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