Do we need parties to run local politics?

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A personal point of view – if you’ve got something to say, email thegazette@jpress.co.uk to find out how you can get involved

Voters went to the polls a month ago to choose the members of Herts County Council, men and women who control a budget of many millions of pounds and oversee a crucial range of local services.

County Hall brings us schools, social services, roads, libraries, and lots more. But in almost every case, the names on the ballot paper on May 2 were followed by the name of a political party.

What, you might ask, does Conservative Party policy have to do with household waste tips?

Is there a Labour Party position on traffic calming? What do the Liberal Democrats have to say about street lighting?

You probably wouldn’t think that minority parties like the Greens and UKIP, both well represented on May 2, would have much of a take on potholes or consumer protection.

But the overwhelming majority of councillors on local authorities at every level – parish, district and county – align themselves to a political party. Why?

The main parties are so alike these days in terms of their core policies, and so restricted in how much money they can raise through local taxes to pursue genuinely local policies, that you have to wonder whether we get the best councillors that we could by leaving it to the politicians to come up with the names on the ballot paper.

That’s why I believe that our local government – and, who knows, perhaps our national government too – would be better organised along non-partisan lines.

No candidate running for election would be allowed to profess a party or organisational affiliation.

They may well be ideologically-motivated, but actual, rigid groupings, controlled by a party whip, would, by constitutional decree, be prohibited.

This might sound like a recipe for chaos, but I think the benefits it could yield vastly outweigh the potential complications.

Advocates of the existing party system claim it lends a certain order to proceedings, and that without it too many issues would end in deadlock as representatives, sharing little or no common ground, would persistently fail to draft new laws, bogged down in a quagmire of abstentions and furious disagreement.

That’s nonsense, of course. Blocs would soon be formed to counter – or approve of – a given proposal, but individual members would then be free to join another bloc on another issue, depending on how they and their constituents felt about the matter.

And by doing away with the dead hand of political allegiance, we might well find that younger, brighter, more diverse candidates are drawn to the hustings, reassured that they don’t have to sign up to a particular party to be able to make a difference.

In that way we could return power to the people that really matter – you and me, and not the same old “them” who could only persuade around one voter in four to turn out to make their mark on May 2.

Charlie Masters is a 16-year-old student at Berkhamsted School