Want to Be More Politically Active But Don’t Know Where to Start? Here’s How to Get the Most Out of Your Council
Five simple ways to make a difference in your local community
Words Greg Taylor
Ever had one of those evenings when, while crossing the road to avoid a streetlight blackspot, you’ve tripped over an upturned food bin, plunged your flip-flop into a freshly-curled dog turd, and then slipped on an unkempt piece of communal greenery while trying spasmodically to smear it off?
Fist raised to the sky, swearing vengeance on those responsible for such misery, you might wonder where to direct your justifiable fury. Why, that would be your local council.
It’s easy to tut and wait for someone else to complain about the things pissing you off, but it’s much more productive, and satisfying, to deal with them yourself.
Traditionally mocked as a retirement home for every doddery do-gooder in the neighbourhood, your council is actually a hotbed of raging ambition and furious political manoeuvring. Sometimes.
That’s all very well and good, but not much help when your bins need emptying or all your library copies of 50 Shades… are mysteriously sticky. So how can you get traction on those irritating local issues driving you to distraction? Try our top five tips for getting things done.
It’s easy to tut and wait for someone else to complain about the things pissing you off, but it’s much more productive, and satisfying, to deal with them yourself. Your council has a website, designed (in theory) to be user-friendly and helpful, so check how to complain on there, then do it. Be clear, concise and polite (council staff get way too much grief) by email or phone, and remember most councils also have Facebook and Twitter accounts where you can also make yourself heard.
Councillors are up for election every four years, and while some retreat silently back into the mists after winning, most want to make a difference. They have to live in the area they represent, so have a real stake in making sure garbage is collected and restaurants aren’t rat-infested. Their contact details are online – each neighbourhood usually has three representatives so email blast them all and at least one should reply. Many also hold ‘surgeries’ where they meet residents, so turn up and demand action face-to-face.
Start a local petition and talk to the local paper, and go to an evening council meeting to kick up a fuss.
If you’re not getting anywhere, it’s time to be creative. Use your local area Facebook page (your councillors, or their friends, or the local political party, read it avidly) to highlight problems, start a local petition and talk to the local paper, and go to an evening council meeting to kick up a fuss – they’re open to the public and it’s easy to find the right one. Also, if your councillor is useless, complain to their council leader or to their whip (ie: the head of discipline) – they’re there to serve you, not slack off!
Council elections are often hotly contested, and a handful of votes can make the difference not only between which candidate wins, but which party controls the council. If you’re not happy with dark streets and filthy parks, or depressed by your current councillors, get onto the streets and campaign for someone different. Just one energetic new volunteer can turbo-charge a campaign and quickly knock up a huge number of homes. Put up posters, excite your friends, get people palpitating over local politics.
Be the change
Are all your candidates plodding Eeyores or swivel-eyed Jack Torrances? Then go for it yourself. You just need ten local people to back you up and then you can get out your soap box, hedge clippers and dog shit collector and hit the streets. Print off leaflets, ring a bell in the high street, hold a rap battle. Get people’s interest, and soon you’ll have their attention. And maybe then their vote.