I’ve always been interested in politics but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I decided to get more involved. This year I stood for election to our local council for the first time and, as well as lots of questions about policy, I’ve had a lot of questions about how someone like me, a 30-something mum, came to be running. People seem to have an idea of what a councillor looks like (it’s generally a retired bloke who’s bored of gardening) but the make up of local government is really starting to change. So here’s my story:
A couple of years ago I went to an event organised by my Labour Party regional office to encourage women to consider standing for office where I met Jess Phillips. She was my age, had two kids the same age as the boys and a job running a charity AND was a Labour councillor in Birmingham mounting an effective opposition to a thoroughly unpleasant Conservative majority. Last week she became one of the few Labour Party gains, taking Yardley from the Lib Dems and will no doubt continue to represent her constituents passionately in Westminster.
Jess convinced me that the face of politics was changing and inspired me to put myself forward for my first selection panel in Sandwell that year where I was approved as a potential candidate despite having to take my two year old with me to the interview. From there it was just a matter of completing a nomination form which needed 10 signatures of local residents and my name was on the ballot.
The whole process of standing was much less intimidating than you might imagine. How much campaigning, leafleting, speaking, door knocking etc you do is really up to you and of course nowadays social media can be a big help in spreading the word. I was really pleasantly surprised by how nice everyone was. Even those who supported a different party (and round here that’s most people!) were polite when I knocked on their door or waved leaflets at them on their way into the newsagents.
What you should know about being a Councillor:
- It’s a voluntary position but you receive expenses and an allowance which varies depending on where you are and the responsibilities you take on. I’d say some are quite generous.
- You can be a Councillor around a job or caring responsibilities in most cases as many meetings happen outside of working hours and your employer should give you time to attend if necessary.
- If you want to represent a party you will need the approval of their local branch to stand and will normally need to be a member of that party but you can also stand as an independent.
- You may have heard of candidates ‘losing their deposit’ if they don’t get enough votes but that doesn’t apply to council seats, you don’t put down any deposit to stand.
You can find out lots more about being a Councillor at the imaginatively titled beacouncillor.org.uk. Why not give it a go?