Richard Kemp has some very useful advice for any taking on the new councillor role, regardless of party.
You have three priorities address them in this order:
- To be a good ward representative for your constituents
- To be a good member of your council
- To be a good member of your Party
The Council Chamber is the most pointless place for anyone to spend time in. Particularly under the Cabinet system there is little power in the council chamber. Up to 120 people get together every 5 or 6 weeks to ritually abuse each other. Few real decisions are made there with the big strategic documents usually going through unopposed and with little challenge.
Most councillors of all Parties have a lot in common with each other. They have a passion for their community and are prepared to do something about it. That sets us apart from those who whinge and moan but do nothing.
(Not of course that any new councillors in Nottingham are going to be exposed all that much to councillors of other parties!)
Lastly and ABOVE ALL treat MPs with the disrespect they deserve. They are part of a talking organisation – you are part of a doing organisation. Unless they are a Minister you have more power than they do.
… I’m not sure I’d got that far. I know a handful of MPs from Labour and Lib Dems, and I would say: if MPs earn your respect by the work they do, then go right ahead and respect them. It’s right though that individual MPs are often less powerful than individual councillors.
But perhaps the thing I’d say most of all is – don’t be a party hack. There’s nothing more depressing than someone who has nothing more to say than that morning’s party lines.
Take Nicola Heaton, who defeated one of our councillors in Bridge ward. I’ve never met her and I know nothing about her. Well, scratch that, I know three things about her. Firstly, she moved into the ward she now represents a few months before polling day, which unhelpfully removed a campaign line against her. Good on her. It’s a difficult ward to represent and it will be easier to do if she lives there.
And thirdly, she’s on twitter. And her twitter feed is just awful. Last time I looked there was nothing on there but ultraloyal retweets of national Labour party figures and facts that made Nottingham look like paradise on Earth. Oh dear.
If you’re going to be a politician on Twitter, do give some indication of being a real person, not an automaton party wonk.
That bit on party hackery has real resonance for me personally as in my last year as a councillor as I found myself questioning myself an awful lot. I joined the Lib Dems partly because of their position on student finance, and yet found myself in the hot seat when it came to defending the party position at one of those useless Council meetings. I gave an angry speech and said just what I thought: the deal on tuition fees stinks, but many people will actually end up repaying less per month than under the previous Labour plans.
But on so many issues over the last year, I’ve found myself thinking – that’s not what I’d want to happen on that issue. What do I think about that? Is my party right? Can I defend what they’ve come up with even if it’s not great? Or is it a crock of shit that stinketh?
I fear that too many of Labour’s new councillors in Nottingham are simply not bright enough ever to suffer from any level of self doubt or to criticise anything the national Labour party ever does. And that’s a real shame for the people they now represent.