Ed Carlisle is standing in the city council elections on Thursday 5th May, for the city centre (and Hunslet and Beeston Hill). Here, he looks at what local politics is all about, what we can achieve through it, and wonders if we can breathe new life into it, and make it work for the regular people again. Note: voter registration closes midnight on Monday 18th April (full info below).
‘Politics’ has a pretty bad reputation. And yet the past few years have seen a huge surge in regular people getting interesting and involved in political issues. There’s the Occupy movement, 38 degrees and Avaaz; the campaigns for big businesses and the wealthy to stop tax-dodging; the Scottish referendum debate, and now the EU debate across the country; wide-ranging public debates on war, migration, the NHS, flooding; and much more. People are bothered about the big issues, even if they don’t perhaps feel the mainstream political system is working.
But, out and about in the city, another thing that strikes me is that people aren’t only bothered about the ‘big’ issues. If anything, people are as bothered – if not more so – about the ‘small’ things, on our doorsteps. For example: litter, housing, local projects and events (eg for the elderly and vulnerable), job opportunities, crime, pedestrian crossings and bike lanes, and much more. This isn’t sexy headline-grabbing stuff, but it really shapes and impacts our daily lives.
Meanwhile, for too long we’ve been led to imagine that politics is all about people arguing in London or Brussels, about international summits in far-flung places, and solely the ‘big’ things. Yet in fact, politics has everything to do with the ‘small’ things. It’s an neglected field, but there is a thing called ‘local politics’. In Leeds, we have 99 elected city councillors working in the 33 council ‘wards’ (ie communities) of the city, trying – in theory – to sort out the ‘small’ things we see around us each day.
And, it’s not a well-known fact, but next month – Thursday 5th May (2016) – sees the latest local council election here in Leeds. This is totally separate from the EU referendum, on Thursday 23rd June (more on that in my article next month). It’s got precious little to do with whether you like (or hate) Cameron, Corbyn, or anyone else in Westminster. It’s a vote for our communities, our streets and parks, for local events and services, a vote for our city.
Politics itself doesn’t have all the answers to make a good society on its own: we all need businesses, charities, communities, and everyone else to play their part, together. For instance, there are some fantastic businesses I know in Leeds going out on a limb to recruit and train up unemployed youngsters: they’re achieving more for those particular kids than any government programme. Likewise, there are some amazing folk doing phenomenal work campaigning and acting for change through charities. And for a top example of community collaboration, I was at a great little litterpick out at H2010 (a housing development on the river past Leeds Dock) last weekend – which was so simple (just 12-15 of us with bin bags), but made so much impact.
However, please let’s not forget the role of politics – and particularly local council politics. If you’re not already registered to vote, or if you’re not sure, please do so: the deadline to do so is midnight on Monday 18th April, and it only takes 3-4 minutes online at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk. Please do vote on Thursday 5th May – or beforehand if you’re voting by post. And please consider voting not on the basis of national or international politics, but on what’s best for our communities and city here in Leeds.
Finally then, a bit on me. I’ve been running community projects and events here in Leeds for 13+ years, but had never really been involved in politics. But I got totally fed up with the absence of leadership and positive local politics here in ‘City and Hunslet’ – the council ‘ward’ made up of the city centre, Hunslet, and Beeston Hill. So just over a year ago, I joined the Green Party, and stood in the local council election here; loads of people got involved, we had loads of fun and met a lot of people, and we came a good second with 2,700 votes. Many thanks to all who supported us. I’m standing again this year, and might just win – then look forward to working with a wide range of people to make more good things happen around here. (If I don’t win, I’ll still do that work, but being elected will help immeasurably.) Please visit www.edleeds.org to find out more on me and our local campaign, and please get in touch if you wish.
Many thanks, best wishes whoever you vote for, and let’s all keep working to make this city better and better.
Do you agree or disagree with Ed Carlisle’s thoughts? Let us know by tweeting us @LeedsCityMag.