Satisfied with the status quo, election fatigue or simply not interested – why are so many East Devon parish uncontested?
By Francesca Evans
16th Apr 2023 | Opinion
By Francesca Evans
Refresh… refresh… refresh – I spent far too long last week refreshing East Devon District Council's website as I awaited for election candidates to be formally announced.
Yes, it is time to go to the polls again, but election fever? I'm not so sure. In fact, chatter about the upcoming vote seems to be more of a murmur.
The 4pm deadline came and went last Thursday, but it was still a good while before the list of candidates was revealed. First, I checked those standing for East Devon District Council – a well contested election to be fair, with competition for every seat. But in the lower tier of local government, it's another story.
Elections will only be held for four parish councils across East Devon, with a staggering 73 uncontested, and in only five out of 12 town council wards, as not enough nominations were put forward to fill the seats available, including in Axminster.
That means, come May 4, new councils will be automatically formed by those with no mandate from the public – not exactly a shining example of democracy.
Six parishes had no candidates at all, where the positions will now have to be advertised again in vain hope of drumming up some enthusiasm.
And the interest from the general public seems equally lack-lustre. We are often quick to voice dissatisfaction about potholes, parking and council tax rises, but news of the election candidates – or lack of – was met with relative radio silence.
Why the lack of candidates and why does it matter?
What does this all come down to? Are we so satisfied with the status quo we don't feel the need to stand? We don't want to put our neck on the line? Or is it simply down to a lack of interest in local government?
Election fatigue may also play its part. In the past 10 years, the UK has seen three General Elections, a referendum on the European Union, and no fewer than five Prime Ministers – three in the past year alone.
Not to mention, the local elections of 2019 followed by a number of by-elections, co-options and the by-elections and referendums on neighbourhood plans.
Has this all dominated the headlines and depressed us so much we've switched off from politics?
I've been covering town and parish council meetings for 16 years, since I was a teenage trainee reporter and didn't know my precept from my purdah. Trust me, I've definitely wanted to switch off a few times!
Town and parish councils can seem pretty small fry, but I believe change starts from the bottom up by encouraging more people to take an interest in democracy at a local level, and in particular it would be great to see more diverse and younger candidates at future elections.
Government at various levels can have implications on every part of our lives – from the hospitals we're born in to the cemeteries we're buried in.
Whether you're interested in housing, healthcare, planning, parking, business rates or benefits – please take an interest and use your vote in the upcoming election. And don't forget, this time you'll need your ID!
Bucking the trend in Colyford
There is one village in East Devon that's really bucking the trend, and that's feisty Colyford.
Not ones to shy away from politics, Colyford residents decided it was high-time they had their own parish council and split from neighbouring Colyton after a petition was made to the district.
It would have been a little embarrassing had no one then stood for said new council, so luckily eight candidates will vie for seven seats.
But with the Colyford contingent moving out, Colyton Parish Council has been left with just nine candidates for 11 seats, so the election here is among those uncontested.
Similar to Colyford, I was happy to see that Seaton has 13 candidates for 12 seats, so the town will be going to the polls.
All eyes on the Democratic Alliance
East Devon District Council has had an interesting four-year term. The 2019 election saw 45 years of Conservative majority rule come to an end, with independents instead taking leadership.
But it was all change in 2020, when the Independent East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Independent Progressive Group came together to form the Democratic Alliance and took the majority of the council.
Their leader Paul Arnott and three other Cabinet members have defected to the Liberal Democrats for the upcoming election on May 4. They were previously elected as members of the Independent East Devon Alliance, which first emerged in 2013 but has no candidates this year, although several are standing as simply 'independent'.
All eyes are now on whether the Democratic Alliance will survive these changes, or will the Conservatives take back East Devon?
You can find full details about the upcoming election and all those standing at https://eastdevon.gov.uk/elections-and-registering-to-vote/election-information/
Nub News will be publishing statements from candidates in the Axe Valley area in advance of the election.