Posted by

Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs

27 Apr 2012

Instead, it will be the story of a continued disconnect between this country's political elites on the one hand, and its citizens and businesspeople on the other.

Consider, if you will, the following facts:

  • intense voter apathy and low turnout across much of Britain, preceded in the weeks before the elections by low-key campaigning that did little to energise either citizens or business. Chambers of Commerce across the country have told me that their members report a disappointing amount of engagement and a real sense of distance from what's going on, both in town halls and Westminster;
  • the repudiation of a flawed model for directly-elected mayors by many of the cities holding referenda in England, despite clear business interest in greater accountability and strategy at the heart of major local authorities. Although Bristol voted to introduce a directly-elected mayor, Liverpool elected its first mayor and Doncaster has retained the model, cities as diverse as Birmingham, Coventry, Wakefield, Manchester, Newcastle and Bradford said no to a directly-elected first citizen. Given that the powers on offer were unclear, and the fact that the geographical scale for these new mayors was probably too small, this result isn't too surprising; and 
  • media commentary dominated by the fortunes of national political personalities, despite the supposed ascendancy of localism. I suppose this is no surprise in a centralised country like ours - but it is still disappointing. So many businesspeople want to see local solutions for local problems, but our politicians and media remain fixated on the centre.

So while I offer my congratulations to newly-crowned council leaders, our handful of new mayors, and the eventual winners of the London mayoral and assembly contests, I can't help but feel that the real losers of this election aren't the vanquished candidates but the frustrated businesspeople and citizens who still feel that they don't have enough of a say in big local decisions. It's a personal view - rather than the BCC's - but in my eyes, it's a problem that we'll return to deal with again another day.