Last Thursday (21.3), there were a couple of local council by-elections in the area we cover. One was in the Vange ward in Basildon: Election results for Vange, 21 March 2019 and the other was in the Milton ward in Southend-on-Sea: Milton By-Election. In Vange, the turnout was 14%. The turnout for Milton isn’t noted on the Southend Borough Council results page but reliable sources in the town have confirmed it as around 20%.

Both seats were won by Labour. We hope that both of the winning candidates will take a look at the turnout, their share of the vote of those who turned out, and most importantly, their share of the vote out of all of those eligible to vote. We hope they then reflect on what that means for their legitimacy. Any honest councillor would look at these turnouts and admit that as things stand, they have to work bloody hard to earn the respect of the people in the ward to gain that legitimacy. For the record, we want to acknowledge that the late Julian Lane-Ward was one of those councillors who did put in the graft in the ward: Tributes paid to Southend councillor Julian Ware-Lane following his death.

Although we’re anarchists, we’ve met and supported a few committed local councillors who put in the work in their wards. While we’ve had our differences with them, we’ve acknowledged the efforts they’ve made. We know that some of them have been so ground down by the system they had to work in that frustrated their efforts to do the best for the people in their wards that they’ve quit.

The system of local governance we have to endure is broken. Over the decades, the scope of what local councils could set out to achieve has been greatly reduced. Services that used to be provided with a degree of pride and accountability to the local community have been hived off to the private sector. Remember when Southend Borough Council used to run their own bus services? Local authorities are increasingly reduced to being arms of central government, charged with implementing their vicious austerity agenda.

People know this. They experience it everyday when they engage with services that are struggling to keep going in the face of austerity. They suffer it when the infrastructure they rely on such as lifts in a tower block keeps breaking down. They can see it when councils get into bed with the developers promoting grandiose town centre schemes that have a social cleansing aspect while peripheral estates are left to rot. Silently, they protest their disgust at this treatment by refusing in ever growing numbers to vote in local elections which will only give legitimacy to the system they see as screwing them over.

The 14% turnout in the Vange by election sends out a clear signal that the vast majority of people have all but lost trust with local government and by association, national government as well. As we seem to keep on asking – how much longer can this state of affairs continue until something gives and people start getting stuck in to radically change things?