A few thoughts on local councillors…

Our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have had quite a few dealings with council officers, local ward councillors and county councillors over the years. We’ve put up plenty of posts about the lamentable service estate dwellers have had from Basildon Council officers who are supposed to be working for the interests of their residents – it’s time we took a look at local councillors…

Let’s get one thing out of the way first – as anarchists, why are we talking about working with local councillors? We do hold anarchist principles and we want to eventually fulfil our ideal of self empowered, self governing communities but as grassroots activists, we want to get results in the here and now as well. Getting results in the here and now requires dealing with local councillors, whether we like it or not. Working alongside BASHA, we feel that we’re qualified to make a few comments on the performance of local councillors…

In an ideal world, someone would be standing for election as a local councillor because they want to serve the people in their neighbourhood. This is where we reach the first hurdle…a fair number of local councillors don’t live in the wards they supposedly represent…

They’re not councillors because they have a passion to do the best for their neighbourhood – they’re in it for party political purposes. Apart from independents who do live in the wards they represent and stand on their record and experience, most local councillors campaigning to get elected are backed and facilitated by a national political party. If they get elected, they’re expected to toe the party line even if that means acting against the interests of their residents. This is why political parties operating at a local authority level seem to have no problem about standing candidates who do not live in the wards they’re contesting.

BASHA have had to deal with more than their fair share of local councillors who do not live in the wards they’re supposed to represent. We’ve seen some of these councillors as well…to put it politely, they’re party hacks. When it comes to election time – that’s national as well as local authority elections – these councillors will be highly visible out on the streets pursuing their party political agenda. In between elections, all too often they become elusive and hard to contact…

Contact…that’s what being a local councillor is supposed to be about. Being available for their residents. That’s all of their residents, regardless of whatever politics they may have, regardless of creed and colour. Not picking and choosing who they may pull the stops out for and who they ignore. When as all too often happens, a councillor doesn’t live in the ward they claim to represent, it’s all to easy for them to be selective about who they do or don’t pull the stops out because they don’t have to face the residents every time they step outside the front door.

Contact…it should be standard practice for all councillors every time they have contact with residents to hand out a card with their contact details at the start of any meeting. It’s a basic courtesy that shows a councillor is genuinely interested in helping residents. We have heard a few instances from BASHA of councillors who do this and they’re extremely grateful for this. All too often, they’ve seen councillors whom look visibly pained at the prospect of having to deal with residents…

What does all of this show? Well, it shows that there is a persuasive argument for keeping party politics out of the local council – this is an issue that we may well return to in future posts. What cannot be argued is that local councillors need to live in the wards they represent if they are going to have an understanding of the issues their residents have to deal with every day. What is also shows is that a lot of councillors need to do some serious soul searching and ask themselves exactly what it is they want to achieve in their role…

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