Today’s news has been dominated by the dissolution of the Westminster parliament and the forthcoming general election. Yet this is not news. The starter’s pistol on the election for the UK parliament was effectively fired the morning after the Scottish independence referendum, so the electorate has long been saturated within national politicians berating their opponents.
The BBC News website won’t tell you that today was the last date on which Returning Officers for hundreds of local authorities and parish councils had to publish the local Notice of Election. My authority published on 23 March because I convinced my Returning Officer of the value of giving some profile to local democracy before the inevitable prioritisation of the parliamentary election.
This is an important time to test the enthusiasm generated on 7 February this year in Huddersfield #NotWestminster. In the workshop that Carl Whistlecraft and I ran, there was a clear desire from participants to see more information on candidates, agents and transparency in the entirety of the electoral process. Now is the time to trial the digital tools to enhance the local democratic process.
This evening on Twitter there have been a number of conversations about livestreaming key elements of the local electoral process. This has to go far beyond tweeting links to statutory notices or reminding the public to register to vote by 20 April, but there should also be great care not to bombard voters with every minutiae of the election. Voters need information to help them make their decision, they don’t need to see the Returning Officer surrounded by empty ballot boxes imploring them to cast their vote.
The key questions for the voter are:
- How and where can I vote?
- Who can I vote for?
- Why should I vote for them?
Any local democracy content must provide the voter with information to answer these questions. This information is already available but in a disparate way across local authorities, candidates and parties and local media. It will be interesting to see what progress is made at these local elections to bring local democratic content altogether in one place when the spotlight is likely to be on the parliamentary election.