In Praise of Local Councillors!

On Thursday we will know how many people have agreed to stand for election to local authorities in England and Northern Ireland (Scotland and wales have no local elections this year.

The candidates will be a motley collection ranged from people who have been told “Don’t worry there is no chance of you being elected ( although some of them will be); through people who have devotedly served their community for years; to wannabe politicians who see being a councillor as the first step on the road to political stardom.

Welcome to you all (but especially the Lib Dem ones). I am now completing my 31st year as a councillor and hope that you will get as much pleasure and satisfaction from this role as I have done in those times if your successful election is announced on 23rd May.

There are three good roles as a councillor.

  • The arm waving thrusting speech maker. Well I do a bit of that but although it is what most people think is our main purpose even I spend very little time in such a role
  • The determined campaigner for a cause. Councils are full of unsung heroes who diligently pursue causes such as the needs of carers or looked after children who very rarely get mentioned but feel that they can achieve something within the system for a cause they hold dear
  • The determined local champion. Acting as a mentor and facilitator within the community they represent to make things happen because they use the power of their role effectively and responsibly.

Inevitably none of us can be good at all these. That’s quite fortunately really a Chamber full of arm wavers would be a terrible place! There are so many un-championed causes to go round that there is a niche role for anyone who will take it up. The role of local champion is demanding but very satisfying. When you can go round your ward and are able to say, “I helped that happen.. and that…and that” there is real satisfaction.

The one bad role is played by the handful of people who see being a councillor simply as a way to getting a parliamentary seat. They pay minimal attention to anything except their ambition. Fortunately there are mercifully few of those.

Of course Joe Public often only sees the first role. Like MPs, most of whom are honourable, we have all been tarnished with the allegations of greed and corruption. “You are on the make, on the take”, we get told regularly. This, of course, is usually by people who are too bone idle to actually do anything for the local community themselves. The legions of arm chair critics who think they know everything about everything but usually know little about anything.

Some of those elected will really not like the job at all. At the end of their 4 year contract with the people about 40% give up their role or are defeated and never stand again. It is hard going. Councillors are often the 4th 24/7/365 service alongside the blue light brigade. So pace yourselves. Go for the role, the niche, and the job that is most suited to you and be part of a tram of councillors, officials, partner organisations and the community where you can deliver. Don’t make speeches unless you really want to (and then check if you are any good at it).

Remember that you have a family and, in many cases, a job to look after as well as your council and ward. You have to map out time for all those parts of your life.

Some of those who are not elected on Thursday May 22nd should have been. They have given good service to communities or would have done so if they had been elected. In my long career I have lost a council election 3 times but I have always come back for more apart from a career break when I just needed to earn some cash in the pre-allowance days. People can be elected because of their own skills and talents or lose because their Party is down rather than up at present.

So enjoy, if you can, the hard slog of the next 4 weeks. Meeting people, sharing their concerns hearing them out has always been one of the best parts of the job for me.

On May 23rd you will know the course of our life for the next four years. Elected or not there is a role to play for people like you in our community. If elected please feel free to ask old hacks like me for support – irrespective of which Party you represent.

I look forward to welcoming you or welcoming you back to our grand fraternity of councillors

Best Wishes


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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4 Responses to In Praise of Local Councillors!

  1. So you want to know what ‘we’ think of our elected members ”Servants of the People”…… Well I think they are egotistical opportunist and careerist.

    The Lib Dems have no sense of identity in Liverpool and without Identity there is no challenge and no support to the working class.

    You can go around your ward and say I helped make that happen. You can also go around this city and say I cut that and that and that.

    Some may say you have been on the gravy train for 31 years……… “of course not me”

  2. john parson says:

    I find it interesting the original Liberal party fields a full 30 candidates in Liverpool and the Liberal Democrat party only manages 18.
    How come?
    Are the liberals now the real opposition?
    Why so few Liberal Democrat candidates?

    • richardkemp says:

      Putting up a slew of candidates who will all get get about 100 votes is a waste of time. The Liberal Democrats will get more votes and more seats than the “Tuebrook Labour Party”

  3. joedd says:

    All TUSC councillors will:
    ● Oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions – we reject the claim that ‘some cuts’ are necessary to our services.
    ● Support all workers’ struggles against the cuts, privatisation and the government’s policy of making ordinary people pay for the crisis caused by the bankers and the bosses.
    ● Reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts.
    ● Defend the national collective bargaining arrangements for council workers.
    ● Vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services, or the transfer of council services to ‘social enterprises’ or ‘arms-length’ management organisations, which are first steps to privatisation.
    ● Oppose racism and fascism and stand up for equality for all.
    ● Use all the legal powers available to councils, including powers to refer local NHS decisions, initiate referenda and organise public commissions and consultations, to oppose both the cuts and government polices which centrally impose the transfer of public services to private bodies.
    ● Campaign for the introduction of a Living Wage above and beyond the minimum wage for all council employees and those working for council contractors.
    ● When faced with government cuts to council funding, councils should refuse to implement the cuts. We will support councils which in the first instance use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid passing them on – while arguing that the best way to mobilise the mass campaign that is necessary to defeat the cuts is to set a budget that meets the needs of the local community and demands that the government makes up the shortfall.
    ● Support action against climate change and for a future where sustainability comes before profit.

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