Trying to remember the last time I read a local newspaper. The headline in the local paper the day we moved in was Poplar Gang in Meatcleaver Bloodbath – which you’d think would be enticing enough to make me take out a lifetime subscription. But I don’t think I’ve looked at the Advertiser since. There are lots of reasons why. I live in the East End, but generally work and socialise elsewhere, and as I didn’t grow up round here my sense of belonging to a local community is pretty shaky. (As a side issue, I wonder if I’m unusual in not being locally engaged? And, if I’m not, does this make community action as a way of running public services look particularly flaky in London and other big cities?)
A lack of information becomes an issue when there are local elections being fought. I’ve seen no campaigning going on round here apart from a Respect battlebus which occasionally thunders along the Mile End Road. I haven’t been canvassed by anyone, there are few leaflets for the general election never mind the local one. There are lots of don’t-vote-for-Gordon-Brown-he’s-got-a-silly-grin posters, but they don’t help with local issues. There’s a referendum going on in Tower Hamlets to install a directly elected mayor that I didn’t even know was happening.
I’ll accept that my ignorance is my own fault, but having realised the problem I’m at a loss to know how to put it right. I can follow Tim Donovan’s BBC London blog, but he’s really writing about how national policy from the big three parties will affect London. The same is true for the Standard. London’s too big and too complex for even the BBC to get down to really local detail. Which is why I looked at today’s East London Advertiser and found, well, not much. There is – shiver me timbers! – a pirate standing at the general election, but nothing about the local poll. It’s completely unfair to judge the paper on one edition, but it’s hard not to think of Nick Davies‘ warning of the decline of local newspapers and the sense that as they decline so does local democracy. The local papers are also under attack from local authority freesheets pumped out by councils wanting to show what a good job they do. So, I suppose I do see a local paper every week – East End Life – where the idea of great headline is something like Council Achieves Record Levels of Satisfaction. I’m just not sure I want to base my vote on it.