Labour may be out of government in Westminster, but we are in power in Wales, and in hundreds of towns and cities throughout the UK. Every day, our councillors in both Labour run authorities and in opposition, fly the flag for Labour values and make a meaningful difference to our local communities.
Being a councillor is a lot of work, but is extremely rewarding. It is an honour to be elected to stand up for your community. And it is important that our elected representatives mirror the diversity and experiences of the communities we come from.
There is lots we have been doing as a party, and more we can do, to encourage more people to get involved and stand to be councillors. This includes supporting more women, BAME candidates, people from working class backgrounds, LGBT and disabled people to stand for election.
As well as the usual key asks from local government – better representation for councillors at all levels of the party, more resources and support for local elections, accountability for Association of Labour Councillors’ subs and more opportunities to share best practice – councillors on Labour’s national executive committee have been pushing for the party to do more to remove the barriers that prevent people standing for elected office.
A 2017 report by the Fawcett Society and the Local Government Information Unit looked at a number of issues facing women in local government. Following on from this work, a cross-party group from local and national government is considering the changes that could be made to improve diversity and encourage more people from traditionally under-represented groups to stand to be councillors.
The Labour Party’s asks of central government include:
- Introducing maternity, paternity and carers’ leave for all councillors;
- Restoring councillors’ access to pensions and consider a fair system for allowances so people from all backgrounds can afford to stand to be councillors;
- Increasing resources and funding for security at councillors’ surgeries. No one should be threatened or attacked while carrying out their duties;
- Tough action to tackle online abuse, which puts many people off getting involved in politics or public life. This includes making social media companies take responsibility for some of the appalling abuse that takes place on their platforms;
- Amending the all-women shortlist legislation to allow for AWS selections for directly elected mayoral posts;
- Introducing new legislation to allow for all-BAME shortlists;
- Increase awareness of the role of a councillor, the positive difference they make to our communities, how you can successfully balance it with other commitments and how to get involved and stand;
- Introducing more flexibility and better use of technology so shift workers and people with caring responsibilities can play an active role in council life and Labour Party meetings;
- Introducing more local government focused leadership training, particularly emphasising supporting people from under-represented groups;
- Restoring access to government funding to support disabled people to stand for elected office.
Within Labour, we want to foster a welcoming, positive, inclusive atmosphere in local parties where people feel supported and encouraged to get involved. This includes considering how meetings are run and chaired, the role of women’s forums and how application and selection processes can be improved.
There is also more the party is doing – and should be doing – around equality monitoring to collect statistics on how many women, disabled and BAME candidates stand for selection and election, and how successful they are once selected as candidates.
There is important work to be done to encourage more trade union members to stand to be councillors; I have attended excellent ‘be a councillor’ training sessions aimed at GMB members. It is important that Labour supports and encourages these kind of activities to ensure we benefit from the valuable real life experience of trade union members and can encourage more people from manual/working class occupations to stand for office.
If you are interested in making a difference and standing to be a councillor, there are some fantastic resources from the cross-party organisation Be a Councillor. Get in touch with your local party and regional office to find out about training and events in your area. Wherever you live, we need as many people as possible to stand up to Boris Johnson and provide our communities with a real alternative to Tory doom and gloom.