Yet another local election has taken place in which few people bothered to vote. Low turnouts and local elections have become commonplace. Which is hardly surprising when you think how little real responsibility is left with local councils.
Most secondary schools are now academies so local councils don't look after much of our children's education. For decades councils haven't been able to build council homes with any confidence that they won't be forced to sell the home off on the cheap before they have paid back the money they borrowed against it. So they've got fewer and fewer council homes. More recently they have lost most control over planning with a national assumption being brought in that the developer is right and the citizen wrong (dressed up, of course, as a presumption in favour of sustainable development). They have almost no meaningful funding left to do anything to attract industry or commerce to their locality. Just about all they have left is bins, parks and care. The budget for the last of these is so strapped for cash that it is a wonder the service functions at all. Top all that with decades of staff losses and it doesn't make for an inspiring service. Adding elected mayors to the mix simply amounts to yet another top down re-organisation and an extra level of bureaucracy. Not most people's idea of what local government needs.
Contrast this with what was achieved by local government in the days when it had real power. Joseph Chamberlin for the Conservatives made a huge contribution to developing Birmingham and introduced the whole idea of simple practical common sense Conservatism. He is one of the main inventors of one nation politics based on the simple principle that most people want their locality to do well. It was an idea that got him elected again and again. Because he was actually able to do something to build up a great city.
Labour did much the same thing for many cities in the north with a lot more consideration for the needs of ordinary working people. They had a whole series of excellent dedicated local councillors who devoted their entire lives to this kind of small deeds politics. Actually that is wrong. People like Ada Salter (see the excellent biography by Graham Taylor) didn't do small deeds. They did significant and very important deeds locally. Providing people with better homes, better parks, better health and a better environment isn't a small thing. It is politics at its best. The reason the Labour Party got trusted by so many voters was this army of selfless people doing simple things well on behalf of local people.
The number of people from any political party prepared to do that sort of work these days is desperately thin. So is the scope and the authority of local government. Every meaningful decision seems to have been brought under the national government in Westminster or - and let's be honest about this - occasionally the EU. Small reason then that many people used the Brexit vote to express the view that their own particular community had been neglected and forgotten and they felt powerless locally.
For the avoidance of doubt this does not mean that I think gambling with our economy or with European political stability is the right way of dealing with this problem. I still think Brexit will prove a serious mistake and we must be given a chance to look hard at the final deal and decide on the basis of reality not promises. I also think massively more of the centralisation blame lies with Westminster than Brussels.
But I do think we all need to appreciate the importance of returning power to the local level whenever possible. It is madness that a decision made by a local planning committee can be over ridden by a decision made by a national body that local people have no control over. It is crazy to squander the power of local pride and take decisions and funding for local economic development away from local councils. (Even crazier when the development bodies that you put in place to replace them are constantly re-organised so that almost no one can remember whether it is Yorkshire Forward, the Leeds Local Enterprise Partnership or a mayor who controls the budget and makes the decisions this year).
We need our pride back in local communities. Restoring genuine power and control to local authorities should be the first step in that equation.
I say that regardless of the result today in the local council seat where I stood. Whatever party is controlling the council people have a right to expect that the local authority is responsible for a wide range of local services and can be kicked out of office when they don't run them very well. Decades of neglect of local government by politicians from all major parties needs to be reversed and reversed quickly.
Otherwise we can hardly blame people if they become cynical about politics and think no one that they know personally stands any chance of changing things on the ground.
Late extra: 45% of people voted in my constituency of Aire Valley with Lothersdale and I managed to win a Conservative seat for the Green Party on a night when they lost very very few seats anywhere in the country. Gives me a chance to put some of this theory into a tiny bit of practice!!!