I’m in the interesting position of actually being on a ballot paper next month! I first joined my parish council in 2007 (twelve years ago!) under the rules of co-option. That means there was a space on the council due to someone leaving but there was no election scheduled. I can’t remember now why the space appeared, perhaps the previous incumbent had died, or moved away, or simply lost the enthusiasm.
Anyhow, I’d sat in the public area through a couple of meetings because I was interested in a fresh initiative to build a new burial ground for the community. The churchyards were all full or closed to new burials and the situation had been for some years that the deceased of the village had to be taken far away for burial, which felt wrong to me. So I was interested, and for the crime of being interested I was asked to join the council.
Election day came and there were fewer people wishing to be parish councillors than there were seats (that being nine). We were therefore all “elected uncontested”, there not being any point in actually holding a ballot. The next time, the same thing happened, and the next. Holding a ballot costs several thousand pounds, so each time that happened we actually saved out local electorate’s money! Win, and indeed, um, win.
This time though, perhaps because we’ve raised the profile of what the Parish Council actually does, a couple of residents have expressed their desire to get involved and have got themselves nominated. We’ve got ten people running for nine seats! Yay! How exciting! It does have a sadness to it though apart from having to pay for the election (see above), because clearly someone is going to be disappointed. Hey, it might be me!
I’m sure I’d be crushed if I wasn’t returned to office, but perhaps there’d be a wry smile too. It’s not a simple job, it takes a lot of time (particularly if like me you’ve been Chairman for the past ten years!) and the pay sucks. Well, there isn’t any. Often, you find yourself making decisions that not everyone is happy with, and you’re constantly at war with the austerity political ideology from central government which, like the other stuff that rolls down hill, is a constant stinker.
Someone in the village has suggested all the candidates should present themselves to the village with a biography and an electoral manifesto about how they intend to work for the good of the village. I don’t know if I could be coerced into door-knocking and speeches; I don’t have the financial inducement of an MP or even a local authority councillor. Also, it is the Council that makes and takes decisions, not individual councillors.
Over the past twelve years the parish council has done a lot, and if I’ve had a hand in that then so have my fellow councillors, current and past. We have indeed opened that burial ground; we did that at spring equinox 2012 and it is a thriving and beautiful space filled with our ancestors of place, wildflowers and a multitude of butterflies, bees, other mini-beasts and small creatures.
We’ve promoted carbon savings, and were the first parish council in the county to take our village to part-night street-lighting and then to LED lamps. We’ve supported our local youth, though they might argue, by fully funding the youth groups when central government and local authority cutbacks ceased all funding. We’ve supported the village hall and playing field as they evolve into a new charitable incorporated organisation.
Most of all we’ve done what we can to fight against massive and unsustainable overdevelopment of the village. That’s a very lopsided and uphill battle, as we nine Councillors and a couple of village groups stand against the developers and their resources, and against our own local authority who feel able to dump fifteen hundred plus new homes onto a village of 900 houses served by congested country lanes and almost no local employment.
At the level of parish councillor it’s all about community, all about making positive change and all about service. We can raise a little money through the precept (but a tiny amount in comparison with national government or local authority), and spend it on good works in the parish under the watchful eye of our Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer.
We can call on the higher tiers of government when we perceive a problem, but we are generally bound by the structures above us. We can help, when the community asks for it, or if an individual parishioner asks. We can use our experience of living in the locality to guide the higher tiers of government when they need detailed local insight. But that’s about it.
There’s no party manifesto, no rousing election speech, and also no lies and no obfuscation. Because there’s so little or no personal gain, there’s very little risk of corruption, and almost no pressure from lobbyists. We don’t have a whip to tell us what to do. You cannot use national politics to judge parish council work. Or rather you can, if you don’t understand the role.
The local elections are less than two weeks away. I hope you are registered to vote. I care that you vote far more than if you cast your vote for me (if you are able to). If more people voted in elections (and referenda) perhaps we’d get more of the people we deserve and fewer of those who rely on apathy and disconnection. On election day, go and vote. If I stood nationally one thing I would press for is to make voting compulsory (with a none-of-the-above tick-box, obvs.)
Then we can all share the blame.
- Printer: http://www.rosher.net
- Promotor: Mark Rosher, Charfield, South Gloucestershire.
- On behalf of: Me.