I believe in local democracy – I just don’t understand it | Adrian Chiles

I was chatting to some locals in a village somewhere over Christmas. They were bemoaning various decisions that had been made – to the detriment, in their view, of the community. There was planning stuff, blocked sewers, restrictions demanded by a preservation society, highways and so on. These people weren’t professional moaners, or even keen amateur moaners. They were just exasperated.

I opened my mouth to impart some sage advice, but nothing came out, as it dawned me that I knew nothing of any use to them. I have no clear idea where the power lies. Is it the parish council, the county council, the regional government or central government? And where does the local member of parliament fit in to all this? As a voter in a democratic society, it is surely critical for me to know who is responsible for what, so I know who to blame or praise, who to vote in or out and who to try to influence. I really don’t. Perhaps it’s just me.

I thought I understood the point of local democracy, but if no one can fathom its byzantine ins and outs there surely is no point. Take Manchester. I know that Andy Burnham is the mayor. But, in that case, I wondered, what is Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester city council, for? Oh, I see: Craig is the leader of just one of the 10 city councils that make up the Greater Manchester combined authority, a body that has an 11th member and chair, the mayor Andy Burnham. OK, got it, I think. But to whom would I would speak if I lived in the middle of Manchester and was displeased about, say, the state of Piccadilly Gardens? Is it Lucy Powell, the MP for the area? Or could it be one of the three councillors for that ward, their council leader, Craig, or her sort-of leader, Burnham? This is nothing against these people, or Manchester generally; I’d have the same questions about anywhere. Please, someone, explain.

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