The Problems of being a Young Councillor

About ten years ago I did a programme for one of the national BBC radio programmes about the problems of being a young councillor. Clearly, I was not at the time a young councillor. Although I like to think of myself as young at heart chronologically I am knocking on a bit!

However the BBC had sussed out that at one time I was the youngest councillor in the UK. In 1975 I got elected at the age of 22 and four months. This was, of course, at a time when you could not stand for election until you were 21.

“What”, they enquired, “were the problems of being a young councillor?” My reply was that at the time I did not think I had any. There was I sitting in one of the greatest councils in the World in one of the greatest council chambers in the World. I have always been able to string a few words together so I orated! Within months I was given real responsibility for the first time. I was made responsible for dealing with the homeless in Liverpool after a surge in numbers. That incidentally is why I have a life-long interest in housing.

Around me I had some other young councillors, indeed 7 of us were collectively known by Labour as the Muppets. I had a lot of support from councillors and, I thought, a lot of support from officers. But looking back at how I behaved and what I did at the time I realise that I did not have the maturity to be able to work in the complex world of big organisations and big money. Although I have clear principles and clear ideas for the first two or three years I was manipulated partly by the policies process but more widely by the officer class.

Basically it was a ‘Yes Minister’ situation before that programme hit the air waves. I seemed important, I felt important but in reality I was a cog in someone else’s’ wheel. In Liverpool I soon learned how to cope and I soon hardened up. Liverpool is a tough place to be a politician. We don’t practice the niceties of the shires we go for the jugular. Many can’t cope which is why you see a lot of people just standing once or twice.

So this is all relevant because of what Labour is doing at the moment to Jake Morrison. Jake came on to the city and indeed national stage with a stunning victory over a long-standing Lib Dem friend of mine. He is able, competent and found a cause outside the council which he could associate with and gain national credibility for. Within the council he was feted by Labour and made a mayoral Spokesperson looking after the very difficult area of looked after children.
But was he supported properly by those Labour people who had so openly feted and promoted him or was he just a cog in someone else’ wheel? Did Jake really have the skills and knowledge and experience that you need to survive in politics in Liverpool or was he more like me all those years ago – thinking he was doing better than he was?

I have concerns about 18 year olds becoming councillors. I have to ask whether they have the life skills necessary to deal with the work. I ask whether or not they should get established in a career or education before facing the uncertainties of the political climate. There are many ways to involve people of all ages in the democratic and civic processes of our Country and becoming an elected member is only one of them.

Of course 16 year olds should vote – no taxation without representation should be the rule. But voting and representing are different things. If 18 year olds do become councillors they should be supported properly and provided with a good mentor. They should not be given too much responsibility too quickly but coached into increased responsibilities.

I am sure that as soon as representatives of Liberal Youth see this they will be on the warpath. “What can an old crusty like Kemp know about these issues in the type of society we now live in?” they will ask. Perhaps they are right but having started early and been a councillor for 30+ years I don’t want people to make the same mistakes that I did on a political and a personal level.

Above all political parties should; have a duty of care to those that they get elected to office. Nowhere is that duty of care needed more than for bright new young councillors like Cllr Morrison is and Cllr Kemp was!

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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One Response to The Problems of being a Young Councillor

  1. tyler says:

    Im impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog thats the two educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the claw on the mind. Your thought is excellent; the issue is something that not enough everyone is speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that we stumbled across this in my hunt for something about it.

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