IT’S sometimes said that local democracy only really flourishes for about a month every four years, such is the lack of engagement by much of the public for the rest of the election cycle.

So perhaps the people of the West Wight, or at least its peace-and-quiet loving elements, have timing to thank for the screeching handbrake turn performed recently over the Isle of Wight Council’s attitude to several days of motorcycle road-racing this October.

At the beginning of April, following months of confusion and rumour – and finally a virtual meeting between the event organisers and local town and parish councils – an eyebrow-raising statement emerged from County Hall.

The Isle of Wight Council had given the races approval in principle, it said, subject to the granting of a licence by the Auto-Cycle Union and the all-clear from the council’s own Safety Advisory Group (non-political experts drawn from bodies such as police and fire services).

Approval by the Secretary of State would also be needed; while “community engagement” was the job of the organisers — not the council, and definitely not the SAG.

On the face of it, then, nowhere for those unhappy with the whole idea to turn except an impenetrable Whitehall department.

Barely a week later, and with local election campaigning in full swing, it was suddenly all very different.

Public consultation was now uppermost in our leaders’ minds, as Cllrs Dave Stewart and Steve (I’m interested in one thing and one thing only, and that’s getting re-elected) Hastings were keen to stress to those prepared to listen.

There hadn’t been enough consultation, and there wasn’t now time to do it properly this year. Let’s call the whole thing off, for 2021 anyway. Whether the SAG had any input into the postponement wasn’t disclosed.

If they did, saying so might have deflected the charge that politicians were seeking to take credit for a perceived popular decision in the middle of an election campaign.

As it was, a politically doctored version of the statement was posted out with at least one West Wight Conservative candidate’s election address, together with a churlish ad hominem swipe at his opponent.

Events such as the road races (and the pop festival for that matter) have upsides and downsides, and I’ve argued in their favour in the past.

But local authorities are explicitly not supposed to make decisions of the sort we’ve just seen when elections are in progress if they appear to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

It’s called purdah (from the Hindustani for curtain or veil), and is enshrined the Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986. Isle of Wight councillors understand it perfectly well, or at least they should.

This particular decision could have been announced before, or after, the election period.

Alternatively, if it really was non-political, decided by the Safety Advisory Group, then the temptation to omit that fact from the announcement of April 16 should have been avoided.

We’re now entering the final week of our fleeting window of democratic accountability, and we do, of course, need to consider the last four years, not just the last few weeks — and assess what, and who, we want for the next four.

But recent shenanigans have done nothing to shake my belief in the need for change.