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Is anyone on here a Local Councillor, or even an MP?

(12 Posts)
Cornflakemum Wed 11-Feb-09 16:26:36

I've always been interested in politics, but put active involvement 'on the back burner' until I had done other things in my life (business career, young family etc).

Just recently I've realised that I am NOW the age/ life stage where I planned to get involved in local, or even national politics.

However I'm wondering if I've left it a bit late (I'm 43).

I just wanted to chat to someone about their experiences of getting into politics , to work out what I need to do if this is something I really intend to pursue!

ThePlanningCommittee Wed 11-Feb-09 16:45:08

I may be able to help you with this Cornflakemum. One thing I can say straight off is that at 43 you're a spring chicken compared to the majority of councillors in my local authority.

Here are some stats from the National Census of Local Authority Councillors 2008 from the Local Government Association:

*Most councillors (68.4 per cent) are male, 30.8 per cent are female (0.8 per cent did not respond). The proportion of female councillors has increased from 27.8 per cent in 1997.**

**
Among each of the main parties, the Green party has the highest proportion of female councillors (44.2%) while the ‘other’ parties and independent parties had the smallest proportion (24.3% and 26.3% respectively).**

**
The average age of councillors has increased from 55.4 years in 1997 to 58.8 years in 2008.**

**
96.6 per cent of councillors were white and 3.4 per cent came from an ethnic minority background.*

Are you a currently a member of a political party, or are you considering standing as an Independent?

Happy to try and answer any other questions you might have.

Cornflakemum Wed 11-Feb-09 17:39:38

Thanks TPC!

Yes - I've just re-joined a (main!) political party.I was active at University, but then get involved in other things once I joined the world of work.

The thing is, I think I'd really like to try to become an MP in the future, but I assume I will have to 'do time' at a local level first to be taken seriously.

I suppose what I want to know, is how can I get involved, but 'hit the ground running' so to speak. How can I demonstrate that I'm keen/ have potential etc etc. I'm aware that a lot of local associations are a bit old and grey (ours is!) and I don't really want to get 'lost' just stuffing envelopes somewhere...

(Hope that doesn't sound arrogant - hopefully you'll know what I mean!)

ThePlanningCommittee Wed 11-Feb-09 19:55:25

wink not arrogant at all - I do know what you mean. If your ambitions lie at national level, then go for it!

In terms of experience and "time-serving", many of the younger front-benchers (the Milibands, George Osborne, David Cameron) came up through the policy route (ie working at the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Conservative Research Department etc). If policy is what floats your boat, you could consider applying for an internship with a think-tank whose work aligns with your own beliefs. Beware though - the competition even for unpaid work experience at these places is incredibly tough, although your age shouldn't count against you if the organisation has stated a commitment to equalities etc. Demonstrating involvement with your local party will definitely help.

The majority of back-benchers have come up through local government and have sat as a councillor before being selected for Westminster, or have served on their local party executive committee (eg as Secretary, Chair, Treasurer etc). It goes without saying that this route involves becoming very active in the local party, and although envelope stuffing, leafleting and canvassing are fairly tedious activities, the relationships you form with your fellow local party members will prove invaluable should you get elected at local or national level: you'll need all the help you can get, especially with deliveries and canvassing at election time. Try to see it as team-building rather than "serving time".

In terms of actually being selected to stand in either a local or national election, for the former seats most parties still operate a fairly grass-roots selection process with local members standing, and a ballot of the local membership; it's almost unheard of for National party offices to "parachute" outside candidates in.

However the main parties now operate a very centralised approach to selecting candidates for Westminster contests: there's a good precis of the systems they employ here courtesy of the BBC (dated 2001, but not much has changed apart from the introduction of all-women shortlists). The Conservatives have also produced this nifty guide to becoming an MP (couldn't find anything similar from Labour or the Libs, so I guess you'd have to contact their Central Offices for more info if you're that way inclined).

The outcome of this centralised approach is that prospective parliamentary candidates are now very often not "local" to the constituency they seek to represent: of the three main contenders in my constituency, not one of them lived or worked here before they were selected (although they all have a "home" address here now - whether or not they actually live there is another matter!).

Basically, getting stuck in to local party activism will help your prospects whichever route you decide on. If your local party is "a bit old and grey", then get in there and change it! Hope some of this is helpful (sorry it's a bit long!).

ThePlanningCommittee Wed 11-Feb-09 20:15:39

PS - be warned, politics can be hard-going on your home life. Unfortunately the majority of local party/community activities take place in the evening and at weekends. A supportive partner is essential, as is scheduling time with your LOs totally away from politics. It's true that politics never sleeps, but personal burn-out and the breakdown of relationship is all too common amongst politicians, even local ones. Good luck!

Cornflakemum Wed 11-Feb-09 21:41:56

Many thanks for this - it's really helpful!

Yes - I'm well aware of the pressure it puts on family/ personal life, and it's one of the things I worry about most. DH is not particularly interested in active politics, and I really don't think he understands that I have a genuine passion for it, and always have had - even before I met him. I hope he would be supportive, but I'm not sure how far that would extend?

In my current job I already get partially involved in policy in a particular area (health) and I really enjoy it. I don't think going for an internship would be an option, as I would have to forgo my current, reasonable salary, and I don't think I could commute to London in the next 12-18 months.

I guess my plan should be to throw myself into the local party then, consider becoming a local councillor, and take it from there?

Are you a councillor? Is it possible to do it at the same time as another (fairly flexible) job (I work as a freelance consultant) ?

LocalCllr Wed 11-Feb-09 21:55:17

I'm a local Councillor.

I've name changed- not because I'm at all known on here but because the couple of times I've posted I've asked awkward health questions!!

It is very time consuming but worthwhile, I did work full time when I was first elected, then went part time after a year. Once I had DCs I didn't go back to my other work.

I am from a fairly political family so have been involved since I was old enough to fold leaflets but yep, the way is to involve yourself in a party then when an election is called put your name forward for selection

ThePlanningCommittee Thu 12-Feb-09 00:16:22

Glad you found my comments helpful Cornflakemum - and yes I am a councillor (elected May '07 so still relatively new). As LocalCllr says, it's bloody hard work but it's the best "job" I've ever had (I have always been passionate about politics too wink).

In terms of balancing Council with other work, the LGA guidelines are that members ("in"-word for councillors) should spend between 15-21 hours a week on Council business. The reality is that local politics is as endless as the proverbial piece of string, and you have to be very disciplined if you're working another job as well.

But yes, depending on meetings and committee commitments, on the whole Council fits in very well around other flexible work (I'm a freelancer too), and also child care etc (most local authorities provide a child care allowance for official Council business). The longest meetings I attend are the Planning Committee wink every three weeks (starts at 2pm, can go on till 8pm), and Full Council eight times a year (starts at 4.30pm, has been known to go on until 11.30pm shock).

However, there are lots of other meetings to attend - a rough breakdown of the work is:

Local Party
- monthly members meetings (evening)
- councillors group meetings (evening, generally fortnightly)
- policy/working groups meetings (evening, ad hoc - quarterly-ish)

Local Ward & Constituents
- Local Action Team meetings (evening, monthly)
- Ward party members meetings (evening, bi-monthly)
- Residents pressure group meetings (ad hoc, but at the moment roughly monthly between three or four campaigns, mainly evenings)
- Residents/Conservation Societies meetings (evenings, ad hoc)

Council
- Officer briefings (daytime, ad hoc - weekly-ish and on request)
- Planning Committee commitments: briefing, site vists, committee meeting (Fri pm, Tues pm & Weds pm/eve every three weeks shock (I love it really wink))
- Cabinet & Cabinet Member meetings (daytime, you could go to one pretty much every day if you wanted to)
- Overview & Scrutiny meetings (daytime, I sit on one committee and one panel - meetings roughly every three weeks)

On top of the meetings, there's the day-to-day business of dealing with casework for constituents, campaigning with residents for improvements/conservation in the ward, developing policy (and trying to get members from other parties on board, not to mention officers), trying to keep abreast of changes to national legislation which impact local authorities, taking an interest in your Spokesperson role (if you have one) and researching that, and reading the newspapers (local and national)...

Not to mention the 150+ emails I get every day hmm

To begin with, I tried to do everything (if you're passionate about politics I know you'll understand this), but as a lone councillor in my ward (the other two members are not party colleagues) I rapidly learned that (as with children!) you have to pick your battles.

Also, some poor souls have nothing better to do than email councillors - not in a nasty way, it's more a volume thing, but I wish someone had explained some techniques for how to deal with difficult people (aka 'The Usual Suspects') right from the get-go (it took me 18 months to perfect my polite reply... hmm).

My other coping technique (in fact, New Year's Resolution '09 which still stands!) is to spend no more than two evenings per week out of the house on party, ward, or council business. To begin with saying "NO" was quite difficult, but the world hasn't caved in and me and DH are so much happier than we were last year when I was out all the bloody time. My input into evening meetings is better too because I'm not sitting there silently seething with resentment grin.

Cornflakemum, unless you're a Green* I think you should pursue a dual tactic of involving yourself with the local party of your choice, AND applying to Party HQ as a prospective parliamentary candidate as per the BBC link above. I know for a fact that the Conservatives and Labour are crying out for credible candidates in some parts of the country, and your experience in health policy (and your being female!) should stand you in good stead.

One last word (so sorry this is so long!) - I couldn't have achieved any of the things I've done in politics without the love and support (emotional and financial) of my darling DH. He knows how much it means to me, and is proud of me even though he isn't a party member (although he votes my way wink). To be honest, the fact that he's not engaged politically is an absolute blessing - he's a good sounding-board and is able to cast an impassionate eye over the goings-on. Hope your DH can provide a similar contrast (and support!) for you - keep me updated as to your progress!

LocalCllr - I knew I wasn't the only one on MN - greetings grin

*Greens don't operate a centralised selection process for Westminster or the European Parliament

LocalCllr Thu 12-Feb-09 13:55:18

Hello TPC, I sit on planning too!

My LA provides a childcare allowance, but I'm very lucky that meetings usually fit in around my parents and DH being off (the vast majority is 3pm onwards)

I'm lucky as my 2 ward colleagues are from the same party so we're all singing from the same hymn sheet!

I've been on since 04 and still feel new! Quite a few members have been Cllrs since before I was born, it's great, it makes me feel extremley young! I think there are only 5 or 6 (out of 50+) who are younger than 43 so no way could you be seen as too old!

ThePlanningCommittee Fri 13-Feb-09 01:10:52

Hi LocalCllr & salutations from the coal face wink The rigours of the Planning Committee are not to be sniffed at, so bloody well done you & keep up the good work.

Know what you mean about older members but to be honest it's the lack of education/awareness that gets me down. In the past year we've moved from a proportional committee system (we're a hung council) to a (minority) leader & cabinet system, and it's just beyond depressing to see the slack-jawed administration members parroting officer lines...

So many of the administration members are just unbelievably thick sad, they'll go with any recommendation officers give them, and (from an opposition point of view) the whole thing is just a rubber-stamping exercise. Which is OK if your officers are dynamic and ambitious, but in the case of my LA and many others, it's a recipe for stagnation.

ThumbLoveWitch Fri 13-Feb-09 01:21:55

gosh i was going to add something on here as both my parents were active councillors for 18 and 16 years - but I don't think I need to! it's all been said.

one piece of advice - if you love your DC and they are still living with you and are under the age of 12, don't make them fold, sort or deliver your political pamphlets - they won't appreciate it!grin

ThumbLoveWitch Fri 13-Feb-09 01:22:38

oh yes - my Mum was about 41 when she was elected and my Dad was 54.

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