With local elections where I live looming large, doorbells and mailboxes got extremely busy in the last few weeks – even exasperatingly so, at times.
But, today, something different from the usual electoral pamphlet came through my door: a hand-written letter from a local councillor asking for votes on her (much younger) supported candidate. Of course the letter was reproduced from the original and serially printed , but still it looked and felt like it was personally handwritten specially to each one of the addressees, just like the envelope was, not least because it ended with the word 'love'…
This got me to an often recurring reflection on the importance of the physical proximity and the personal touch in the relationship politician/electorate, particularly at the local level. Having heard and read so many times, especially from die-hard ‘marxists’ (although most of them have hardly ever read Marx, or practiced Marxism...) from my country of origin, rumblings about how Western democracy is all just about money and lobbying and the protection of the rich – in which they are often right when one looks at the higher echelons of political power in countries such as the US, or at scandals such as the “cash for honours” which has recently tarnished the Blair government – I find, however, something to be said for the “representative democracy” obtained through local elections.
Just to give an example: some time ago, a gross mistake by my local council, while I was working abroad, had catastrophic consequences in my personal and professional life, including the loss of my home… Yet, through the local representation system, I could count with the personal availability, attention and services of two prominent MPs who have helped me to rectify, at least partially so far, the situation.
Just to put this into context: years ago, I lost, totally unlawfully, my house in Luanda. I wrote, cried and begged to everyone with any power or influence whatsoever to help me to recover it… to no avail, let alone a reply. As a result, I ended up staying where I could afford to have a home and my rights over it protected… that is London, at the moment.
These are the sort of “simple things of life" that make me value properly functioning institutions at all levels, accountable elected politicians and government officials, particularly at the local level, and the rule of law over the entire political and social system in any country.