Why be a parish councillor? | Jonathan Wallcroft

North East Somerset Constituency is, largely, famous for our MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. The combination of the name of the constituency and our representative belies the fact that this is a seat that for 10/21 years of this century has been represented by a Labour MP. There are also many Labour Party representatives throughout the constituency. We have a 5 strong Labour Group on our Unitary Authority Council.

Then, like me, there are many Labour Party members who are parish councillors. I say many, because the exact numbers can be hard to pin down. Many parish councils are run on a non-partisan basis. It is not uncommon to have Labour Party members elected as independents at this level.

I joined the council as Labour member in 2019. I was co-opted because not enough candidates had stood during the main election in May. Like the other three Labour members elected at the time we stood in part due to the high chance of success despite the national environment. In 2011 a BNP representative was elected to our parish council unopposed when the Labour Party did not put a candidate up. This is not an uncommon occurrence due to the lack of candidates at this level and served as a salutary lesson for the local Labour Party about the dangers of not taking parish council elections seriously.

In March 2021 anyone following Labour twitter will have seen the stream of Labour candidates elected unopposed throughout the country – often in areas where there was previously little or no Labour support.

During my tenure we have had to contend with the covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has helped show the value of such community councils, with councillors from all party’s taking leading roles in the Community support groups to deliver food to those shielding. I helped organise a virtual high street to support local businesses.

Parish Councils can have an extensive array of issues under their purview. This means are often the first people approached by members of the public when there is an issue. Issues surrounding planning permission for new developments are often many peoples most lengthy (if not only) interaction with government.

This makes parish councils an invaluable resource for remaining in contact with the voters in our constituencies. In the past when this seat was held by Labour MP Dan Norris – now metro mayor – Labour parish councillors were a vital link between the MP and the constituents.

For Labour to make inroads in coastal and rural areas we cannot simply turn up every five years and compete in general elections. The groundwork needs to be built over the years through local elections. I’d encourage anyone living in an area that has a parish council to get involved and to put themselves forward as Labour Party candidates in the next election.

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