Advice for new councillors

With the area’s new councillors now all settling in their new roles, this week I offer some advice . . . .

(1). The most important thing to remember is that you’re not important, so don’t start thinking you are. The council upon which you serve is important, your role in society is important, the office of councillor is important, but you are not.
You may be popular but the odds are that you are on the council because someone pinned a rosette on you, of a hue that your voters preferred.

This may seem a little harsh, but as editor of the Chronicle I know I’m not important either.

The previous editor held that position for 40 years and during that time he was the person everyone wanted to speak to. As his deputy, they’d sometimes deign to speak to me, but usually they wanted him.

Then one week we ran a small panel saying I was the new editor. On Monday morning the situation was reversed: everyone wanted me and the calls for him stopped coming. Now: either I’d miraculously gained enormous wisdom and influence over the weekend, or it was simply the position that was important. Obviously, it’s the latter, much as I’d like to believe the former.

You’re on the council now and you’re the person to go to, but if you lost your seat they’d all go to someone else.

(2). Your loyalty is to the people who voted you in, not any political party you may belong to. Voting along party lines or because of national policy has no place on a local council.

It’s noticeable that politicians regularly go over to the USA and come back with good ideas (sometimes not so good) but none has ever returned with the basic element of local government in America: town councillors (or at least the US equivalent) are not elected on party lines. They are elected on their own achievements, as individuals.

As an aside, this is the reason local newspapers endorse candidates in the US — there is no wider implication. We could (say) have recommended Denis Murphy or Sam Corcoran or Glen Williams but as soon as we pick a candidate, we favour a party. This stifles honest debate about candidates.

As a further aside, we could ask why this is. It’s not terribly good for democracy.

It obviously makes it easier — parties can round up people and stick a rosette on them, and people know for whom to vote, without having to bother reading about candidates. This is a rather lazy form of democracy, and people do get elected who have no interest in doing so, standing just to make up the numbers.

The downside is that independents, who may well be very talented, just not interested in political parties, find it harder to get elected.

Maybe one of our more adventurous councils could try and sever the links between party politics and councillors.
Incidentally, Congleton Town Council’s code of conduct implies that party politics has no place on the council.

Members are told that “you must act solely in the public interest”; “you must not place yourself under .. . obligation to outside individuals or organisations”; “you should exercise independent judgement . . . reach your own conclusions on the issues before you and act in accordance with those conclusions.”

That last point includes the phrase “(you) may take account of the views of others, including a political group,” but the general tenor of the code is to vote independently. We shall be watching for anyone putting party before people.

Talking of which:

(3). We (in the media generally) are not out to get you, or your council. Do your job correctly and fairly and don’t say anything too stupid and you’ll have no complaints about your Press coverage. Councils generally complain about negative reporting but in fact most reporting is either positive or neutral. You’ll just remember the bad stuff, that’s all.

As long as you remember point (i) — that you’re not important in the first place — you won’t go wrong.

Talking of the media: you stood because you wanted to help people and get involved. You didn’t do it to get your photo in the Chronicle, or any other newspaper. Some causes need publicity, and we’re happy to help, others do not. But whatever you do, you doing it for its own sake, not to get publicity.

But:

(4). It’s also true you won’t get praise for your good work, only complaints for your failings. That’s human nature. You can do 99 good things, but it’s your one cock up that people will complain about, probably by writing to the  Chronicle. Suck it up. And don’t complain to us: we can run a report every week for a decade but the one week we lose it, odds are someone will write in saying “I don’t know why I bother writing our reports when you never use them…..”.

There you go.

Don’t believe in your own importance, put your people first and don’t expect praise.

Why did you stand for council again?

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