The current County Council met for the last time in this electoral cycle on the 23rd of March. It felt a bit like the last day of school.
There were presentations and goodbyes to retiring Councillors. There was even one of those photographs with the whole class standing in three long rows. It was a gentle meeting too, with politicians on all sides voting together on important issues.
We found out afterwards that, down in London, our parliamentary colleagues had been locked down for their safety. That very afternoon public servants and innocent passers-by were lying, maimed and dying, on Westminster Bridge.
Parliamentary leaders from all political parties have described the Westminster events as an attack of democracy. The terrorist organisation ISIS claimed the murderer as one of their ‘soldiers’. As if this is a battle in some kind of war.
Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Before Richard, it was custom and practice to change the English government by indulging in a ritual bloodbath. In the seventeenth century, the English Civil War saw Parliament pitched against the Crown. Roundheads fought Cavaliers. Families were divided by politics and brother fought brother for the right to rule our country.
This way of changing government is obviously cruel, wasteful and inefficient. It is hard to understand why anyone would prefer the battle-axe over the ballot box. But clearly some people are not convinced. Countries such as Syria are being fought over with appalling consequences for ordinary people. Here in England, Jo Cox MP was murdered by someone who chose to use violence rather than his vote or his voice.
Democracy: use it or lose it
Democracy has been described as ‘war without the blood’. In the run up to the County Council elections, politicians from various political parties will be on the streets, fighting for every vote, campaigning to win. The difference between democratic battles and real ones should be obvious. Win or lose, once the vote is over and the people have decided, your elected representatives have to shake hands and get on with the business of running the Country or the Council.
Take back control
Is that all you have to do, then? Just vote once every four years or so and then leave it up to someone else to make all the decisions? No, most certainly not. How will your Councillors know what matters to you if you don't tell them?
There are various ways to get your voice heard. You can ask a question at any of the District and County Council bodies with 5 clear days notice. You can work with your neighbours to send a petition to the Council on a particular issue. If you are not sure how to do either of these, you can get your Councillor to ask a question on your behalf.
At the end of my first term as a County Councillor, I am grateful to everyone who has written to me, lobbied me, phoned me or even stopped me in the street to tell me their views. I have to thank all the local experts on heritage, highways and housing for their help in putting together questions to Council and comments to Cabinet. Democracy isn't perfect but it does depend on everyone being prepared to use words instead of weapons.
Don’t forget to vote
With the weather improving, if you are off on holiday in early May, don’t forget you have until 5pm on Tuesday 18th April to apply for a postal vote. Download the forms at www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-postal-vote or get them from the Council Offices in Coalville.