As a local politician I am often stopped by members of my ward to discuss national politics and when I say national politics I do of course mean Brexit. Incidentally there’s nowhere better to find out what people think about the state of the nation than on the touch line of my local team Harlow Town, whose fortunes are faring about as well as Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations.
I am convinced that the referendum result of three years ago has created a divide in our nation, or at the very least it has exposed a divide that was already there. However, one thing that both those who want to remain in the EU and those that want to leave have in common is that they are fed up. Remainers are tired of the continual uncertainty about this country’s future; those who want to leave are frustrated by a government which appears to be dragging its feet. From the feedback I am getting on the doorstep, I suspect that the turnout at local elections this year will be at an all-time low and it is local Councillors across the country, many through no fault of their own, who could face the brunt of this dissatisfaction.
But the finger of blame should be pointed at those in parliament who are putting their own personal ambition ahead of the best interests of the people they have been elected to represent, and ahead of the best interests of the country as a whole.
So why is this disconnect with politics such a problem? Well we only have to look at the US Presidency to see the dangers. Many people who voted for Trump did so because they felt politically isolated and were desperate to give a bloody nose to the establishment, even if in the long term they ended up worse off. Parts of Britain have faced years of government-imposed austerity, but all people see is politicians on both side of the house squabbling and fighting amongst themselves. It is unlikely that some of those worst hit by government cuts are going to feel particularly keen to go out and vote, and certainly not for mainstream parties.
What impact this could have is yet to be determined of course, but it could mean the rise of extremist parties, certainly at a local level where margins are fine. In the long term, it is the people that we seek to represent who may finally lose out. We cannot allow extremist views and ideologies to become normalised, but if we elect extremists to positions of power then that is exactly what is going to happen.
Fortunately back on the touchline of Harlow Town, even when we’re facing at 7-2 drubbing by the team who had been below us in the league, people are able to differentiate between local and national politics. They also appreciate politicians who are working for their local communities and not for their own self interests.
So, far from being negative about the current state of British politics, I choose to be positive, forward looking and above all proactive. If we can show the public that local Councillors are there to represent them, then perhaps in a small way we can change people’s opinions about politics and politicians as a whole. Only when we have the public’s trust can we start to rebuild our divided nation. That is what I intend to try to do.
You’ll forgive me for ending this piece with the words of Jo Cox, ‘we have more in common than that which divides us.’ Sometimes, we find ourselves getting into self-gratifying arguments with members of the opposition rather than seeking to do what is best for our constituents. I think we need to remember these words.