Local elections: One week to go

There's only a week to go until the local elections across England, but you could be forgiven for being largely unaware of which councils are up for election and what the big issues are.

Image caption Turnout for local elections is generally much lower than at general elections

I live in an area which is holding an election on 3 May and I've only received one leaflet through my letterbox from a candidate (it was from the Green candidate) and not a single person knocking on the door campaigning.

I am not the only one - having done a straw poll (albeit unscientific) of colleagues living in other council areas where elections are being held, they've also had either no leaflets, or only one or two.

How can people be expected to vote if they don't know who or what they're actually voting for?

In the South East region the Conservatives currently control all but five of the local councils. Hastings and Gravesham are Labour-led. Eastbourne is led by the Liberal Democrats. Brighton and Hove is run by the Green Party and no party has overall control in Thanet.

Turnout for the local elections is generally much lower than at general elections. Last year in the South East it was 44.3%. But there was also a referendum on the Alternative Vote, which perhaps boosted turnout.

Key target

So presuming you do decide to vote next Thursday, where are you voting?

In our region, five councils will be holding polls. In Labour-run Hastings, half of the seats are up for election. It's a council Labour has to hold on to and will hope to increase its majority, if the party nationally is to have any hope of claiming it is on track for victory at the next general election.

In Conservative-run Tunbridge Wells, a third of seats are up for election, as in Maidstone, Tandridge and Crawley. Crawley is Conservative-led but is another key target for Labour.

So what is it that your local council provides? There are some local variations, but in general your local council is responsible for a number of services including:

  • collecting rubbish
  • looking after parks and running leisure centres
  • collecting your council tax

Despite their local function, when voters go to the polls next Thursday, the result will be seen as a reflection of the state of the main parties nationally.

Professor Tony Travers from the London School of Economics says these are significant elections: "Everything we meet outside our front door is controlled by the council so you need that to be good. But in the end we all, inevitably, see these election results as a barometer of what is going on in national politics as well as locally."

Although it's unlikely many councils will change hands next Thursday the results will give a fascinating insight into the state of the parties not just here but nationally too.