Trust in elected representatives is a basic necessity in a healthy democracy. All around the world we see what happens when trust breaks down, when people feel let down, when their expectations have not been met and their hopes are undermined. Trust in politicians is especially hard to build and easy to breach. Politicians who squander the people’s trust do serious harm to the fabric of society.
My experience canvassing as an Independent for the local elections 2014 in the Dundrum area is that people feel a sense of helplessness and frustration. But they are far from disengaged. They are extremely exercised about local issues, as well as about the bigger economic and social concerns. That engagement is a fragile thing, and easily lost if the elected representatives breach the trust of the citizens.
On May 23rd next, people can choose their representatives on the Council for the next five years. Those who are elected take on a serious responsibility on behalf of local people. They will oversee the Council budgets. They will be responsible for the County Development Plan and for Local Area Plans. They will be, or at least, should be, the eyes and ears of their community, scrutinising the decisions of officials and making sure these decisions serve the interests of all the people in their community, and are value for money. They will, or should, connect with local people, listen to their concerns, and bring these concerns to bear on the business of the Council.
Those who are elected are entering into a social contract with the public who elected them. Who will you trust with your precious vote? Here are a few things to consider:
- Who is committed to the local area, and will not treat the local council as a training ground for ‘higher things’?
- Who will avoid promising things that are well outside the gift of a local representative?
- Who will commit to doing their honest best to make sure that local people are consulted about major council decisions?
- Who will commit to serving you for all of the next five years?
- Who knows the area and its challenges and potential well?
- Who is prepared to keep in touch with you over the next five years?
- Who is committed to making sure that getting Council services are the best possible value for your taxes?
You will have your own thoughts about what makes for a trustworthy representative. Use the canvass to test and challenge the candidates, and to build an understanding with any person you want on the Council. Five years is a long time!