It was June 2018 as I sat at a Beeston Festival committee meeting waiting for people to arrive, and instead of our usual one councillor in attendance, we had four! Why the sudden interest in helping … oh, it’s just been an election and we have three new councillors.
My name is Mark Day and I’ve been involved in organising Beeston Festival since 2014 and am currently committee secretary. I got involved because I wanted to put something back into my community. I’m not a member of any political party.
But back to this sudden influx of councillors, why hadn’t we seen these people before? Which raises the question of “do councilors care?”, or are they just working for political gain? This is a question I have often pondered when seeing councilors at community events. Their actions often seem tainted by ulterior motives.
The primary role of a councilor is to represent their ward and the people who live in it as well as providing a bridge between the community and the council. In this capacity they represent the views and ideology of the community that has voted them into office. There are however, many other roles that councillors may take on, including serving local community events and services.
For 25 years Angela Gabriel has sat on the Beeston Festival committee, for many of them as the Chair. In my opinion, of all the councilors Angela’s intentions are the purest. Angela is part of numerous community groups and helps at loads of events, many of which people don’t even realise. When Angela stops being a councillor I’m confident she will continue to do all of this stuff and probably even more, and hopefully, she will stop getting the misdirected grief from people for doing it.
Andrew Scopes’ involvement on the Beeston Festival committee was short, attending just a few meetings before sharing his decision to not be part of the committee. He explained that he did not want to over-stretch himself by trying to do too much and not be able to give adequate time to Beeston Festival and I very much respect this decision. I have seen many people who have over promised and under delivered and it is much better to not make promises you can’t deliver on in the first place. Andrew supports the festival and I know he is only a phone call away if we need his help.
Paul Wray has continued to serve on the committee and has taken on organising the Children’s and Young people’s activities, a torch that the previous councillor Adam Ogilvie bore for many years. He has really got stuck into helping, and if anything over promised and not delivered everything thing he set out to. But, I think this is Paul’s character in general and he has the best intentions just not the time.
Finally, Gohar Almass. Who you ask? You might have seen a picture of him on social media. And, I am beginning to wonder if that is the only place he exists. Gohar came to a few committee meetings around election time. He now sends his apologies for every meeting and has even asked me to put his name in the minutes when not included. However, just because I don’t see him it does not mean he is not serving the community. As the only Asian councillor in the ward perhaps he is involved more in activities within the Asian community. But, if so, this example shows my ignorance and that there is a divide between the communities, which needs to be broken down.
I do think we have good councillors in our area that, contrary to what a lot of people might think, most are around all the time. They will be at most community events through the year, and yes this does ramp up around election time, but it’s not exclusively then. I see a lot of criticism that they turn up to events after most of the hard work is done and are just there for pictures, and to an extent, I think it’s true. However, as a local representative they are not necessarily expected to do everything but, be available to help those they represent. As long as they don’t make out they are doing more than that, or take the credit for that action, I see no harm in it.
So, why are these new councillors coming along to these events? The cynic in me says it’s for political gain. They are at the beginning of their political careers and want to get re-elected and even move into higher positions. But, I also question how much they gain from attending committee meetings. It’s not in the public eye, and most people don’t realise they are doing it, is it to just put on a campaign leaflet? Do they see it as part of their job? Or, do they truly care about the community and would do it even if they were not a councillor? Events in the public eye often seem very much to be for political gain and their actions are tainted by it. But, how do they avoid people having this view? If they turn up for the first time as a politician it’s hard to do so. However, some of the councillors did do community based activities well before being elected, so is being a councillor a way of extending their community involvement?
That’s not the end of the story though. Back in the meeting I look across the room and see the Green Party candidate, Ed Carlisle. Ed has been on the committee for over 10 years and helps tirelessly with community events across the area. I have yet to meet a community organiser in Leeds who does not know, or has not heard of, Ed. In recent years Ed has been standing as a Green Party councillor candidate with the aim of further improving the community he lives and works so hard in whilst representing a party whose views he shares. This is a sign of character, in an area dominated by Labour ideals, the easy “ticket” would have been to join the Labour Party. And, there is the difference, Ed is wanting to be a councillor to further his community work, not the other way around.
I challenge the councillors, and other political candidates, to consider why they are doing what they are doing. Are you helping the community to become a politician or, are you becoming a politician to help the community?
This article raises a lot of questions and I invite the councillors to pass comment on their motivations for being councillors and their involvement in the community.
This post was written by Mark Day
Photo: Hilary Benn MP with Beeston & Holbeck Councillors Gohar Almass, Angela Gabriel and Andrew Scopes
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8 Replies to “Do Councillors Care?”
I thought this was an interesting and thoughtful piece. I’m a terrible over-committer and wish I wasn’t!
I guess the statement that ‘the primary role of a councilor is to represent their ward and the people who live in it’ is a something people might debate, though. Our first-past-the-post, ward-by-ward electoral system does suggest that councillors are primarily there to represent the ward. But I think some councillors feel they’re primarily there to govern the city, and although that’s very annoying if it leads to their ward being neglected, I can see that it’s a justifiable philosophy. North Beeston and Hunslet have needed a lot more care and attention over the years … but I’m also frustrated that Leeds-Bradford never seem to manage to show the kind of big thinking and strategy about things like transport that Manchester does.
Nice to see Ed getting such deserved praise 🙂 (I speak, i should say, as a Green Party member.) For all their merits, none of the new crop of South Leeds councillors have paid their dues the way Ed has!
I live in Holbeck and in the 7+ years i have lived in the area i have only ever had a councillor knock on my door once, so this statement to me is not true regarding our current councillors.
“In this capacity they represent the views and ideology of the community that has voted them into office.”
If this was true, then 2 councillors who i shall not name, would not be trying to keep the managed approach going when there is a wealth of evidence that it is failing. Our children have to walk to school and see “ballons” littering the street, the older children are getting approached by punters.
If our councillors were to truly represent the views of the community, then they would be fighting to get the managed approach stopped.
In his article ‘Do councillors care?’, Mark has laid down a clear challenge about what motivates us to do what we do. The short answer is that all of the Councillors that mentioned do care about the community in Beeston and Holbeck and about Leeds more generally. In our experience the job comes with little credit and lots of criticism (which we were well aware of before stepping up to the role) so it requires strong motivation and I’ll give more detail for me below.
Firstly, however, I want to query whether the example used, of the Beeston Festival committee, is adequate to answer the broad question of whether we care.
Beeston Festival is an amazing event. One of the best examples of a local celebration in the whole of Leeds, professionally run, high quality and successful in uniting the many groups within Beeston. It isn’t, however, the only event that takes place within the Beeston and Holbeck ward – Holbeck gala and Cottingley apple festival each have a committed team of people who work hard all year round to make them happen.
Additionally, there are other community volunteer roles that are required. I’ve been a governor at Beeston Primary School for more than 6 years and, as the current Chair, this takes a significant time commitment. Moreover, it makes better use of my skill-set – I’m far better qualified to scrutinise school accounts and monitor an improvement plan than I am at event organising. I play to my strengths in the hope of being the most help that I can be with the time I have available. However, in response to the criticism of only turning up after being elected, when I was still working (and much like other community activists) I couldn’t get involved in everything across the community – we all have our focus points whether that is a community group, a festival group or schools. You see Mark at Beeston Festival, Linda with Beeston In Bloom, Robert Winfield at Beeston Forum, Alaric Hall at St Luke’s Tenants and Residents association and I could go on.
It is right to say that the primary role of a councillor is to represent the community and to be a link between the council and residents. However, we also have responsibility for the wider strategy for the city which inevitably has a massive impact on our community. This includes setting vision and planning detail for transport, social care, children’s services, public health and more.
– a positive example of this includes the recent Outstanding Ofsted report for our children’s services, which means some of the most vulnerable in our community have a better start in life, which is a result of Leeds prioritising our young people.
I also directly represent the residents of the ward regularly when I meet with police and council officers to check up on progress in areas that you tell me need change. To do this I need to talk to and meet with people who live in the ward, at residents meetings, with individuals, and with organisations. This all takes time. Councillor isn’t really a job, although we get an allowance, we don’t get employment rights like a pension, and so lots of people do it as well as working. I’ve been able to stop working in order to commit to it (because I care!) but, as someone has bills to pay, my wife works and I’m the main carer for our 3 school-age children so I’m limited to 9-3 and evenings. I can only do so much!
One of the privileges of being a councillor is that I’ve seen lots more of the great things people are doing and I’m able to direct funding towards the good stuff – but time is still very limited as there are so many good things going on in our community – I therefore try to be a supporter even if I can’t help organise – for example being present at Parkrun even though I can’t take any credit for the great stuff they are doing.
With regards to motivation: I first got interested in politics in 2011, and primarily as a response to the national government saying ‘we’re all in it together’, while the reality on my street was that it didn’t appear to be that way! I was frustrated that what politicians said and did was different and that the decisions they made weren’t in line with my views. I have a strong desire to help level the ‘playing-field’ and to build on the good stuff already happening in our community. My belief that all people should be valued equally and loving my neighbour are key components to my motivation and are, at least in part, because I’m a follower of Jesus. I also believe the skills I gained working in the finance sector of over 12 years can benefit our community and city.
I got involved in politics because I wanted to see change in my community and I am standing again this year because I believe that change can happen through politics. Of course, we as politicians, wouldn’t succeed if it wasn’t for the community led initiatives like Beeston Festival that Mark and many others are involved in making happen. I would therefore like to end by saying thank you to all those who volunteer and give-up their free time in our ward.
To be clear, I wasn’t intending helping with Beeston Festival as the benchmark for caring. I was using it as a personal example to try and make the article more relatable. I’m sorry if it came across that way and if any of the councillors felt personally attacked, that was not my intention. I was writing based on my perspective, and trying to highlight the perception people have expressed to me personally and on social media.
Of course we care , firstly how many other wards are people aware of in the city where they have All 3 full time councillors who actually live in the ward , secondly all three of us have diverse backgrounds which offer variety of skill sets. The three Labour councillors also sit on various committees and represent our ward in the city. Not to forget it’s the hardest lowest paid job I’ve ever done in my life, which I enjoy because the satisfaction I get from doing the stuff I do helping people is priceless all the way from small things like getting people new Bins, getting pot holes repaired, housing issues, trees and hedges cut and trimmed, attending various community groups, ASB issues resolving, Parking issues, carrying out walkabouts with officials , funding various groups and projects, addressing litter and flytipping issues , supporting national and local protests and campaigns in the city, organising campaigns empowering residents for eg Cottingley action day,Holbeck Parking leafleting etc etc to sitting as a VC for communities at the Fire Authority, monthly surgeries, as Governor at a local school, committee member of South Leeds Live at home, committee member Holbeck Gala, Secretary South Leeds Community Alliance , attending various TARA meetings, as member Baythak group and SL elderly group , as Deputy Chair for the Independent Advisory Group at WY Police , Managed Approach reference group,scrutinising the strategy and resources board at LCC etc etc to name just a few. To date since elected last year I’ve helped hundreds of residents getting their issues resolved who write to me regularly and phone me whenever required. I’ve dealt with hundreds of casework and had face to face interactions with hundreds of people when knocking on people’s doors regularly asking for their issues generating casework which I’ll be doing from 2pm even today.Not to mention the training and development and council & area committee meetings we have regularly.
There’s a lot of work that goes on quietly and I’m actively serving our residents without blowing trumpets all the time. Hope this gives you a brief summary of some of the work I do for my ward and city and so do my colleagues.
Let’s not forget Councillors are a soft target for some and people sometimes vent their frustrations by bashing them online, however, We do live in a democracy and people must respect the mandate of the people too, be more tolerant to difference of opinions,ideology and choices, disrespecting our voters and the silent majority won’t do anyone any favours as the results proved it last year, for our opponents and their supporters , if they wish to compete with us please do so,but with positivity and proactivity not negativity,aggression and being reactionary rubbishing whatever we do. I’d like to see more of them doing stuff in the community for the good of community , which some do, Remember Actions speak louder than typing words on a computer, and the silent majority can see that. Thanks
For me it is a question of Who Comes first? Our Electoral system is based on voting for a candidate not a political party. In doing so we elect a representative not a delegate. However what has happened over the last 30 years is that the party political machines of all political parties [Conservatives, Labour, Liberal and even Greens] have become more and more powerful. So much so that now the Party Political machines use local councillors as delegates that act on their behalf putting the needs of the political party ahead of the needs of the electors. I fully applaud any one and every one who is concerned about Beeston & Holbeck ward and who wants to do good things to make our community stronger and safer. However for me the “litmus test” of elected councillors is not when the follow the Political Party Line of their respective Controlling Elites but rather when and how often do they break from Political Party “discipline” to support their electors wishes ahead of the insistence of their political party Whips. As has been said above ACTION talks louder than WORDS. However the key actions are, when there is a clear conflict of interest between the needs of the electors of their wards and the demands of the Political Party. I want a ward Councillors who puts the support of His/her electors ahead of their support for their political party. Some one wrote a few thousand years ago “By their fruits shall ye know them” and it is still true today.
Good article Mark, glad it’s stirred up so much debate on FB, and thanks for your kind words.
And in response to Bill’s comment: I couldn’t agree more. And one of the key reasons I joined the Green Party was because the party nationally *forbids* whipping at any level. So the growing number of Green councillors across the country are *never* obliged to toe a party line, but are *free* to vote in the best interests of their community and voters.
Onwards to 2nd May…
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