- June 4, 2012
By Mathew Beech
Local councillors have an image problem.
Catherine Roberts, 25, of Applesham Way, Portslade, said that they’re “out of touch with real people and quite privileged”.
James Brammer, 42, of Henley Road, Brighton, described them as “old, white males”.
And pensioner Barry Smith, from Coldean, said that they “push use aside like we had no say in what they propose”.
A widely held view is that local authorities, including Brighton and Hove City Council, are full of white, middle-aged or retired men who are in it for their own gain.
The political parties are aware of this. And with the youthful Green Party’s success in the local elections in Brighton and Hove last year, the Greens’ rivals are trying to do something about it.
The Brighton and Hove Conservatives, who work in 16 of the city’s 21 council wards, held a review after losing office to the Greens.
One idea to emerge has been to invite even non-party members to consider becoming candidates in the next local elections in 2015.
They hope to attract working men and women, families and those involved in running local clubs and societies.
The aim is to boost voter turn-out and give themselves a timely boost in the polls.
Councillor Andrew Wealls, who led the review of selection processes, said: “The modern Conservative Party is the party of all the people and we are determined that our candidates are representative of all communities in our great city.”
Fellow councillor Graham Cox, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Conservatives, hopes that the move will reinvigorate the local political scene.
He would like it to encourage those who hadn’t previously thought that politics could be for them.
He said: “Wouldn’t it be great if we had the people who run the youth clubs, who are school governors and run other clubs and societies involved.
“It would be a really good thing and would bring more people back to local politics.
“Currently the voter turnouts are between 30 and 45 per cent so it would benefit all the parties if we can get more people involved.”
All three political groups on the council are making a concerted effort so that their parties and prospective councillors better reflect the city.
The Labour and Co-operative Party wants to welcome new members as it looks towards the 2015 elections.
Gill Mitchell, the leader of the Labour group, said: “We always look for different voices with real life experiences.
“We want people who want to make a difference to join our party and then put themselves forward for the local elections.”
The two traditional political heavyweights seem to be responding to a new threat posed by the Greens with their triumph at the 2011 local elections.
The Greens’ victory in Brighton and Hove gave them control of a council in this country for the first time.
Some regard them as being more representative of the city as they include many younger faces and different sexualities.
Lianne De Mello, the political assistant to the Green group of councillors, sees it as an advantage for the party and believes that the public may find it easier to relate to their members.
She said: “We are a quite diverse party and our members reflect this.
“They put themselves forward so we have got diverse councillors and have a few young councillors like Jason Kitcat and Alex Phillips.”
She said that there were still two main barriers preventing potential candidates from standing whatever their political leanings – money and time.
Miss De Mello said: “The challenges to councillors are the allowances of £11,000.”
“The time needed to be a councillor means it is basically a part-time job, with the thought you could have it alongside another position.
“But not many jobs let you take a Tuesday afternoon off here and there or every Thursday afternoon.
“This means that, for people working, it has been something they don’t usually consider.”
It may be hard to introduce new and younger faces to politics because of the nature of the role of councillor. But the traditional political parties are keen to do so to shed their out-of-touch image.
The political landscape is changing in Brighton and Hove, as shown by the rise of the Greens, and that demands a positive response.
As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”