The Dragon Says: Real Problems Require Real Councillors – Not Paper Ones
You will have heard of paper napkins, paper roses, even paper tigers but have you ever heard of “paper candidates”?
Unless you have become unusually familiar with local politics, probably not – but they do exist and thousands of Guildford voters voted for them on Thursday, in some cases hundreds more than were expected to.
It goes like this… all political parties, at a local level, can struggle to find candidates for all the seats in all the wards. In fact, at Thursday’s borough council election only the Conservatives fielded a full complement of 48 candidates; one for each council seat.
But parties, even the Conservatives, do not usually have 48 people willing to become councillors with all the commitments it entails. Hardly surprising. It can require considerable amounts of time and effort and, apart from the paltry allowance of less than £5,000 per annum, one can only expect negative criticism, complaints, even vilification, from all and sundry.
Nonetheless, the political parties want to field as many candidates as possible so that they appear to be widely based and so constituents, right across a borough or county, are able to vote for their party and increase their popular vote.
So in the absence of keen or even just willing volunteers, individual party members are pressed into service, signing the necessary forms with some reluctance, the assurances that there is no chance of actually being elected ringing in their ears. They are only candidates “on paper” they are told, just “paper candidates”.
Of course, we all know what can happen to the best laid plans. Murphy’s law, “what can go wrong probably will” kicked in on Thursday and voters in Westborough, after years of returning Labour and Lib Dem councillors, consciously or not, followed the national pro-Conservative trend and voted in two of the three Conservative candidates named on their ballot papers, Elizabeth Hooper and Sheila Kirkland.
Such was the lack of spring in their steps as they mounted the platform to be announced winners they could have been climbing steps to a gallows. What had they let themselves in for and which energetic candidates had their candidature prevented from being elected?
We should not blame the “paper candidates” too much, if at all: they were only trying to serve their party. Nor should we get get on too high a horse to blame the political parties – all the main parties do this, by the way. Their argument will be, “Shouldn’t voters in any ward have a full political range of candidates to choose from?”
Before we, all too readily, point any fingers of blame perhaps we should think about our own role in the political process.
We all love to hate politicians these days but unless we are prepared to do our bit, by being aware, by taking an interest, by finding out about the candidates other than simply which party they stand for, we can hardly be surprised when the democratic process fails.
We all love to blame politicians but which of us is prepared to put our heads above the parapet? Which of us is prepared to give our energy and time and develop a thick enough skin to endure the inevitable and often unfair brick-bats?
Because all the time we don’t, all the time we are prepared to sit back and let others pull our weight, it is hardly surprising that the parties feel they have to resort to persuading reluctant or unsuitable candidates into standing just to make the numbers up.
And perhaps there is another question to ask: why do we even need political party allegiances in local politics? If you want someone to consider a planning application, chase up the dustmen or arrange for a pot hole to be filled do you really care about their political views? Does their view on Trident or EU membership count a jot?
The Dragon says it doesn’t. The Dragon says we should consider our councillor’s as individuals and not party members. We should look for capable people who want to serve their communities not those with any kind of party political ambition. But to do that takes a little bit of effort on our behalf so that we stop lazily putting a cross in a box simply because of a party label.
There are real problems to sort out, especially in wards like Westborough where there is a higher proportion of the less well off and a commensurately higher councillor case load.
Real problems require real councillors and real councillors come from real candidates – not paper ones.