The TV election debate is , as to be expected, shaped and defined by the personalities and the ‘incidents’ as interpreted by the media commentators.
And, of course, the political leaders (to a greater or lesser extent) play up to this.
But at a local level there is another election campaign taking place. It seems to me that whilst the national media tries to filter those campaigns through their lens of the actions and comments (and latest gossip) of the national leaders, they rarely stop to listen to the stories in local communities.
One of the recurring themes, if you spend time and listen to local residents or local leaders, is the growing impact of the cuts.
So at the local or city level of Manchester (where I live) you can observe at least two different sets of experiences co-existing.
One set of experiences is that which I heard about foyer weeks ago when I sat and listened to parents talk about the invaluable support they were receiving from a national charity that works with families and children. Parents described how supported they felt and how much more confident they, and their children, were as a result.
Why is this important in what is being described by the Government as part of the Northern Powerhouse?
It’s important because many of the public services the families might have relied on are being cut.
The often invisible infrastructure of support for local communities is being cut and replaced by a parallel set of services and agencies. This parallel set of agencies are made up of faith groups, voluntary organisations and charities.
From food banks to working with children and families, we can observe a retreat from the network of services that represented an investment in the needs of children at an early stage in their lives. The Sure Start programme is disappearing and the centres closed, or handed over to the voluntary sector. The investment in schools, with a different set of professionals working alongside teachers is being cut back. Over the next five years the scale and pace of these reductions will increase.
It is this different and parallel set of stories which the TV dominated coverage misses.
It also represents lots of different political choices at the local or city hall level across the country. And it’s a set of choices that is not being discussed in detail. To be sure, we are now starting to hear a different conversation – austerity or not.
But how quickly did that get drowned out by who said what and when to the French ambassador, and who leaked what? How soon did the coverage move from the big question to the trivial pursuit questions?