What got you interested in politics?
I have always been interested in politics. In my early twenties I joined my first political party, as a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and at the same time developed an interest in environmental and ‘green’ issues which has continued ever since. For the last few years I have run a charity tackling fuel poverty in Cornwall, and the day to day stories of hardship and deprivation we come across keeps my political motivation very active.
Have you always voted?
Yes. When out canvassing some years ago, I met a retired schoolteacher whose mother had been a Suffragette. She told me she had always been keen to encourage her pupils to take an interest in political life and to build on what the campaigners in the 1900-10s had achieved. I have always taken the act of voting for whatever level of political institution very seriously and have encouraged my own daughters to do the same.
What made you stand as a local councillor?
In 2001 I went to the University of Plymouth as a mature student to study Politics and International Relations. I started my course two weeks after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the USA, which was a fascinating time to be studying politics. However, I decided I also wanted to get some hands-on local experience of political life to match my academic studies and got involved with the Lib Dems locally. I stood as a Councillor for Restormel Council and was elected for the first time in 2003. In 2005 I was appointed Leader of the Council and held that role until 2008; Restormel Council over that period was a Council in no over-all control and so I had the opportunity to work with politicians of all persuasions. I had a great opportunity to mix my post-graduate studies in local politics with the daily experience of leading a local Council.
What surprised you most about the role?
If you have perseverance there are a lot of things you can do to make a difference, and change things for the good and make a lasting difference. There are a lot of meetings when you think “well, that was unproductive” but overall with a clear plan it is possible to change things.
What do you think is the most important aspect of the Town/Parish Council?
Ultimately as elected members we are representing local people, the people who vote for us, and those who voted for other parties and for those who didn’t vote. We have to be a voice for people who often don’t think the structures of local government are listening to them. At times that can be difficult when the rules and regulations don’t allow us to take decisions that people think are the obvious and common sense (especially when to comes to planning decisions). A lot of people have become disengaged from local politics and don’t see it is relevant to them, unless they want a planning decision made or are complaining about Council Tax levels. An important aspect of our role as Councillors is to communicate what the Council can do and the difference we are making to local issues.
What would you change if you could?
In my political lifetime too much power has been pulled up to Westminster. In 1980s Mrs Thatcher took a lot of the power from Iocal government and centralised it in London; by selling off nationally owned businesses like the energy companies, privatising rail and bus companies, and selling off our council housing provision, the Conservatives created many of the problems we are facing today, such as the critical shortage of good quality homes. I want to play a part at recovering our national assets and bringing back a proper balance between the public and private sectors.
What part of the role do you enjoy most?
I enjoy asking questions! Often I suspect they are seen as me being awkward, but asking questions starts discussions and gets people thinking. I think as a representative of my area I need to challenge the status quo and work for decisions that make things better for everyone, not just the powerful ‘few’.
I also enjoy representing my area; St Austell has a lot of challenges but it has a lot to offer and we need to have a positive vision for the town, and it is a privilege to be in a position where I can do something to enhance that.
Do you feel you were well-prepared for the role?
I guess because of my background and political studies I had done, I came to the role with a lot to offer and fitted into the role easily. I appreciate that being a Councillor is not for everyone, but a lot more people should give it a try. There is lots of support for the new councillor, while there is jargon and formal procedures to learn and understand, most of Council life is common sense and simply being prepared to give your opinion.
What advice would you give someone thinking of standing?
Go for it. It is a very worthwhile role and you never know where it might take you. Being a Councillor gives you a fresh perspective of a wide range of issues and concerns, and you can make a real difference. All you need to do is be ready to share your thoughts; others may disagree with you, but if you are willing to argue you case, you can have a big influence.
What do you wish the electorate knew about the role of local councils?
That while most of political coverage on the news is about national politics, a lot of day to day decisions that affect our everyday lives are made at the level of local councils. And so, getting involved at Town, Parish or County Council level can make a surprising difference.
How long have you been a local councillor?
I was first elected to stand as a Councillor for Mount Charles, St Austell in 2003 and was re-elected for the same ward in 2007. After Cornwall went Unitary in 2009, my job meant I was unable to stand again for the new Cornwall Council. However, I was able to stand again last year, 2017, and although was unsuccessful in a bid for Cornwall Council, was elected onto St Austell Town Council.
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party