This May will mark six years since I was first elected as a councillor in West Shoebury. Somebody said to me the other day: “I bet you’ve learn a lot in that time.” And they’re right – I have.
Obviously I’ve learnt a lot about how the council functions, how its departments run, how the organisation is structured. I’ve learnt which road repairs are better for different circumstances, how much things cost, how long things take and both the possibilities and the limitations of the position I hold.
In regards to politics I’ve learnt a lot about how the party political groups work (and how they sometimes don’t work) and what opposition groups will say and do to score points. Even so sometimes, just sometimes, people rise above the cut-and-thrust of politics and surprise you. While others do the precise opposite and sink beneath the waves.
I’ve learnt that you can speak your mind, only that a great deal of care must be taken about how things are worded. Local politics is littered with bear traps; opposition parties, local pressure groups, local campaigners, local press – all looking for opportunities to capitalise in one way or another on the things people say. All with their own agendas and often prepared, deliberately or through casual misunderstanding, to use and abuse comments you make for their own ends. Still, despite this, you must try to speak your mind wherever possible and damn the consequences if need be – for your own conscience if nothing else.
I’ve also learnt that councillors are integral to the spirit of a community. Much-maligned, often controversial, sometimes just ignored, the challenge of the job is to just try and make small differences; here, there, wherever you can. As the years pass the small differences begin to accumulate and it is possible to do some lasting good.
If you intend to do it right then this is not an easy job. Every day is a challenge and you will have to contend with local forces that do not wish you well and indeed some that will be actively working to undermine you. You will face harsh scrutiny, sometimes from those who have positive goals in mind, other times from those who are just looking for you to fall down.
But it is the most rewarding job I have ever done. Rewarding for the small differences you can make. Rewarding when you help local people to little victories. Rewarding when you are embattled and, to your surprise, you find your community and new friends rallying around you.
There is nothing quite like being a local councillor. I would strongly recommend it to anyone. But I would particularly recommend it to anybody who would describe themselves as; energetic, determined and thick-skinned. The last being a particularly important trait if you want to come out the other end in a positive way.
If you think this might be something you’d like to do, then don’t stop there. Get involved. It’s well worth it. I promise.