Local elections: No, politicians aren't all as bad as each other - Bill Carmichael

They are all as bad as each other!

I have lost count of the number of times in recent weeks that people have said that to me.

“Who are you voting for in the local elections?”

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“I dunno. They are all as bad as each other. I probably won’t bother,” is frequently the answer.

Voters turned out yesterday.

It is easy to see how this kind of thinking develops, and in many ways politicians have only themselves to blame, because it is their reckless behaviour that has led to this corrosive cynicism.

No sooner have we got over the shock of the Prime Minister and Chancellor being fined for attending a rule-breaking lockdown birthday party in Downing Street, than we are hit by new revelations that the Labour leader and his deputy attended a beer and curry event in Durham, when indoor gatherings were banned.

Boris Johnson has apologised and said it did not occur to him that the event was a breach of the rules.

But he still has the unenviable – some would say shameful – record of becoming the first serving British Prime Minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law.

Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, insists he has done nothing wrong and his boozy gathering was a work event.

At 10pm on a Friday night with a bottle of lager in hand?

Pull the other one Keir, it has bells on. It is easy to conclude from these recent events that politicians of all stripes simply don’t believe that the rules should apply to them; that they can impose all kinds of draconian restrictions on the liberties of the rest of us, without it impacting on their irresponsible partying one jot.

In some ways these stories are a distraction. Given the numerous crises assailing us, “cakegate” and “beergate”, which both happened many months ago, pale into insignificance.

We have many bigger and more important problems to deal with – recovering from a world-wide pandemic, a huge cost of living crisis and the growing possibility of nuclear war, just for starters.

Perhaps these events do point to flaws of character of our political elite – that they see themselves as so special that even the laws of the land can be broken with impunity.

I sympathise with people’s anger at the rule breaking, but I would ask that we put our cynicism to one side because – unpopular opinion I admit – politicians are not all bad.

I have spent much of my career interviewing and observing politicians at close quarters.

Some have been spectacularly unpleasant characters and there are plenty of giant-sized egos, raging ambition and the occasional crook out for all he or she can get.

But many, possibly a majority, enter politics for entirely laudable reasons in that they believe they can make a positive difference to their communities and help lift the burdens that afflict ordinary people.

And it is a great pity that the disenchantment with national politics bleeds into local politics.

This week has been a great festival of democracy, where people around the country have been voting for councillors to run local authorities.

Unlike MPs, councillors are unpaid, although they do receive allowances, and the vast majority volunteer for what is often an onerous and thankless job because they love their localities and want to make them better.

They look after the street lights, park benches, bin collections and potholes, and without them our lives would be poorer.

And our system gives ordinary people a say in the way they are governed that would be unthinkable in places like China, Russia or Saudi Arabia.

And best of all democracy gives us the opportunity to kick out our rulers if we feel they are not up scratch.

Again that is not the case in many parts of the world, including our neighbours in the EU!

So I think we should proudly celebrate our system and thank politicians, particularly the thousands of local councillors, for their sterling service.

To all those elected yesterday, of whatever party or none, I say congratulations and well done. Now crack on in serving the voters in the best way you can.

And no one defended our flawed system better than Sir Winston Churchill in 1947: “Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise.

“Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”