medstead, four out of nine seats will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Petersfield, one seat will remain vacant after May 4.
- In Stroud, six out of ten seats will remain vacant after May 4.
Having councillors who have not faced a vote for years can lead to a certain complacency. I am sure people have been told, “just put your name forward, you will get on the parish without a vote.”
Yet residents still do not want to be on these very local councils.
So why won’t people stand in towns and parishes?
Is it to do with social media? We all know how unregulated social media discussions are, where untruths are spread, and individuals targeted. Once you are in the spotlight there is little a person can do to defend against coordinated groups whose aims are not transparent. And bystanders can see for themselves the public treatment of others.
Or is our collective reluctance to stand a reflection of a general lack of volunteers? Many voluntary clubs and societies are struggling to keep going because people no longer put themselves forward.
Has the cost of living impacted volunteering and public service? After all, these positions are unpaid and demand a huge amount of time and effort. Perhaps residents have to concentrate on paid jobs to make ends meet.
Whatever the answer, it is very sad that local communities won’t be represented by people they actually vote for at the most local level of government.
Councillor Steve Hunt
Leader of East Hampshire District Council's Lib Dem opposition group
Candidate for Alton Amery