Local news and local elections

With the election over, I got to return to one of favourite evening pastimes (after canvassing, of course) – shouting at the TV when Look East is covering politics.

Firstly, they clearly have an issue in getting accurate information about what’s going on. Last night, their political editor reported that the Bedford mayoral contest wasn’t looking good for the Liberal Democrats, about an hour after the result of the first preference votes had been announced, showing that Dave Hodgson was leading the race, and about five minutes after I’d seen the first mentions on Twitter that he’d won re-election by a clear majority.

Yes, there were elections going on all over the region yesterday, but for the BBC’s regional political editor to not be up to speed with what’s happening in the region’s largest local election? That’s really not delivering what I think you should expect from regional political coverage.

But I think that reveals a much larger problem with the way local politics is covered, which follows the lead of their national colleagues in assuming that the elections are merely an expression of people’s views on national politics. Thus, the fact that Liberal Democrats had lost seats in North Norfolk, while we in Colchester held our position was put entirely down to the different attitudes towards the Government of Norman Lamb and Bob Russell. The idea that people might have been voting with regard to local issues wasn’t even discussed as a possible explanation of why the votes might have gone the way they did.

I’m not denying that people’s local votes aren’t influenced by the national political situation – though there’s a long history here in Colchester of results going against the national trends – but surely we should expect that our local news programmes might actually make an effort to discover what the local issues are, rather than just blindly assuming that no one cares who runs their local council and are just having their say about the Westminster beauty contest?