It was thirty years ago today that, at the height of my misspent youth, I was elected as a councillor to the old Brighton Borough Council. I was elected in a by-election, the first non-Conservative ever to be elected in Regency Ward. I served until 1992, with a break of one year in 1987/88. It was such a long time ago that only one councillor remains from those Borough Council days, and that is Geoffrey Theobald.
I regard my few years as an elected representative as one of the greatest educations of my life, not least my time chairing the Licensing Committee and having to cope with the hackney carriage and private hire trades.
I am asked from time to time whether I will ever stand again. The answer is no. For one thing, I have a job which I love, which challenges me on a daily basis, and which is in many ways far more political than being involved in party politics.
Of course I won’t stay at BHT for ever, and I will want a new challenge when I do go. But it isn’t likely to be as a councillor, assuming that any party would want me (I haven’t been a member of any party since 1993) and the electorate actually voting me in. There are two main reasons:
Role confusion: Councillors have become managers, involving themselves in operational matters that should be left to paid and professional officers. Councillors should the strategic lead, hold officers to account, and make political decisions. Being a councillor has become a full time job. There seems something rather absurd that councillors, especially those in leadership positions, work all hours under the sun, yet get paid a pittance compared to chief and senior officers, and even middle ranking managers. I have always felt we need far fewer councillors, and that they should be much better paid.
The other reason for not wanting to stand again is that being a councillor is a thankless task. You get much criticism, and ignorant members of the public question your motives and integrity. I have the utmost respect for those who put themselves forward for public office. The councillors I have known over the years (with one or two exceptions) have been honourable, wanting nothing more than to improve their community. It is tougher now than ever before, having to make cuts on an unprecedented level, and facing horrendous levels of abuse on social media. In my day, one almost hoped to get any mention in the letters page of the Argus.
In nineteen days we will be going to the polls. Most attention is on the parliamentary elections, but I want to pay tribute to those men and women putting themselves forward to be elected as councillors. You deserve our thanks and respect.