Punch and Judy politics?

Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy
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Forget 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. Four thousand five hundred jobs could be lost in the next three years in Blackpool, Lancashire, making the resort, by any benchmark, the nation’s worst hit authority in terms of impact on public services.

Now that’s a figure which packs a punch in employment prospects. Indeed, a vast hole has been torn out of the safety net of society by the devastating impact of cutbacks by local and central Government.

It’s a hole that can swallow livelihoods, savings, and prospects. It coincides with news that unemployment, for 16 to 24 year olds, has reached one million.

Youth services took another hammering this week, with the announcement that Blackpool’s advice and guidance service Connexions will close as part of £27m council cutbacks.

Town hall chiefs concede the problem in Blackpool is almost double that of other areas, as 40 per cent of the workforce are public sector workers.

But set that shocking statistic against these statements from people on the streets of Blackpool the day news of the job losses ...

“I don’t do politics. I’ve never voted. It doesn’t interest me. I’ve no idea what the local council or Government does.”

Twenty four-year-old woman, on Highfield Road, South Shore. She’s pushing a pram.

To our right, the Sure Start family support centre closed at the end of March, as part of the cutbacks, along with its counterpart in Layton.

At the gates of the park into which she is pushing a pram is a sign asking locals to express an opinion on proposals to close both bowling greens as part of council cutbacks.

“I’m 60 and I pride myself on not having voted. It’s a waste of time. I haven’t got a clue who my ward councillor is. I really don’t care.” Self employed worker, male.

He’s emerged from his works’ van, on Henson Avenue, South Shore, cursing the proliferation of potholes there. That’s a local council issue too.

Public opinions seem polarised, either inertia or outrage, but most of the people I stop seem almost indifferent to the local council elections on May 6. Have we lost faith or just interest in the process?

Three Blackpool councillors, two Tories and one Liberal Democrat, claim to be standing down because they are tired of “Punch and Judy” politics. All three are younger than many of their counterparts.

In Wyre, a veteran councillor, in his 80s and battling cancer, has defected to Labour, leaving his daughter, under the same roof, to fight the Conservative corner.

Punch and Judy politics? Perhaps they have a point. At one of the most significant budget-setting meetings of Blackpool Council’s history, attended by public sector workers, facing redundancy, alongside community and charity groups worried sick that cutbacks will cripple vital services, there were cries of “shame” and “how can you laugh?” from the packed public gallery at tit-for-tat Tories-did-this and Labour-did-that point scoring below.

“Our jobs are on the line, not yours,” shouted one woman as she stormed out.

On the streets, I attempt to quiz passers-by outside the Labour Party constituency office on Highfield Road, and Stanley Ward Conservative Club on Common Edge Road, Marton.

Most don’t want to make eye contact, let alone a point.

A couple of self-styled “metal heads” stop, lads of 16, who say they would vote UKIP if they got a chance.

But 93-year-old Eric Court assures me he will vote. “You can’t change anything in your community, locally or nationally, unless you vote,” he says. “I won’t waste it.”

Mother and daughter Denise and Kirsty Menzies will vote too – a first for Kirsty, at 21, doing voluntary youth work as part of her university studies “so now I can see how damaging the cutbacks are, how many good people are being lost.”

Denise, a retired educationalist, feels strongly too.

Two 17 year olds, who just miss out on a first time vote, prove the most outspoken. Blackpool Sixth Formers Emily Shaw, of Thornton, and Jordan Garside, of Staining, think the voting age should lower to 16.

The Lib Dems would have claimed them – until the coalition.

“I’d still give Nick Clegg a chance, but I’m not sure locally,” says Emily.

“I wouldn’t trust him now,” says Jordan. “I want politicians, local or national, to keep promises. It’s our future they are breaking.”

They know the role councils play. “We can’t even get a decent bus service,” adds Emily. They want action to break the hold hard drugs and drink have on the community, and crime. They want to end ageism too.

“We both wear hoodies and it’s wrong places should ban us, or stop more than two teenagers going into a shop, for example,” adds Emily.

“It should also be easier to get steady part time work so we can pay our way.”

Would-be film maker Jordan, whose educational maintenance allowance stops in September, admits: “I worry about the future.

“The arts are the first casualty of cutbacks and that’s the industry I want to go into.”

Both plan to go to university, in spite of repaying fees once income tops £20k, but Jordan adds: “The system will favour richer kids.

“Talented people with less money could miss out.”

Given a choice both would have rather grown up in the ’70s.

“When my dad was young, when you could leave your door on the latch and knew your neighbour’s name,” concludes Emily. “People cared more then.”