Simon Dickson has been blogging about online government, politics and WordPress since 2005. Some important people read it.

 
 
Wednesday 18 March 2009

Reality check: democracy inaction

Every now and again, you come across something which reminds you that, for all our great progress in e-politics, we still can't do some of the absolute basics.

Tomorrow there's a by-election where I live: the Thatcham South and Crookham ward of Thatcham Town Council. It's not a big deal, perhaps, but it's another chance for democracy to get some exercise. I received my polling card, and I was interested to find out what I could do with it.

To their credit, the Lib Dems have made a serious (offline) effort. We've had a couple of badly DTP'ed newsletters, a quite convincing pseudo-handwritten letter from the outgoing councillor, and a couple of knocks on the door in the very recent past. Plus, they've picked a candidate who rejoices in the name Marvellous Ford. A name you won't forget, although not ideal for search engine optimisation.

But that's all we've received, from anyone. So, who else is standing? I genuinely haven't been able to find out. Nothing on the award-winning local paper website, or on the BBC site, or (that I've seen) in the various freesheets we get through the door. Nothing on the local Tory party website: I'm not even sure they're putting anyone up. (There's nothing on the local LibDem site either, actually.) Nothing on the town council website, apart from a PDF telling me there's going to be an election. Nothing on the local authority website, under whose auspices the election takes place. Nothing coming up on Google.

Tomorrow I'll do my civic duty. I'll make my way to the polling station, and cast my vote. I will be doing so in complete ignorance of the choice being offered to me. And that, folks, is a bad bad thing.

Comments ( 14 )

  1. Paul Lettan says:

    What a sad comment on the state of democracy in England!

    I was born in Thatcham. Above the old fish and chip shop on Chapel Street (old A4). Apochryphal story is that my gran and grandpa put up a sign which read "To us a grandson is born."

    Below it, in larger letters, it said "FRYING TONIGHT". Boo Boom.

    It wouldn't be that the good people of Thatcham know which people take an interest in politics, who votes and who to talk to, the campaign is by word of mouth and a consensus emerges.....

    Marvelous Ford (sic ?) has clearly been chosen as a good chap who should be conscripted.

    'Twas ever thus.

  2. Simon says:

    It's quite amusing to note that my inclusion to a 'no results' search query on the local LibDems' site has been specifically indexed by Google... and is currently the #2 result for Ms Ford's name (behind a Ford car reference).

    So the only info from her party is that there is no info from her party. That's really quite embarrassing.

  3. Paul Lettan says:

    Tee Hee! Ms. Marvelous Ford? It gets better. I'm surprised Libs not better organised. My uncle Frank Hutchings will be turning in his grave! Still have family there. The Spriggs are a large clan.

    By the way, think your site is great. I learn so much. Keep up the great work and good luck. Enjoy your 'Democracy Day'.

  4. Paul Walter says:

    Try here Simon:

    http://www.flocktogether.org.uk/event/4933

    Came up item 3 on a Google search. Small, but perfectly formed. Flock Together is an excellent site, by the way.

  5. Tony Ferguson says:

    Wow your uncle was Frank Hutchings! a famous local man who has a hall named after him. Apparently Marvellous won by over 300 votes

  6. Simon says:

    I'm a big fan of Flock Together, Paul - as I told Lynne Featherstone recently, it's a magnificent resource which the LDs should shout about a lot more. If Obama had done it, etc...

    My criticism was aimed mainly at your opponents, who failed to even tell me they were standing. (There was a Tory on the ballot paper, but I've still no idea what he was standing for.) But it's still disapppointing that the West Berks LDs site had literally nothing about her.

    Now, if this was a political blog, I'd tell you there were 2 polling stations within 100m of each other - literally, I measured it. But it isn't, so I won't.

  7. Simon says:

    For anyone who's interested in the proximity of the two polling stations:
    Google aerial photo

  8. Paul Walter says:

    Understood Simon. Indeed I blogged about the proximity last night:

    http://paulwalter.blogspot.com/2009/03/conundrum.html

    I will link to your excellent photo. It was absolutely insane and when I mentioned it to a West Berks LD councillor I received my best laugh of the day when I heard his extravagant two minute stream of verbiage to describe the "staggering, mind numbingly, catatonic....etc etc....incompetence etc"!

  9. Paul Walter says:

    I like your bog by the way - excellent lay out and some very good points. Indeed, to heck with it - I'll put you on my blogroll!

  10. Paul Walter says:

    Turnout was 34% which was up on the last election.

    Votes cast were:

    Marvellous Ford - Liberal Democrats: 1053 votes
    Conservative (I never did catch his name either): 680 votes

    Liberal Democrat majority - 373 votes.

  11. Vestan Pance says:

    It's not necessarily "insane" to have two polling stations together in fact it's happens relativity often. In Calcot for example they have two in the same building.

  12. Simon says:

    ... which I think is exactly my point, Vestan. In fact I'm pretty sure we've had 'double' polling stations in the same room - at one of these two locations (Burdwood hall) - in previous years.

    PS Is that a PWEI reference?

  13. It'd be lovely to have consolidated information on all candidates, wouldn't it. A lovely example of the sort of really basic data gap that needs filling. mySociety could try to raise the money to do this manually (god knows where from), but then even if we're successful we're just compensating for institutions that don't see any need to modernise. Ho hum.