After I stepped down from being a local councillor, I wondered if the problems I'd faced was everywhere. So I wrote to the other Councillor John Hartsby John Hart / April 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
Who’d be a councillor?
It’s a question I asked myself with increasing regularity, until poverty and pointlessness convinced me to step down from local government at the age of 34—decades before most councillors step up.
Being a councillor is like having a second spouse: Some days you look at your ward and think “you’re so beautiful and perfect, I can’t believe you chose me.” Others, you look at it and think “Aaargh! Why did I shackle myself to this idiot?!”
Who counsels the councillors?
At its heart, being a councillor means doing four things:
1. Advocating: Representing local residents and groups in their dealings with the council and other public bodies (often very personal, sometimes extremely harrowing, disproportionally related to dog poo, wheelie bins, and people homicidally angry because the council has somehow been unable to clear every last bit of snow from 4000 miles of roads before they’ve had their breakfast).
2. Scrutinising: Probing policies or performance of the council or other public bodies.
3. Regulating: Ruling in a quasi-judicial capacity on planning applications and licensed premises, taxi driver and scrap metal licenses.
4. Responding: To caps lock demagogues on Facebook who swear blind that the council has eleventeen squillion pounds in the bank and is only making these cuts because the council leader (who gets his own Concorde by the way) has a perverse vendetta against one particular village.
Councillors are effectively volunteering to be the community piñata. People line up to hit you with sticks; one in a dozen might get something out of you.
You suffer from imposter syndrome from the gratitude of people you achieved nothing for, save for being the first person in authority to ever fight for them.
And even though you know you’re doing a thankless job—and don’t even want to be thanked—there are days when people’s ingratitude makes you wish you hadn’t bothered.
Why I walked away
I still believe passionately in the power of local government to transform lives and communities, and that the best decisions are either taken at the most local level possible, or inspired by the direct experience of it.
But I felt I had no choice but to walk away from it.
First of all, there were…