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A changing relationship between electors and elected

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Kurt Barling | 14:32 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

Election count

Although most people's attention was focused on the Parliamentary elections, here in London, council elections were of equal importance. All 32 London Boroughs went to the polls.

It was the first time in several decades that every local council would be elected on the same day as local MPs. Local elections have notoriously low turnouts. Not this time around.

With turnouts up everywhere even into the high 70 per cents, local authorities can genuinely feel confident they have a popular mandate.

Whilst the parliamentary map of London turned a deeper shade of blue, the local authority map turned distinctly red. Labour now runs 10 more Councils and overall a majority of 17 authorities across the capital.

It is difficult to interpret these results, perhaps it's ultimately pointless, what is, is.

Certainly there was a distinct lack of a Liberal Democrat surge or even support for administrations run by a coalition.

Nevertheless, there is a sense that local factors played quite strongly. In Southwark which has been beset by the post-Lakanal House fire problems, Labour was returned to power with a strong margin to spare in terms of seats.

In Islington, where Liberal Democrats have been heavily criticised for their housing policies it was Labour that benefitted at the polls. Again Labour achieved a comfortable majority.

Up in the far north of London a successful Conservative council was ejected despite a significant swing to two of the three Conservative Parliamentary candidates. Labour was genuinely surprised they were given such a comfortable working majority. It was a similar story in Ealing and Harrow.

There was bemusement at several of the counts which just shows what can happen when there is a large turnout. It may be that the relationship between the governed and those who govern is becoming increasingly unpredictable.

Perhaps the unpredictability sometimes emerges because those who are governing are less well informed than those who are governed and this is nowhere more obvious than in the places where we live.

Counting ballot papers

Smart local authorities are learning this and working hard to involve local people in decisions which ultimately affect their lives.

I suspect getting local people involved in local services is going to become an objective many local authorities increasingly strive for.

Let's take one blatant example.

The "Right to Buy" policy introduced by the Thatcher government has made a real mess of home ownership in the capital's public housing sector.

Traditional landlords (local authorities) now face committed and informed leaseholders who have bought their properties on the open market.

No longer can local authorities bully leaseholders into agreements made without proper consultation.

This is just one example where elected local politicians have to listen a little more closely to those who have elected them. An era of greater cooperation and openness may be upon us.

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