Parish Council Showdown

Maybe I'm taking this a bit too far.

A Parliamentary by-election isn’t always interesting but for the most part they offer something exciting to delve into. The further down the elected level of representation you go the less interesting a by-election becomes, primarily because they simply aren’t affecting as many people. There are of course exceptions to this rule for council levels of all variety, but most of the time we’re observing whatever swing is reported by the Britain Elects Twitter account and basing most of our interest on that. Parish council by-elections follow this rule too, they are immensely boring almost all of the time, but when they aren’t boring it is truly something special. Today’s extra special By-election Bonanza (special in that the one I wanted to produce simply hasn’t got the research for it) is all about a special parish council close to my home.

I live in Northamptonshire, possibly my least favourite place in the whole country, and in this county lives the plucky village of Long Buckby. Buckby, as residents call it, is one of the larger villages in the region boasting a population of a few thousand. It has houses, a library, shops the whole experience. It also has a rather special Facebook Group, ‘Long Buckby Friends’. Where to even begin with this community? It has it all: old people complaining about kids sitting in a park, people taking civil disputes online despite having resolved them in person and an absurd amount of dog bites. It was the staging ground for a Parish Council by-election that took place at the beginning of the month. There were 3 candidates, Richard, Maria, and Becky. Maria, local trustee of the local library and tree promotor. Becky, appreciator of the kids (not in a weird way) and complainer of school buses. Richard, the outsider, the underdog, the outlaw of Buckby Friends. I describe Richard this way because most of the people I spoke to about this election didn’t really know him until a single post was made on ‘Long Buckby Friends’. This post was to be the central battle of the election: his manifesto post. His pledge sparked a storm like no other, 230 comments piled into the discussion, one that residents had never observed before. It’s not like there was anything controversial in the post, mostly about parking and some other issues, but a few comments about his amount of time in the village started what can only be described as the Long Buckby Civil War.

Share By-election Bonanza

Like all civil wars this was populated with various factions: the Xenophobes who thought you had to be born In Buckby to even contemplate standing. The Richardites who valiantly defended his credibility as a candidate, and that he had indeed lived here for a while. This whole debacle truly seemed to ensure support from unexpected corners and gave me the perception that he may win it. Maria emerged to declare that she had lived in the village since 1984, it was the central piece of her manifesto after all, and then sorta just disappeared. Becky did this too, stating that she “had lived here all my life.” Fans of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith made copious references to The League of Gentlemen and honestly what the actual hell are we doing? I had my fun and games watching this all unveil, and while most of the group seemed to agree that it wasn’t actually important to live in the village, the fact that you have this going on about a guy who had been around in the village for decades just threw me off. It wasn’t just one individual, it was quite a few all with rather silly statements. Becky even got some insults thrown her way by another member of the Xenophobe camp who thought you had to have family that traced back generations and that being born in Buckby simply wasn’t enough. I don’t need to explain why this is ridiculous, the utter transfixion in the village towards its CCTV system wouldn’t have been of avid interest to their 1891 population but it exposes a rather interesting phenomenon that FPTP grants us: are you really local?

I used to live in Worcester, and for my decade or so there I saw like 70% of the city, and most of the time that was me simply choosing to go exploring. I have no idea what life is like for the vast majority of people in that 70% of the city because I only really knew the regular 5% that I experienced weekly, so if one day I wanted to be an MP here where does the line cross that I’m truly local? Living in the city centre is a truly different experience to Worcester’s suburbs, and I imagine that living in a suburb in Gloucester would be far more familiar, so it offers interesting questions to why exactly does it matter? The 1962 Orpington by-election is a classic example, the Conservative candidate stated that he would not move to the constituency if elected and this was used against him which helped fuel a win for the Liberals. This is of course a reasonable example, but it’s one of the few rare ones you can find. You see it with any campaign literature as the word “local” is plastered across a billion times because ultimately people want somebody they can connect with. I personally see some of the appeal, you want someone who understands the struggles of a local area, but that doesn’t exactly have to come from living there for decades, living there for a year can acclimatise you enough. Ultimately, this desire for local simply fuels a prevailing perception throughout the country that MPs are personal warlords over their constituencies who control recycling services, potholes and literally everything.

Richard came last in the results and Becky won by a dozen or so votes, truly showing that ‘Long Buckby Friends’ is merely a commentariat bubble and doesn’t represent what Buckby truly is. The accusations which emerged mid-campaign that the admins of the group were silencing Richard came and went, possibly to his detriment, and I’m sure he was disappointed there wasn’t anywhere he could wear a shaman outfit and storm. That is the end of the Parish Council drama, lost to the records of time as most of the posts made during the campaign have since been deleted. Richard left the group after his loss. Maria is still talking about trees. Becky is sure to enjoy the luxury of representing her community.

BUT THAT ISN’T THE END. Okay so Long Buckby residents get this thing called ‘The Bugle’ which gives off the impression of just being a random village newsletter but if you delve deep into the Parish Council website, you’ll see that it’s actually produced by the Labour Party. How insane is that? No? Yeah fine it was my only example of investigative journalism from all of this.

See you next week!