Local Elections 2021: Councillors respond to complaints about lack of campaigning in West Northamptonshire
Many local residents claim they knew very little about the candidates running to be councillors in their area
Councillors of the newly established West Northamptonshire Council have responded to concerns raised by residents about lack of information and campaigning in the run up to the local election last week.
The West Northamptonshire Council election count on Friday, May 7 revealed a low turnout of 29.98 per cent, amounting to a total of 107,095 votes across Northampton, Daventry and South Northants. An additional 528 ballots were spoiled.
When the Chronicle & Echo asked residents how confident they felt about their vote on May 6, many claimed they received very little information about the candidates running for election in their wards.
Community activist, Laura Graham, was “not shocked” by the low turnout. She said: “I found it extremely difficult to find information about what we were voting for, who was standing and what their policies were.
“I understand the difficulties all parties faced due to Covid restrictions but digital channels could have been maximised. It's no wonder that the electorate disengaged.
“I really hope lessons are learned from this because the people of Northamptonshire deserve better.”
A poll ran by the Chronicle and Echo on Twitter asked readers if they felt they knew enough information about candidates in their area when voting in last week’s local elections. A total of 754 people participated in the poll with an overwhelming 90.5 per cent of respondents saying no.
Residents have told this newspaper that they received little to no leaflets posted through their door, website information was poor and social media presence was minimal.
The new leader elect of West Northamptonshire Council, Councillor Jonathan Nunn (Con) - responding to these concerns - said: "There may be some political apathy with the public. All parties felt they weren't able to campaign as much as they wanted to.
"At elections, people should get a leaflet through the door and, ideally, have the chance to speak to politicians face to face. We all feel that we weren't able to have those conversations. There were far fewer discussions on the doorstep than we would have done normally.
"There are people that are really engaged and enjoy the banter of local politics but the rest of the world just want the council to deliver the services that they need."
The Chronicle & Echo also spoke to husband-and-wife team, Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab) and Councillor Terrie Eales (Lab), who were both dually elected - along with Rufia Ashraf (Lab) - to represent the Dallington and Spencer ward.
Councillor Terrie Eales (Lab), discussing the difficulties of canvassing in her area, said: “The amount of times when we actually speak to people and they say, ‘we’ve not seen any leaflets from you’. Yeah, I have definitely posted at least two leaflets through your door - I’m really sorry that you just put them straight in the bin.
“It’s really difficult because we want our message to get across but it’s natural, isn’t it? You get the junk mail through the door and it goes straight in the bin and you haven’t even noticed what it was because it went out with the pizzas and things like that so it is difficult for us to get our messages across.”
Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab) added: “To be fair, we did a fairly decent social media campaign where our candidates were putting out intro videos, promoting them, getting into people’s front rooms albeit through their laptops or their mobile phones so I think - compared to the other parties - our game on that front was significantly better so I think we did the best that we could to do that. You can always do more.”
Some councillors, however, found that identity crisis was not an issue for them at all in their wards. Cllr Dennis Meredith (Lib Dem), who kept his seat in the Talavera ward, claims that he is well known in his area.
Councillor Dennis Meredith (Lib Dem) said: “I spoke to lots of people and, when I opened the door, lots of people recognised who I was and lots of people were calling me by my first name so it is not my understanding.”
Councillor Meredith - in March earlier this year - was accused by both Conservative and Labour councillors of breaking lockdown rules after he was pictured outside canvassing with two other activists. Councillor Meredith denied this, stating that they were out in a group of three and knocking on doors individually.
He went on to explain why he believed there was such a low turnout this year. He said: “The reason why I think no one knows who their councillors are is because, when they get elected, they do not keep their residents involved.
“I issue out a focus every three months and I tell people what I’ve done and what I am going to do. I also visit lots of people, especially the elderly. I also give advice to young people; if I know that young people are getting into trouble, I talk to their parents. Even during a campaign, I was doing that sort of role.”