To become a local councillor in England or Wales, you will need to win an election. That’s not as easy as it sounds, unless you live in one of those areas which have given up on group thinking, such as the large areas covered by the Scottish Highland Council (admittedly in another country) or parts of Devon (don’t ask), in which case becoming popular will win. In the rest of Britain, you will need a party to win an election. Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance against another candidate backed by a party. Think of it as a fight between you and a whole mass of people who’ve agreed some common ideas and who all work for their champion, while s/he rains blows down on you and they shove you around whenever you reel away. That’s what it’s like.
Once you’ve picked your party, you’ll need to pick a ward to stand in. The various parties have differing selection methods for who stands for where. I’m not getting into that today. That’s a whole other topic in itself. I’m relying on you to figure that shit out, preferably before you pick your party. By and large, you’re only allowed to stand for one party, although each party will have some members in all the others. Spies. If you do make a mistake at this stage, for example because you joined the Labour Party when in actual fact you can’t decently represent them on account of you being a socialist, you can actually just quit and join another. It’s not like the Catholics or the Hell’s Angels. You can even start your own party. Good luck with that.
Okay, you’ve won an election. Now you are, technically, a local councillor. You probably share your residents representation with one or two others. You can turn up to meetings, do your thing. However, you have not yet learnt how to be a councillor. To that, you need to understand the two facts of local political life.
- Most people want the council to resolve impossible problems they themselves have created
- Most people don’t really know what the council is anyway
That we have only two facts of local political life might startle you but remember, all else is uncertain. The two facts are not pillars of truth and reason. They are the heaven and hell of local political life. If you can help a man who wants to drive his dog to a park not more half a mile away, so that he can take it for a walk without being troubled by dog shit or parking difficulties, then you are home dry. Not only will he vote for you but so will everyone he has ever met! The problem is, of course, that both he and all the rest of them want to park in a park their hound craps in. There’s only so much space for shit and cars in what was a perfectly pleasant place back in the 1970s, when we didn’t have so many cars (or dogs).
So much for the first fact. The second is especially infuriating after you’ve definitely resolved someone’s problem. “Thanks, I’ll always vote Tory!” “I‘m Labour. actually… erm, perhaps vote Labour.” “Yeah, I know, Tory. Tories forever!” Grr. Do not imagine this exaggeration. You’ll find people asking questions which have more issues buried in them than actual words used, such as, “What was the point of voting Caroline Lucas into power anyway? What has she ever done for us.” It’s a worry.
To really be a councillor, you have to rise above the facts of local political life, roll up your sleeves, accept that you’ll never be able to fit six times as many cars as a seaside village for a prince (to take Brighton & Hove’s example) was ever intended to hold, accept that dogs shit in parks, accept that previous councillors whom you never met didn’t build a school but that is now your fault and all the rest of it. That’s just for starters.
You’ll have to take up earnest correspondence with someone who wants a six inch sign temporarily attached to the lamp post a short distance from their million pound house moved to a lamp post down the road, so that it no longer appears in her two foot view of the sea. There’s the people who don’t want communal bins but complain when the streets are full of rubbish thrown about by a herring gull population explosion, scavenging for food. When you get home and find you are ready to accept as a legitimate request, the alcoholic neighbours desire that you “sort out” their electrics, then you will have mastered the craft of how to be a councillor.